On Monday, Phillips announced its overall sales totaled $760.4 million for 2020. Together, the house’s auction sales realized over $648 million, while private sales brought in $113.2 million.
The total is down 16.3 percent from the 2019 annual sales of $908 million, a better outcome than its larger competitors Sotheby’s and Christie’s who saw an average 25 percent decrease in year-on-year sales as a result of the ongoing pandemic’s economic impact. Auction sales were down 12 percent over the $736 million realized in 2019. Private sales saw a more significant drop, down 34 percent from the $171.8 million made in 2019, bringing the 2020 figure closer to Phillips’s 2018 results. Despite an emphasis on digital initiatives because of the pandemic, the house did not report its online sale total for this year, which was $75 million in 2019.
In some areas, Phillips proved resilient amid the challenges in the 2020 auction season. In its final December evening sale, the boutique house reached a new milestone with the sale of Seattle based developer Richard Hedreen’s $41 million David Hockney landscape, which was the most expensive lot sold in any the evening sale at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or Phillips between November and December.
“The result is a testament to our long-standing digital and client-first strategies, assembling highly-focused and curated sales that reflect international collecting trends and appetites, and an uncompromising focus on quality,” Phillips CEO Edward Dolman said in a statement.
Dolman’s statement added, “Our strength and expansion across Asia contributed to this year’s successes.” In Asia, Phillips reported a collective $152 million (HKD 1.18 billion) in sales across the region, a 24 percent increase from the 2019 figure of $123.2 million (HKD 955 million), marking the house’s highest historic total in the region. For 20th century and contemporary art and design sales in Hong Kong, Phillips reported a total of $100.6 million (HKD 780 million) for 2020, reaching a 52 percent increase from the preceding year.
In December, a landmark joint evening sale by Phillips in Hong Kong with Chinese auction house Poly brought Phillips’s modern and contemporary art sale to a total of $50 million (HKD 388 million). “This was the first time that a Western auction house joined forces with one in mainland China and its importance in the market cannot be overstated,” Dolman said in his statement.
Phillips’s usual focus on young emerging artists also paid off in the Hong Kong market, bringing records for rising market stars like Lucas Arruda, Bernard Frize, Salman Toor, and the late Matthew Wong. At the top end of the market, Phillips also reported that Asia-based clients acquired half of the top ten works auctioned across global sale centers in 2020.
Among the house’s top priorities for 2020 were expanding digital engagement and advancing client-facing tech. “Some of the gratifying outcomes of 2020 were the digital innovations we introduced, paying close attention to the new client experience through our market-leading technologies, which allowed collectors to feel a sense of “being in the room,” Phillips global chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal said.
The house launched a new tech platform, Articker, which tracks how artists are trending in the media to aid specialist and collectors in targeting an artist’s market trajectory. In the fall, Phillips also launched Gallery One, a new digital auction platform for affordably prices lots open for bidding for a total of one week. The new online initiative is spearheaded by Racine Romaguera, Phillips senior international director of digital strategy and development.
Westphal added that the house “experienced an influx of first-time buyers, including a robust millennial audience,” as a result of the new focus on technology. To back that, the house reported a 136 percent increase in new online accounts, a 50 percent increase of property sold online across 25 online-only sales in 2020, and a 635 percent increase in online sales in Asia.
Despite the focus on digital expansion and with sales still largely remote amid ongoing international travel restrictions, Phillips is still investing in brick-and-mortar sites were clients are concentrated. In the summer, they opened a Southampton, New York, outpost, with plans to open its new Park Avenue headquarters in New York City and an exhibition space in Los Angeles to follow later this year.