The Macklowe Collection sale at Sotheby's. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s has once again released annual figures reporting record results for the auction house in 2022. But a closer look at the figures raises some questions about the self-congratulatory pronouncement.

The house has projected a major sales total of $8 billion, which it described as the strongest performance in the company’s 278-year history. The comparable total for 2021 was $7.3 billion, which was itself a record.

However, the house’s lofty projections gloss over the reality of the figures to date of art and luxury sales, which clocked in at $6.4 billion as of December 14, and are actually down seven percent on the equivalent figure last year.

The house inflated the total sale figure by factoring in revenue streams that it did not have last year—it expects to log an additional $2.3 billion from the recently-acquired car collectible auctioneers, RM Sotheby’s, and Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions, as well as a remaining $120 million anticipated in luxury sales before year’s end.

Andy Warhol, White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) (1963). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The year-end figures show sales are on track to reach at least $1.1 billion for the third consecutive year (private sales were apparently higher last year, at a reported $1.3 billion). There are still nearly 30 auctions that will take place before the end of the month, which are expected to add another $135 million to the auction house’s bottom line.

The company credited “fresh to market single-owner collections” with boosting results this year, noting they accounted for $800 million of the fine art auction total. Three collections achieved over $100 million each, including those of David M. Solinger, Joseph Hotung, and the Macklowe collection. In total, the Macklowe collection alone has taken in $922 million in the past two years.

Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s again highlighted new sale formats that yielded 100-percent sold, or “white glove,” auctions, including “The Now,” featuring ultra-contemporary art, which has pulled in $244 million since it was launched in late 2021, and Artists’ Choice, a primary-market sale platform spearheaded by former executive Noah Horowitz, who has since become the head of Art Basel.

Sotheby’s added that the number of works by women artists achieving more than $1 million each had increased by 70 percent since 2019. (For more recent research on the performance of women artists in the art market, be sure to check out Artnet News’s recently published Burns Halperin report.)

The two most valuable works sold by female artists at auction this year were Louise Bourgeois’s Spider IV at $16.5 million and Tamara de Lempicka’s Portrait De Romana de la Salle at $14.1 million.

The Williamson pink star diamond. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Notably, five of the 10 highest-selling items at auction fell in the luxury category, including the Williamson pink star diamond, which sold in Hong Kong for $57.8 million, and the sale of the largest residence in the U.S., titled The One in California, for more than $141 million, as well as the RM Sotheby’s sale of a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe for $142.8 million, making it the most valuable car ever sold.

Sotheby’s further announced ambitious expansion plans in Asia. It will open a new 24,000-square-foot location at Landmark Chater, one of the city’s historic thoroughfares, in 2024. The multi-story building will include a large exhibition space that will be used to showcase top offerings of art and luxury goods. It coincides with plans for new premises in Shanghai in the coming year, as well as the launch of new offices in Tokyo in the past year.

The house also staged its first auction in Singapore in 15 years and held the first major international exhibition in Vietnam. The year also saw new staff appointments in mainland China, South Korea and Thailand, as well as the recent expansion of Sotheby’s Buy Now in Hong Kong.

An auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

The expansion in Asia comes amid rapid growth with Sotheby’s citing a record number of bidders and sharp increase in levels of clients under 40 years old, actively bidding. Asian collectors are spending more per person on average than collectors from anywhere else in the world, according to the auction house’s research.

Of its sales in Asia, one in three bidders were new to the company; and in Sotheby’s global sales, 68 percent of new bidders were from countries in Asia. In 2023, Sotheby’s will mark its 50th anniversary in the region with a series of exhibitions, events, and auctions staged across the region.

Elsewhere around the globe, the auction house celebrated its five-year anniversary in Dubai and called the past year a “standout” for Europe with consolidated sales of $2.3 billion, the highest in seven years. London sales of $1.4 billion were at their highest levels since 2018, a surprising point of strength given all the Brexit-related volatility, and Paris had its strongest year ever (more details on figures will be released soon). Italy had its second strongest year in a decade and Sotheby’s also held its first live auction in Cologne.

Sothebys said its financial services division also experienced a year of unprecedented growth that saw a 50 percent portfolio increase as compared with last year, driven by a 30 percent expansion in its client base.

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