Phillips Reports a Sharp Drop in Global Sales, With Private Sales Slumping to One-Third of Last Year’s Total

Coming off a peak year, the newly challening environment has hit auction houses hard.

Phillips's 20th Century & Contemporary Art evening sale. Courtesy of Phillips.

What a difference a year makes.

After a peak performance year in 2022, Phillips latest half year results show a pronounced downturn as auction houses across the board have grappled with shrinking supply and less heated demand for art than in previous years.

Phillips reported global sales for the first six months of 2023, of $453 million, of which auction sales accounted for $409 million.

By comparison, last year global sales hit $746 million, of which auction sales accounted for $590 million, reflecting a 39 percent slide for global sales and a drop of 30 percent for auction sales. The 2022 results, compared with first half 2021, represented spikes of 37 percent and 30 percent respectively.

Private sales, a source of incredible strength particularly during the early months of the pandemic, were also down, to $44 million from $156 million, or less than a third of last year’s total.

In a statement on its first-half earnings, Phillips focused on bright spots in its business: strong sell-through rates, which the house said averaged around 90 percent, and its expansion in Hong Kong, which sparked an uptick in visitors. CEO Stephen Brooks pointed to the dynamic performance of the watches department, saying “Our watch team has continued their unprecedented two-and-a-half-year streak of selling every watch at auction, solidifying their position as the industry leader.”

Yoshitomo Nara, Lookin' for a Treasure (1995). Courtesy of Phillips.

Yoshitomo Nara, Lookin’ for a Treasure (1995). Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips also said that 42 percent of buyers were first-time buyers in the first half of 2023, and that 50 artists made their auction debut at Phillips this Spring, including Sarah Cunningham, Yuan Fang, Henni Alftan, Jess Valice, and Emma Cousin, underscoring the house’s continued focus on ultra-contemporary art.

For the private sales division, the auction house produced several selling exhibitions globally, including “(Re)Trace Kusama to Shiota” in Hong Kong, “Pierre Soulages: Une Lumière Infinie” in London, and “Never Above 14th St.” in New York.

Upcoming selling exhibitions include “Where the Land Meets the Sea” in collaboration with HENI and Damien Hirst in London, which is slated to be a surefire hit (July 20-August 18); “Legacies of Modernism: A Selling Exhibition of Works by Günther Förg” from the collection of Mikael Andersen in London (August 24 to September 7); and “Briefly Gorgeous in Seoul” (August 30 to September 9), which will have some overlap with Frieze Seoul.

The most expensive artwork that Phillips sold year to date was Yoshitomo Nara’s Lookin’ for a Treasure (1995), which traded for HK$83.8 million ($10.6 million) in Hong Kong in March.

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