The Art Angle Podcast: How the Heck Did Auction Houses Just Sell Almost a Billion Dollars in Art During a Global Pandemic?

Despite dire economic forecasts and an ongoing global health crisis, auction houses' recent hybrid sales just raked in piles of cash.

Live-streamed digital auctions in Spring 2020. Illustration: Artnet.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.



Each May, as the flowers bloom and the evening light lingers, the world’s largest auction houses hold their marquee spring sales in New York, enabling perennial market leader Christie’s, its arch-rival Sotheby’s, and insurgent Phillips to collectively bring in well over $1 billion in one so-called “gigaweek.” But this spring, the COVID-19 shutdown left the Big Three’s salesrooms unnaturally quiet in the Empire City and around the world. Starved of vital cyclical revenue, Sotheby’s cut hundreds of jobs, while Christie’s both restructured and downsized—with all of these moves indicating that blockbuster replacements for the major sales be staged as soon as possible, in whatever form they must take.

Cue the screens. In late June and early July, the major auction houses made an unprecedented pivot from IRL to URL with uncharacteristic speed. Auction paddles were replaced with mouse clicks, and some international offices stayed open as late as 4 a.m. to help stage transcontinental, hours-long hybrid sales.

As usual, the duopoly of Sotheby’s and Christie’s provided the overwhelming majority of the action. At Sotheby’s, a three-part sale saw auctioneer Oliver Barker seamlessly manage a futuristic bank of monitors ping-ponging in bids from cities around the globe, and the star lot—a triptych by Francis Bacon—brought in a staggering $84 million en route to $300 million in total sales. But Christie’s—not usually known for its technological prowess—got the final word with the “ONE” sale, a four-city, four-hour “relay” auction that set a slew of artist records while racking up $421 million overall.

How did the houses manage to pull off these unexpected wins in perhaps the most challenging market in our lifetime? On this week’s episode, Andrew Goldstein is joined by Eileen Kinsella and Nate Freeman, Artnet News’s esteemed auction-reporting veterans, to discuss the lead-up to the history-making summer season, the blow-by-blow at Christie’s “ONE” sale, and what it all means for the future of auctions.

Listen above and subscribe to the Art Angle on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)


Listen to Other Episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: How Hank Willis Thomas Is Making Politics an Art Form

The Art Angle Podcast: The Unsettling Truth Behind What Columbus Monuments Really Stand For

The Art Angle Podcast: Meet the Smithsonian Curator Who Turns Protesters’ T-Shirts Into National Treasures

The Art Angle Podcast: Why Artist Trevor Paglen Is Doing Everything He Can to Warn Humanity About Artificial Intelligence

The Art Angle Podcast: Four Artists on the Front Lines of the George Floyd Protests

The Art Angle Podcast: The Rise and Fall of Anne Geddes, Queen of Baby Photography

The Art Angle Podcast: China’s Most Adventurous Museum Director on Global Art’s Post-COVID Future

The Art Angle Podcast: YouTube’s No-Nonsense Art Guru on How to Unlock Your Inner Artist

The Art Angle Podcast: How Marina Abramović Became the Center of a Vast Satanic Conspiracy Theory

The Art Angle Podcast: The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl on His Adventures in Life as an Accidental Art Critic

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.