As art collecting continues to shift online, Christie’s has joined its competitors in releasing a set of themed digital sales in the contemporary segment. On Friday, the auction house announced it will hold a charity auction in collaboration with the Warhol Foundation bearing the title Andy Warhol: Better Days, the proceeds from which will go to artists based in the United States as part of the foundation’s $2.6 million initiative to provide relief funding throughout the creative sector.
Featuring a selection of 60 Warhol photographs selected by the foundation’s licensing director, Michael Dayton Hermann, Better Days will run from April 28-May 6. The pop art icon’s Polaroids are typically a mainstay in the Photographs sale category, and this online sale serves as an opportune moment to highlight the less advertised Warhol ephemera that tends to see high bidding in live sales. Featuring the kind of diaristic content typical of candid photography— the Polaroids feature self-portraits, friends and flowers —one of the highest priced of which, estimated at $15,000-20,000 depicts an intimate moment from 1979 with famed Met curator Henry Geldzahler posed behind the artist among against a backdrop of yellow suburban flora.
Following the impact of coronavirus closures across the art industry, the President of Christie’s EMEA, Dirk Boll noted the company has tripled its online sale calendar across its global sites between April and May. The upcoming online sale initiatives are both a result of the firm’s “long-standing partnerships with the Warhol Foundation…as well as conversion of select sales from the traditional saleroom format to online-only offerings” says Boll. The Warhol sale also marks the kind of collaborative efforts permeating the primary and secondary market at the moment. While partnerships between foundations and the trade sector for charity are nothing new, collaborative initiatives are a strategic move in the auction sector that’s been hit hard by the pandemic’s impact. Its a way of not only to sourcing works for sale that carry a lower risk for the consignor, but also a method to stand out in the digital realm oversaturated with art.
Along with the news of the Warhol sale, Christie’s announced it will proceed with the release of a new online sale series each week, the bidding span of which will run between two to three weeks at a time. The house confirmed its plans to continue to grow its digital sector based out of its global hubs between the New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong – with offerings across a multitude of collecting categories including 20th Century art, Asian Art, Photographs, Science and Natural History, and luxury. The firm also self-reported its website hosted more than 13.3 million online visitors in 2019, with a total of 41% buyers new to the company coming through online sales channels. In this moment of heightened virtual collecting—and estate sales on pause until the fall—the initiative to cultivate new clients is seeing priority. Christie’s President of Americas, Jennifer Zatorski notes the ongoing priority in adapting sales approach to widespread virtual demand. “Following our planned move to reduce our printed materials by at least 50% and to increase our investment in digital-first initiatives, Christie’s is now accelerating the development of new enhancements that support our private and online-only sales channels” said Zatorski.
With public auctions canceled for the coming weeks, and in-person client engagement initiatives that drive lucrative corners of the business halted, the new buyer segment remains a crucial area of focus. The private sale sector is where the high-level single lots will go to top-tier collectors, while the mid to lower level transactional echelon that tends to be less visible will drive a significant portion of revenue in the interim.
Christie’s Asia says its seen a wave of heightened engagement across its client base especially “with the channel accounting for the largest share of new buyers from the region in 2019” says the the President of the company’s Asia Pacific region, Francis Belin.