Sotheby’s Brings Modern and Contemporary Design Sales Back to London

A bubbling property market is fuelling the city’s appetite for high-end design.

Joshua Holdeman Courtesy Sotheby's

Sotheby’s is to re-introduce modern and contemporary design sales to London, having shifted them to Paris in 2011. Buoyant sales figures globally and the number of UK-based buyers at auctions in Paris and New York prompted the move, said Joshua Holdeman, who heads Sotheby’s design and photography departments worldwide (see Joshua Holdeman Named Sotheby’s Worldwide 20th-Century Design Head).

Last year, Sotheby’s claimed market leadership in 20th century design with sales of $78 million in Paris and New York, a 38 percent increase on 2010. Bidders came from 78 different countries, and 41 percent of them were buying design at Sotheby’s for the first time. Buyers from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have doubled in the last four years, spending 13 times as much. Buyers from the Middle East and North Africa have increased by 50 percent over the same period spending 40 percent as much. What’s more, Sotheby’s notes that 24 percent of contemporary art buyers also bought in design sales.

Holdeman estimates that Sotheby’s London sales were taking about £3 million ($4.11 million) from two sales a year before the department was closed. Auctions of decorative art and design have meanwhile been thriving at Phillips, which took £11.2 million ($17.24) in London last year in two sales, and at Christie’s which took £9.2 million ($14.16) from five sales in London.

“There is a vibrant scene in London,” said Holdeman, commenting on the demographic breakdown of buyers at Sotheby’s. With a bubbling property market, “London residents need to furnish their homes,” he said. “Their taste is more contemporary than in Paris, so the sales content in London and Paris will reflect that. Parisian taste is more academic and rooted in more classical 20th century work.”

Paul Dupré-Lafon, Low Table (c.1950) Sotheby's The Jon Stryker Collection: Masterworks of European Modernism New York, December 2014 Courtesy Sotheby's

Paul Dupré-Lafon, Low Table (c.1950)
The Jon Stryker Collection: Masterworks of European Modernism
New York, December 2014
Courtesy Sotheby’s

Holdeman joined Sotheby’s a year ago after nine years at Christie’s and three previously at Phillips. At Christie’s, he was responsible for the groundbreaking “Double Vision” sale in London in 2007 which comprised a single collection of contemporary art and design that saw record prices paid for design works by Ron Arad and Marc Newson. “Prices spiked pretty fast in the years just prior to 2008,” he recalled, “but came down with the rest of the art market in 2008/09. The post-war market for designers such a Jean Prouvé, Jean Royère, and Diego Giacometti has come back into focus, but the contemporary market is still in an ebb,” he said. Maybe that tide is about to turn. Sotheby’s will hold its next Modern and Contemporary Design sale in London in November 2015.

For the new London sales, Holdeman has had to build a new department. Working under Holdeman, it will be led by Cécile Verdier who supervised the Paris department’s sale of the $24.3 million Felix Marcilhac Collection in 2014. She’ll be supported by Kimberley Miller, who worked previously in Christie’s 20th century design department in New York, Adam Trunske, who worked at the Michael Pruskin Gallery in London, and the 20th century design advisor Ivan Mietton.

Since joining Sotheby’s from Christie’s a year ago, Holdeman has also re-introduced photography sales to London after they were shifted to Paris.

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