The strategy of online auction houses


    The switch from analog to online was quick and forced for the auction houses during the lockdown as well.

    But apparently, in order not to give up their passion, collectors have also started to buy works of art with online auctions

    The lockdown hasn’t stopped auction houses that used to auction online mostly wines, luxury and multiples and prints with values of just over $50,000, but during the quarantine period also debuted on the web lots with million dollar figures.

    In fact, in the art market paralyzed by the pandemic, there has been widespread use of new methods and stratagems to overcome the lack of physicality, adrenaline, the moment of the auction.

    One of the first to experience Sotheby’s, which last 29 June proposed the “multicamera global livestream auction”, where in what has become an “art marathon” for 74 lots, the hitter Oliver Backer from London and in the middle of an empty room, followed the offers received from specialists in New York and Hong Kong simultaneously through screens, all broadcast live for collectors, enthusiasts and operators.

    Backer has skillfully managed the bids, demonstrating such an ability to adapt that the sale of five lots, including the triptych of Francis Bacon, sold at $84.6 million and bringing home a total result of $363.2 million.

    Francis Bacon Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, Bacon: © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2020

    The auction houses have therefore initiated a change of course for online sales.

    The new sales strategies include the hybrid format, a mix of physical presence of the hitter and online participation of buyers, in an attempt to recreate the tension of the room.

    The result achieved on 2 July last by the Phillips auction house, a sale of “white gloves”, which is very rare for the times, but which saw all 25 lots as a buyer, for a total of 41.1 million dollars for the evening auction and 51.3 million dollars for the daytime auction.

    Christie’s doesn’t stand idly by either, and today, 10 July, there is a big auction entitled “ONE A global sale of the 20th century”, unique in its kind because it is streamed from four locations around the world: New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong.

    A unique real-time event across time zones, a relay of four consecutive sessions led by the auction house’s leading auctioneers, starting in Hong Kong that aspires to recreate the excitement of evening auctions online with works by Picasso, Lichtenstein and Zao Wou-Ki.

    A screenshot of Christie’s “ONE” auction Online Viewing Room presented during the press conference

    Moreover, a novelty of the last few weeks suggests that the world of auction houses can still give us some surprises.

    In fact, at the beginning of July 2020 Loic Gouzer, former Christie’s specialist, a real rainmaker who led the famous auction where the Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo da Vinci was sold, seemed to have left the art world behind him two years ago, and yet the dot remained, so much so that he launched the “Fair Warning” app, nothing less than the typical phrase of the hitter of an auction just before closing the bids and awarding the work of art.

    Gouzer, known by all as “the daredevil” of the art market, after leaving the auction house, continued to work as an independent advisor, but the pandemic got in the way and it seemed impossible for him to continue selling by video call… So the experience and a bit of recklessness allowed him to imagine the application FAIR WARNING, a virtual one shot auction platform for the most careful collectors (and millionaires).

    Exclusive access with selection directly made by Gouzer, a single work a single lot put up for sale every week with raises as fast as a swipe and millionaire awards at the speed of a click …

    These results (while waiting to hear the results of the Christie’s auction) and the new emerging projects send a strong and positive message to the market, showing how technology can still be a fundamental tool for the art world.

    Sales in theatres will undoubtedly resume, with due caution, but the success of online auctions to date confirms the potential of digital as a parallel channel to develop the art market. On the other hand, quarantine has shown that art is the safe-haven asset that best meets our emotional needs even in times of crisis.

    And are you ready to find out the results of the upcoming online auctions?


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