After Going Digital, Sotheby’s ‘Contemporary Curated’ Sale Brought in $6.4 Million—an Online Auction Record for the Company

It was also the biggest London edition of the sale ever, live or online.

George Condo, Antipodal Reunion (2005). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s set a personal best yesterday at its Contemporary Curated auction in London. Transplanted online in response to the health crisis, the sale brought in $6.4 million (£5.1 million). Cruising past its pre-sale high estimate of $5.75 million (£4.7 million), the total marks the auction house’s highest ever recorded total for an online sale.

The previous record was set last month at Sotheby’s online design sale, which realized a little over $4 million.

Leading the results of the seven-day event was George Condo’s 2005 canvas, Antipodal Reunion, which depicts three grotesque, stripe-shirted cartoon figures. Eight bids pushed the painting well past its $986,000 (£800,000) estimate to $1.3 million (£1 million)—the highest price ever paid for a painting in an online sale at Sotheby’s. 

There were other notable sales: an intricately patterned 1993 canvas by Yayoi Kusama, which went for $293,000 (£237,500); a 1998 acrylic-on-aluminum work by Imi Knoebel, which brought $277,000 (£225,000); and a Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian mirrored glass painting from 1975, which went for $463,000 (£375,000)—a new auction record for the Iranian artist’s work.

Yayoi Kusama, <i>Star</i> (1993). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Yayoi Kusama, Star (1993). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Altogether, 88 percent of the 105 lots sold, over half of which exceeded their estimates. Bidders came from 36 countries. Over a third were participating in a Sotheby’s auction for the first time, the house reported. All told, the effort was Sotheby’s most successful Contemporary Curated sale in London ever—IRL or online (though last year’s New York edition of the sale (the previous record was $5.9 million, set in November 2019.)

Online auctions grew 63 percent last month, pulling in a combined $20.7 million—or 20 percent—more than this time last year, according to data from Artnet’s Price Database. Still, those sales’ totals pale in comparison to those traditionally brought in through live sales, throwing into sharp relief the toll the pandemic has taken on auction houses across the sector. 

Sotheby’s itself embodies this predicament. The company has been among the industry’s most successful in its transition online, bringing in almost $26 million across 14 digital sales in March—six of which were converted from live events. It has another 43 online events on the docket for April and May. And yet, despite those successes, the auction house furloughed approximately 200 people, or roughly 12 percent of its staff, in late March.

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