Global auction giants Christie’s and Sotheby’s reported a combined decrease of over 13%, with total sales reaching $14.2 billion in 2023 compared to $16.4 billion in the previous year. Christie’s experienced a notable 20% decline, seeing its total sales plummet from $8.4 billion in 2022 to $6.2 billion in 2023. In contrast, Sotheby’s projected its 2023 sales to stabilize at $8 billion, aligning with the figure from the previous year.
This decline follows a financial peak in 2022, driven by a surge in art collecting during the pandemic. Experts and industry analysts have observed a substantial slowdown in art sales over the last six months, reflecting a broader trend in the market.
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s
A recent report by industry analyst Art Tactic, tracking global art sales data, revealed a 19% decrease in combined auction sales across Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s, amounting to $11.2 billion in 2023. This figure excludes sums generated through private sales, indicating a more profound market contraction.
The cumulative sales for the top ten artworks at the three auction houses saw a significant drop, totalling $660 million in 2023 compared to $1.1 billion in 2022—a nearly 50% decrease. Notably, four of the top ten artworks sold for under $50 million in 2023, a departure from the consistent price increases observed in the previous years.
While Phillips has not disclosed its 2023 results, the combined sales of the three auction houses in 2022 reached $17.7 million. Phillips witnessed a 10% increase from 2021, achieving $1.3 billion in sales in 2022. The art market’s economic landscape remains incomplete without Phillips’ 2023 figures as the industry grapples with shifting dynamics and collector behaviours.
Beyond the auction circuit, contemporary art galleries featuring earlier and mid-career artists reported a significant pullback in buying, especially from U.S.-based collectors. Sales for many galleries were down by 25% in 2023 compared to the previous year. The trend persisted through Art Basel Miami Beach, where small-scale galleries participating in specialist sections reported a combined total of only $1.6 million by the fair’s end.
Over 70 lots surpassed the $10 million mark among the over 60,000 items sold, setting some of the highest benchmarks in Sotheby’s history.
The recently released second edition of the Sotheby’s Insight Report, produced in collaboration with ArtTactic, delves into the dynamics behind these remarkable numbers. The report highlights the exceptional growth in the value of artworks trading above $1 million in the three years since the pandemic, attributing this surge to the allure of owning significant art during uncertain times.
As Sotheby’s looks ahead to 2024, the auction house unveils its global auction calendar and introduces a revamped sale architecture. This strategic move, which includes [specific changes in the sale architecture], aligns with significant cultural events worldwide, reflecting Sotheby’s commitment to innovation and engagement. These changes are expected to [specific benefits for buyers and investors]. In addition to traditional evening sales, the auction house plans to diversify by introducing auctions in unexpected venues, broadening its reach and enhancing audience engagement.
The 2024 calendar features marquee sales weeks that inaugurate new premises in Paris and Hong Kong, symbolizing Sotheby’s dedication to investing in iconic gallery spaces. The planned Sotheby’s Maison in Hong Kong and flagship locations in Paris, alongside the Breuer building in New York, signify new landmarks for art and luxury, solidifying Sotheby’s position as a trailblazer in the global art market.
Christie’s concludes 2021 with a record-breaking achievement, boasting sales totalling an impressive $7.1 billion. The renowned auction house solidified its position as a market leader, particularly excelling in high-value works and the sale of prestigious private collections. Notably, the two most expensive paintings auctioned in 2021, masterpieces by Picasso and Basquiat, were successfully sold in the spring at Christie’s.
The fall witnessed another electrifying moment with the sale of the Cox Collection, culminating in a record price for a work by Gustave Caillebotte, ultimately acquired by the Getty Museum. This momentum extended across various categories, including modern and contemporary art, classical art, Asian and world art, and luxury items, reflecting a global exchange facilitated by major salerooms in New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Geneva.
Christie’s owes these outstanding results primarily to its clients and expresses gratitude for their trust. In 2021, the auction house welcomed over 30% of new customers, including a significant influx of millennials, marking a notable achievement. Beyond the remarkable sales figures, 2021 is a defining year for Christie’s due to significant advancements in critical strategic areas.
One of the groundbreaking achievements was Christie’s pioneering the introduction of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) to the international art market. The landmark sale in March 2021 of Beeple’s “Everyday: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” set the stage for several other NFT firsts throughout the year. The auction house showcased its innovative capabilities through successful online sales and the implementation of ‘hybrid’ auctions, seamlessly blending the traditional physical auction room experience with global live streaming across digital channels.
In 2021, Christie’s demonstrated a commitment to sustainability by aiming to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) validated Christie’s carbon emission reduction targets, making it the first significant player in the art market to make such commitments and achieve SBTi validation. The same dedication to responsibility extended to promoting greater Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion within the company and the broader art market.
While acknowledging visible progress in 2021, Christie’s recognizes that there is more work to be done as they navigate the evolving landscape of the art world. The exceptional results and achievements in 2021, coupled with the ongoing support of the Pinault Family, position Christie’s optimistically for the challenges and opportunities that await in 2022. The auction house remains more prepared than ever to navigate a rapidly changing world.
Top Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2024