Christie's and Phillips stake out the final week in June in a last stand attempt to save New York's Gigaweek. Will Sotheby's follow?
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
In the best of times, high stakes art auctions are a game of chess between the houses as they try to out-position each other for consignments, sale dates and the interest of the most sought-after buyers. These days, that chess game has an added third dimension, trying to predict the effects of the spread of coronavirus on the three major auction centers in New York, London and Hong Kong.
Through much of the last year, Hong Kong seemed to be the city most at risk from forces beyond the control of the auctioneers. Long-running street battles between protestors, police and gangs of pro-Mainland enforcers threatened to overshadow the city’s art trade which had remained surprisingly healthy even at the height of street conflicts. When Art Basel Hong Kong was finally cancelled under the added pall of the coronavirus, there seemed to be an almost audible gasp of relief among art dealers that they would not have to gamble on attending the fair. Even then, Hong Kong’s volatile mix of street politics was a more present danger than the incipient pandemic.
Today the auction houses don’t have quite the same luxury. Even if art fairs account for a substantial portion of an art gallery’s business, a single fair will not make a break a gallery’s year (exempting Art Basel in Basel, of course, which the fair’s elders seem to be signaling will be moving to September.) The May sales in New York are a different animal. Some wag christened the concentration of buying power that takes place twice a year in New York City as Gigaweek. That’s because the aggregate sales among the three auction houses in those periods is well beyond a billion dollars and account for a portion of their overall revenue too great to simply forego.
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