The rise of auction houses in private sales

  • Christie's sold this Gustave Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer privately in 2006 for a reported $135 million (Neue Galerie New York)

    Christie's sold this Gustave Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer privately in 2006 for a reported $135 million (Neue Galerie New York)

Even while record prices for major artists at auction have been headline news in the past year, the recession has helped accelerate the art market's shift towards private sales. Some sellers are seemingly reluctant to take the risk of their art failing at public auction. In response, auction houses are increasingly brokering private sales, and dealers are either adjusting or folding.

Arts Economics calculates the market’s most recent peak turnover in 2007 at $65 billion, with half of sales controlled by dealers.

The two major auction houses are now brokering over $1 billion of private sales annually. According to Spear's, in 2007 Christie’s had private sales of $542 million and Sotheby’s $730 million. In 2009, Christie’s private sales activity grew by 3 per cent to 12.5 per cent of its global turnover, and Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s European president, expects this to grow to 20 per cent in the next three years. 

The result may be that today's collectors will miss out on the role of the art dealer as both an educator and as a discreet source for buying and selling. 

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