Sotheby’s Will Reimagine the Auction Experience by Livestreaming Its Big-Money June Art Sales—Without an Audience

The sale is scheduled for June 29.

A still from Sotheby's mock auction-room set-up. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

What will the high-flying, big-moneyed auction of the future look like in our post-pandemic reality?

Sotheby’s executives, including new owner Patrick Drahi, gave an early glimpse into that future through an online presentation on May 29, in which they unveiled new seven-figure auction-lot highlights, announced plans to allow by-appointment visits to Sotheby’s New York gallery, and presented a virtual version of a major upcoming auction scheduled for June 29.

“We’ve come up with something that is truly exciting and is definitely a first for me as an auctioneer, and for the auction world at large,” Oliver Barker, senior director and chairman of Europe, said on the call. “For starters, this will be the very first time that I’m taking the rostrum to London, in order to conduct a New York sale.”

The June 29 auction, which will be livestreamed, starts at 6:30 p.m. EST with a single-owner sale of top works from the collection of the late philanthropist Ginny Williams. Immediately following that will be sales of Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary artworks.

Viewers can follow the proceedings in high-definition, and each lot will be accompanied by on-screen visuals. Bidders can take part either by phone or online, with Barker fielding bids from Sotheby’s specialists on phone banks—appropriately socially distanced, of course—in New York, Hong Kong, and London via what he described as “zero-latency video streams, broadcast to giant screens in a control center studio setup.”

The new format resulted from brainstorming with the auction house’s video and technology teams, Barker said.

Still from Sotheby's mock auction room set up. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Still from Sotheby’s mock auction-room set-up. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Just as the public-health situation “has encouraged us to rethink how we do so many things, so too it has meant revisiting how we stage these New York sales,” he said, adding: “It will usher in an exciting new era of marquee auctions at Sotheby’s, in which the best-established live auction format is married with the latest technology.”

The auction house plans to open its New York galleries for appointment-only visits, with all requisite precautions, starting June 8.

In addition to other previously announced highlights, such as a Francis Bacon triptych estimated to sell for in excess of $60 million, Sotheby’s unveiled a new consignment: Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934), a stunning portrait of the artist’s lover, Marie-Therese, that is estimated to go for between $9 million and $12 million. It was consigned by the Washington, DC-based David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation, which has owned it since 1962.

Pablo Picasso, <i>Head of a Sleeping Woman</i> (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s also unveiled a contemporary highlight for an upcoming live sale in Hong Kong that is scheduled for early July: Leave Me in the Dark by Chinese artist Liu Ye, which is estimated to sell for between $3.2 million and $4.5 million (HK$25 million to HK$35 million).

It is one of only four documented grand-scale, single-panel pieces featuring a figure by the artist, and is comparable to the artist’s current top two auction-record artworks. The current record of $6.6 million for SMOKE (2001–02) was set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last fall, according to the Artnet Price Database.

While an upcoming Milan sale of contemporary art (June 4–16) is online only, there are currently various other live auctions set to take place in Geneva and Paris next month.

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