Christie’s Downturn: Auction House Bites The Bullet With £2.2b Sales Drop

Christie's Downturn

In Christie’s year-end review, CEO Guillaume Cerutti characterised 2023 as a “paradoxical year,” acknowledging challenges like the art market contraction. Lower auction sales, attributed partly to the unmatched success of 2022’s Paul Allen collection sale, marked a downturn to $6.2 billion from the previous year’s record-breaking $8.4 billion. Despite this, Cerutti highlighted increased private sales and a surge in younger clients as optimistic signs. The auction house reported total sales of $6.2 billion, down from $8.4 billion in 2022, but underscored a promising future with ongoing investments in innovation and expansion. Christie’s remains confident in its outlook, with a strong consignment pipeline for 2024 already underway.

Auction sales contributed $5.03 billion, a decline from $7.2 billion in 2022, while private sales increased by 5 percent to $1.2 billion, representing 20 percent of total sales. The Americas experienced a 43 percent drop in auction sales to $2.57 billion, primarily attributed to the absence of the Paul Allen sale. Excluding that event, the decrease was 12 percent. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, auction sales amounted to $1.65 billion, marking a 9 percent drop, and the Asia Pacific region reported $805 million, a four percent decrease. Christie’s emphasised resilient Asian buying, with a 30 percent increase in new buyers from mainland China.

Notably, 35 percent of all buyers were new to Christie’s in 2023, with a 65 percent rise in new Gen Z buyers driven by handbags, watches, and prints. Millennials constituted 34 percent of all new buyers. The auction house refrained from revealing the highest-value lot sold in 2023 but stated that it occurred through a private sale. Sotheby’s annual sales report is expected in January.

Meanwhile, Bonhams celebrated its stellar results, reporting “turnover” exceeding $1.2 billion for 2023, representing its best performance. This remarkable figure, which includes sales across various categories, reflects a 14 percent increase from the $1 billion reported in 2022. Bonhams’ global CEO, Bruno Vinciguerra, characterised 2023 as one of the company’s fastest-growing and record-breaking years, outpacing expectations by focusing on the core market and affirming its strong position in the industry.

Founded in 1766 by James Christie, Christie’s Auction House is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious auction houses. Initially focused on books and manuscripts, Christie’s quickly expanded its scope to include a wide range of fine and decorative arts. The first auction, held at the company’s original location on Pall Mall in London, featured a diverse array of items, from furniture to glassware.

Over the centuries, Christie’s has played a pivotal role in selling exceptional art and artifacts, attracting collectors, connoisseurs, and art enthusiasts globally. The auction house gained international prominence for its landmark sales, including the disposal of notable collections and masterpieces.

In the 20th century, Christie’s continued to grow its influence, organizing auctions in various categories such as Impressionist and Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Old Masters, Asian Art, and more. The expansion into New York in 1977 marked a significant milestone, solidifying its presence in the United States.

The 21st century saw Christie’s embrace the digital age, pioneering online auctions and expanding its global reach. Committed to innovation, the auction house adapted to the evolving art market landscape.

Christie’s has been a trailblazer in auctioning rare and iconic artworks, achieving record-breaking sales. Notable moments include the auction of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection in 2009 and the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” in 2017.

Known for its commitment to expertise and connoisseurship, Christie’s remains a cornerstone of the art market, providing a platform for the sale of extraordinary items and contributing to the cultural heritage of the world.

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