Phillips’s Total Sales Declined to $760 Million Last Year, a 16 Percent Drop From 2019

The company’s 2020 decrease was on par with rival Sotheby’s.

Phillips New York saleroom at the December 7 evening sale of 20th Century and Contemporary Art. Image courtesy Phillips.

Phillips brought in $760.4 million in sales in 2020, the auction house announced this week. That number marks a 16 percent drop from the $908 million the company totaled in 2019—a substantial, but not debilitating, decrease against the backdrop of an unprecedented public-health and economic crisis.

More than $648 million of last year’s total earnings came from live and online auctions, the company said, with the remaining $113 million netted in private sales.

David Hockney’s painting Nichols Canyon (1980), which sold for $41 million at Phillips’s evening sale of 20th-century and contemporary art in New York in December—a record for a landscape by the artist—went down as the auction house’s top of the year. 

Percentage-wise, Phillips’s losses were squarely in line with those of one of its top competitors, Sotheby’s, which similarly saw a 16 percent drop in 2020. Christie’s, on the other hand, saw a 25 percent decline. (However, these two larger houses each brought in more than 5.5 times what Phillips totaled.)

Elain Kwok on the rostrum during the Hong Kong portion of Christie's December 2 relay sale. Image courtesy Christie's.

Elain Kwok on the rostrum during the Hong Kong portion of Christie’s December 2 relay sale. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

Despite the contraction in Phillips’s overall sales, a glimmer of hope came in the form of its activity in Hong Kong, where the house actually posted a $152 million, or a 24 percent, increase over the previous year—a record for the company in the region. On top of that came a 635 percent growth in online sales in Asia as well.

This success in Asia was one of the major factors behind the auction house’s resiliency during the annus horribilis that was 2020, explained Phillips CEO Edward Dolman in a statement.

“The result is a testament to our long-standing digital and client-first strategies, assembling highly-focused and curated sales that reflect international collecting trends and appetites, and an uncompromising focus on quality,” Dolman said. “Our strength and expansion across Asia contributed to this year’s successes.”

David Hockney, Nichols Canyon (1980). © David Hockney Photo Credit: Pru Cumings Associates Ltd.

David Hockney, Nichols Canyon (1980). © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Pru Cumings Associates Ltd.

Echoing the sentiment, Phillips’s global chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal drew attention to the company’s increased embracement of the digital as another key strategy. The company boasted a 254 percent increase in downloads of its proprietary app and a 136 percent upturn in new online accounts. It also launched Gallery One, a digital platform for year-round, low-priced auctions, in October, and introduced Articker, a tool that tracks art market trends, in August. 

“Through livestreamed auctions, increased online-only sales, and the ability to bid in real time using mobile devices,” Westphal said, “we experienced an influx of first-time buyers, including a robust millennial audience.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.
Article topics