Scott Reyburn has a strong overview of the competition between Sotheby’s and Christie’s. He shows how the two firms are much closer than it would appear in all of the other categories save Contemporary art. Phillips too seems to want to up its game in Contemporary art with the recent hire of a Robert Manley from Christie’s, as reported by Josh Baer. But the problem facing the top end of the Contemporary market is the sense that the biggest trophy names—Warhol, Koons, Twombly, Rothko, Lichtenstein, Richter and so forth—have run out of steam lately:
But ultimately, it is the twice-yearly series of contemporary art auctions in New York that remain the measure by which the relative “strength” of Christie’s and Sotheby’s is perceived.
The problem for both houses is that overall growth in the auction market has stalled. This year’s first-half sales figures of $4.5 billion and $3.5 billion for Christie’s and Sotheby’s, respectively, are the same as they were a year earlier.
Financial turmoil in China, lower prices for commodities and a weak ruble have had an impact. The £95.7 million that Christie’s took at its June 30 contemporary sale in London was slightly lower than a year earlier.
The main issue with stagnant numbers is finding enough trophy works to drive 8 and 9-figure sales. No matter how much Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Phillips grows the middle market, the biggest works have the most effect on top line numbers.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s Jostle for Sales (NYTimes.com)