The March New York Asia Week a year after the start of the Covid19 pandemic

The March New York Asia Week a year after the start of the Covid19 pandemic

Posted by Pi-eX Research on 24th Mar 2021

The March Asia Week was the first series of auctions hit by the Covid19 pandemic a year ago, as the auction houses were forced to shut their doors on March 19th 2020 due to confinement orders. Exactly one year later, the New York Asian week went back to its regular March timing and results improved as the sale generated over $80 million.

How does this year's March edition of New York Asia Week compare to historical results ?

Does the performance sign the return to normal auction business?

1. A year after the start of the pandemic Live auctions are back in force:

In March 2021, Christie's and Sotheby's clearly favoured the Live format versus the online only format for the March Asian sales as the percentage of online sales dropped from 88% in 2020 to only 18% this year.

Due to the first wave of the Covid19 pandemic, in March 2020 only one auction (the Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art at Sotheby’s) was arranged live while all other sales had to be canceled or moved online in the following months.
With less than $20m, the amount of art traded in the March 2020 Asia Week and the following online sales was the worst in 15 years (-86% in 2020 versus 2019).

A year after the start of the pandemic, back in the traditional March calendar and with the possibility to choose Live and online formats, the New York Asia Week showed total results of over USD 80m, 99% obtained through live auctions.  The March Asia Week is slowly bouncing “back to normal”, but with results still 35% lower than in 2019.

2. The difficult path back to growth as sellers still seem hesitant to consign:

In March 2021, the number of catalogued lots, although higher than in 2020, remained dramatically reduced in comparison to 2019 (1,290 lots in 2021 versus 2,310 in 2019).

Private Collections, which greatly contributed to the volume of lots auctioned in the past, have added little lots, representing only 11% of the 2021 offering. At the same, the Saturday Asian and Classical Chinese auctions also disappeared from the Asia Week schedule.

The lack of supply could certainly be a contributing factor to the luckwarm 2021 performance: In 2019, the Private Collection auctions alone included 640 lots and contributed $44m to the Asian week, compared to only 135 lots in 2021 (21% only of the 2019 offering), still bringing $22 million (50% of the revenue in 2019).

Source: Pi-eX MESO March Asia Week New York Sales Results at Christie's and Sotheby's - 2007-2021

Anna Benoliel contributed to this article