In 2021, Sotheby’s counts a total $7.3 billion in sales, a record in the 277-year history of the auction house. And this figure could still rise by the year-end, given that a dozen sales are still to take place. In any case, Sotheby’s has already exceeded its 2020 results by 71%. “Our unparalleled expertise and innovation mindset led to extraordinary results across categories and regions and set new benchmarks for selling art and luxury,” Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO, said in a news release. 

Some sales, such as that of the Macklowe Collection, have widened the action house’s usually tight gap with Christie’s. Sotheby’s was able to secure the dispersion of the 65 pieces making up the art collection of real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda. Thirty-five of the pieces, including works by Rothko, Giacometti and Cy Twombly, were sold in November for $676.1 million.

(Related: How the art world is reducing its carbon footprint)

Christie’s rules on NFTs

Competition has also been fierce between the two major rivals – Christie’s and Sotheby’s – when it comes to capitalizing on the craze for NFTs (non-fungible tokens). In October, Patrick Drahi’s company announced the launch of a platform dedicated to digital art collectors, called “Sotheby’s Metaverse,” as well as a large bi-annual sale of these virtual certificates of authenticity. Despite this, Christie’s managed to stand out by amassing $150 million in NFT sales, compared to $100 million for Sotheby’s.  

François Pinault’s company scored a big hit in March when it auctioned “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” — an assembled collection of drawings and animations made daily by the American artist Beeple for 5,000 days in a row — for $69.3 million. It sold more than 100 NFTs during the rest of 2021. These transactions allowed the auction house to attract a new audience, as three quarters of these buyers were not previously known to Christie’s. Their average age was 42. 

(Related: Culture Group president Michael Patent believes NFTs are here to stay)

Destination Asia

NFTs aside, Christie’s noted that its private sales have also been very successful. They totaled $1.7 billion, up 108% from 2019, and contributed to the auction house’s sales total of $7.1 billion this year. “We are pleased with our 2021 achievements. Beyond our auction and private sales results – which are exceptional, Christie’s has also made a breakthrough in new sales formats and categories, NFTs in particular. They have allowed us to showcase works by new emerging and under-represented artists, and to reach out to a new audience of younger clients,” said Guillaume Cerutti, the Christie’s CEO.

Sotheby’s, Christie’s and other auction houses have all noted the growing importance of Asian collectors in the art market. They helped generate $1.68 billion for Christie’s, up 32% from 2019. Sotheby’s found that the number of Asian bidders under the age of 40 in its global sales has increased by 38% in the past 12 months. Phillips has observed the same phenomenon among its own clientele. As a result, the auction house has decided to open a new headquarters in Hong Kong in the fall of 2022. It will move from the Marriott Hotel to the WKCDA Tower, with 4,400 square meters of exhibition space and sales rooms spread over six levels, located just a stone’s throw from the M+ museum.