Amid Dire Economic News, Sotheby’s Just Set a New Record for an Online Design Auction With a Surprisingly Strong $4 Million Sale

The sale provided a bit of a positive note after the company furloughed 12 percent of its staff.

Jean Prouvé, Pair of "Direction" Armchairs, Model No. 352 (c. 1951). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s design auction brought in a surprising total of $4 million this week, exceeding its high estimate by more than 25 percent—and that’s after it was converted from a live sale to an online sale. The total is the highest figure ever recorded for a 20th-century design sale held online.

For Sotheby’s, the results are the latest in what’s been a string of relatively successful online sales being held during the postponement of live events—a sign, the auction house hopes, that the luxury market hasn’t taken the hit many feared it would. 

“Our record total… reinforces the confidence and shift we are seeing towards bidding and buying online,” said Jodi Pollack, co-worldwide head of Sotheby’s 20th-century design department, in a statement. “This result is an important indicator of the Design market’s momentum and growth at a much needed time.”

Left: Harry Bertoia, Untitled (Sonambient) (c. 1970). Right: Tiffany Studios, "Moorish" Twisted Wire Chandelier (c. 1895). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Left: Harry Bertoia, Untitled (Sonambient) (c. 1970). Right: Tiffany Studios, “Moorish” Twisted Wire Chandelier (c. 1895). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Nearly half of the lots went for prices above their high estimates, and 82 percent of them sold. The auction house said that bidders came from 31 countries, and that one-third of bids came via mobile devices.

A “Moorish” Twisted Wire Chandelier created by Tiffany Studios around 1895 was one of the big winners of the day, exceeding its high estimate 20 times over to sell for $300,000. The chandelier belonged to the collection of the late Ryan Brant, founder of the video game publisher Take-Two Interactive. 

Other highlights from the sale included Untitled (Sonambient), a sculpture from American-Italian designer Harry Bertoia, which fetched $300,000—six times over its high estimate—and a series of windows designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which brought in $487,500 across multiple lots.

Altogether, Sotheby’s online sales have earned more than $36 million in 2020, a number buoyed by several solid sales in March. The company’s recent online auction of Banksy prints, for example, brought in $1.4 million, exceeding its high estimate, while its sale of Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art solidly came in on the high side of expectations, earning $2.6 million total.

Nonetheless, the company furloughed approximately 200 people, or roughly 12 percent of its staff, this week. And news of further schedule changes keeps coming in. The company announced earlier this week that it would postpone its major May sales in New York until June and launch additional online events in their place. 

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