On Tuesday, Sotheby’s closed their two week-long online bidding run for the eighth edition of their London contemporary curated segment. Hosted by guest curator designer and fashion heiress Margherita Missoni, the auction sold 84 lots seeing a solid 88% sell-through rate bringing in total of £5.1 ($6.4M)—the highest result achieved to date in an online sale for the company.
Among the highest selling lots of the sale was George Condo’s Antipodal Reunion from 2005, featuring the artists signature style of blending figuration and abstraction. The work which comes from a private London collection. It garnered just eight bids in total outselling its high estimate of £800,000 to reach £1.1M ($1.3M) in the final moments before the sale’s bidding closed. Sotheby’s representatives confirmed the Condo is the most expensive work to be sold in an online-only sale in the company’s history.
Amid the impact of the coronavirus pandemic closures that have forced a conversion of most live sales digital, Sotheby’s Ashkan Baghestani, Head of Sale for the Contemporary Curated segment noted the strong results come as a reassuring sign “at a time when the art world’s eyes are looking hard at the performance of online sales.” “There is no doubt that the eclectic nature of the material played a strong part in the sale’s success – from Margherita Missoni’s crafted selection to experimental works from the Middle East, and those by the giants of Contemporary Art” said Baghestani.
Just behind Condo were a selection of major works by top female contemporary artists. A work by Monir Farmanfarmarian—postwar contemporary Iranian artist known for her mirror works combining Islamic art references and mathematical abstraction titled Geometry of Hope from 1975 went to its only bidder just meeting the low estimate and selling for £375,000 — breaking a new auction record for the artist. Another work by Yayoi Kusama titled Star featuring a version of the artist’s signature repeated pattern surface went for £237,000 selling for well above its low estimate of £150,000. German postwar artist and student of Joseph Beuys, Imi Knoebel‘s monumental pink aluminum slate work Trinity Bay sold for £225,000, solidly within its estimate of £180,000-250,000.
Andy Warhol’s work on paper titled Crosses collected a total of 27 bids realizing a final price of £106,250 ($133,429) at five times it’s pre-sale high estimate. The auction also saw engaged bidding for Damien Hirst‘s spot painting. It saw 14 bids eventually doubling its low estimate of £60,000 and reaching a total of £118,750 ($149,126). Anonymous street artist Invader who recently saw a new auction record for his Mona Lisa Rubik piece also saw competitive bidding. The artist’s ‘Red Rubik Phantom’ collected 13 bids before reaching its selling price £162,500 ($204,068).
The shift from live to digital auctions is now bringing bigger works by more prominent names to the virtual bidding realm where recognizable styles by contemporary mainstays fare well. The Condo piece, highly recognizable to a global base of collectors, was an ideal candidate to star as the leading lot. And although the drawn out sale length and remote bidding of virtual sales eliminates the pressures typical of public auctions, the Condo case proves close bidding for the highest valued works are mimicking the behavior seen in the live sale room.
Reporting a robust initiative across its digital platforms, Sotheby’s has acknowledged plans to continue to grow its online segment, reporting a 2019 total of $250 million in sales of fine art and luxury offering to clients online. And with more expensive works coming to the online sector, the landscape of bidders expands with it. The auction house reported that among this sale’s clients—based across 36 countries total— a third of its buyers were new to the company and 36% of its bidders were under the age of forty. As the online segment of auctions continues to develop, business-getters are strategically investing attention in their youngest and newest clients— for Sotheby’s and its competitors these buyers and bidders are the upcoming class. They have the longevity to return to low and mid level auctions, and to increase in transactional potential incrementally as their collecting portfolios grow.