With nearly $18-billion haul, this was best year for auction houses


It’s been a banner year for the . Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have just released superlative-filled yearend reports. Christie’s global sales hit $8.4 billion, the highest annual total in art-market history, the auction house claims.

Sotheby’s was close behind with $8 billion in sales, also its highest (though it comes with some major caveats) and the much smaller Phillips reported its best year ever too, with a final tally of $1.3 billion.

But a note of warning: This record year might say more about the nature of the auction house business than the art market itself.

Sotheby’s total, for instance, includes only $6.8 billion of fine art and luxury sales, a decline of almost 7 per cent from last year’s $7.3 billion. The remaining $1.2 billion in Sotheby’s yearend report came from the car auctioneer RM Sotheby’s and the auctioneer Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions.

Phillips was able to supplement its overall numbers by pushing into new categories. Traditionally an auction house known for cutting-edge, hyper-contemporary art, this year it had a 50 per cent increase in the volume of modern artworks it sold — from the likes of Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein and Pablo Picasso — for multimillion-dollar sums.

Christie’s, which had the str­­­ongest showing of all, sold a massive $6.2 billion worth of 20th and 21st century art alone.


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