Sotheby’s London Contemporary Curated: a successful transition from Live to Online

Sotheby’s London Contemporary Curated: a successful transition from Live to Online

Posted by Pi-eX Research on 26th Nov 2020

On November, 24th 2020, Sotheby’s closed its Fall London "Contemporary Curated" auction. The online auction opened a week before on November, 17th. Curated by guest Fai Khadra, described by the auction house as a “creative director, multi-disciplinary artist, model and collector”, the sale generated £4,968,064 (almost US$6.6 million), the second highest revenue behind the 2020 Spring sale. This confirmed the year 2020 as a record year for the "Contemporary Curated" sale in London since the launch of the London edition in 2016, a rare happening in the middle of the pandemic. What were the drivers behind the growth of this sale? Did it have something to do with the fact that the 2020 edition of the London Contemporary Curated sale was moved online? Is this series of sales a new breakthrough in Sotheby's online strategy?

1- London Contemporary Curated, the British younger sibling of the New York edition:

The London "Contemporary Curated" Fall sale is part of a series of auctions, scheduled twice yearly, in the spring (except in 2019) and in the fall. The London edition was created two years after the promising debut of the Contemporary Curated sale in New York in 2014:

The Contemporary Curated sales in New York, and in London are on distinct scales: while New York generates more revenue with more lots and a higher value per lot offered on average, London’s offering is usually focused around 100 to 200 lots of lower-value, resulting in a much smaller total revenue.

2. In 2020, the online format was introduced in London but not in New York:

Main novelty in 2020 was the online format of the London "Contemporary Curated" sales both in the spring and fall, while the New York editions remained live. 

Not only did the online format not prevent the London editions from reaching their historical results but it also seems to have helped the sales achieve their best results since 2020. Meanwhile, the New York "Contemporary Curated" Live auctions slightly came down from their 2019 high.

3. Size of the offering, price point and format may all have played a role in this year's success of the London edition of the "Contemporary Curated" auctions:

Mapping the Contemporary Curated sales by number of lots and auction revenue shows that, although on a different scale, the main growth driver applied similarly in New York (highlighted in yellow in the graph above) and London (highlighted in black): in both cities, a reduction of the offering may have contributed to raising the profile of the "Contemporary Curated" auctions.

In 2019 in London, when only one sale was arranged in the fall (instead of 2 sales, one in the spring and one in the fall), the average revenue per sold lot in the one sale increased significantly from about $20,000 to more than $50,000. 

The reduced offering of the London "Contemporary Curated" Sale, with a lower price point, and its new availability online may have been the perfect combination for growth as new online art buyers are getting introduced to art purchasing via entry priced artworks, while at the same time experienced buyers are refocusing on lower-priced artworks.

Whether a question of offering, timing, format, or a new focus on lower-priced artworks on the part of buyers, an additional dynamic pushed Sotheby's London "Contemporary Curated" forward and made it a case study for a successful transition from a pure Live to a pure Online format.

Source: Pi-eX MESO Report: Contemporary Curated Sales Results at Sothebys - 2007-2020

Anna Benoliel contributed to this report

Artwork by Frank Caracciolo, 2000