Corona fuels online auctions | heise online

The corona pandemic has also shaken up the art auction market worldwide. The big New York auction houses had to postpone their normally record-breaking face-to-face auctions in May and November and finally relocated them largely to the Internet. Auction records in the three-digit million range, such as in 2019, when a Monet painting for 110 million US dollars changed hands, did not materialize in the Corona year 2020. In 2020, a triptych by Francis Bacon at Sotheby’s brought the highest sales with around 85 million dollars – at least significantly more than previously expected.

The total volume of traded works fell sharply in 2020, says Johannes Vogt, head of the contemporary art department at the art market internet service provider Artnet. “But the market is there and it has been incredibly resilient during the crisis.” That is the big difference to the financial crisis of 2008, when the art market also went into the basement.

“The interest and the purchasing power are there, the volume has only decreased globally,” says Vogt. Between April and autumn, the sellers withheld their high-priced works because of the general uncertainty. A large part of the business of the big auction houses is now done through private sales anyway. So-called “private sales” have increased extremely. “The trend has been around for years and has nothing to do with Corona.”

Corona was primarily a catalyst for online auctions. For the first time, works in the millions were only offered online, says Vogt. Sotheby’s, for example, sold a work by the Russian romantic painter Iwan Aivazovsky at an “online only” auction for the record price of $ 2.8 million.

Artnet also had an “absolute record year,” says Vogt. According to its own statements, the house is the only “online-only” auction house that has only auctioned on the Internet. “Our business has gone through the roof since April.”

The pandemic has “triggered an enormous change in the auction market and in the art industry,” says Bastienne Leuthe, Senior Director for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Germany. “For Sotheby’s this meant an acceleration of digitization on an unprecedented scale.” With 362 online auctions in all categories, Sotheby’s achieved $ 522 million. Every week, jewels and wristwatches are now auctioned online at Sotheby’s. A pair of Nike Air Jordans sneakers sold for $ 560,000.

Whether designer handbags, precious stones, expensive wines or sneakers – Christie’s has also been active in this area for a long time and this year, for example, auctioned a pair of sports shoes worn by basketball star Michael Jordan for the record price of 615,000 dollars. For example, Sotheby’s offered a plastic crown by rapper Notorious BIG (1972-1997) that raised nearly $ 600,000. “40 percent of the customers in our online sales are new customers, and more than a quarter of the online shoppers are under 40,” says Leuthe.

German auction houses offer a surprise in the Corona year: Despite the crisis, Ketterer Kunst in Munich and Van Ham in Cologne achieved record results. With around 60 million euros, annual sales at Ketterer Kunst in 2020 almost reached the level of 2019 (62 million euros). Three works cracked the million mark that is magical for German houses. The picture “Christiane und Kerstin” by Gerhard Richter achieved more than 2.6 million euros, two works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner came in at almost 1.7 million and a good one million euros.

“We are almost profiting from Corona,” says owner Robert Ketterer. “We held our best spring auction in history in June.” The switch to online was not difficult at Ketterer. Even before the Corona, almost 90 percent of all bids from Munich came from outside the auction room – by phone, in writing or online. “Our online auctions have gone through the roof,” says Ketterer. “We’ve increased that fivefold.” In 2020, Ketterer held 16 purely online auctions. “Corona is really a catalyst for digitization, also in art.”

Van Ham in Cologne even achieved the best full year result in the company’s history with almost 40 million euros. Van Ham alone had 34 online-only auctions with a total turnover of around 3.4 million euros. Managing director Markus Eisenbeis relied on technological independence in the sensitive online auction area early on. Even before Corona, he had his own internet platform developed in order to be independent of technology providers. It also secures customer data, says Eisenbeis.

Van Ham auctioned around 4,000 objects in online auctions alone. A large depot at the gates of Cologne now serves as a logistics center. Eisenbeis observed a trend: “For years the halls have been getting emptier.” Bidding online has long been the norm in live auctions. “The people didn’t have to change much at all.”


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