How Sotheby’s Transformed in an Unprecedented Year

How Sotheby’s Transformed in an Unprecedented Year


As 2020 draws to a close, we took a look back to discover some of the incredible moments and insights that defined this time of change. Sharing the beauty of art and objects from afar brought us together in new and exciting ways, and led to memorable seasons underscored by innovation, adaptation and market leadership.

  Dominic Lipinski - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Online Is Where the Action Is

The marketplace swiftly pivoted online, in 2020 70% of all auctions took place online, and 80% of bidding. More than 380 online auctions realized $558 million, over three times the volume and over seven times the value for 2019. Buyers were not afraid to raise their virtual paddles, even at the highest levels, as shown by a bidding battle between online and telephone bidders that drove Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus to achieve $84.6 million.

More than an Auction House

The advantages to buying and selling art privately appealed to more collectors than ever – and with $1.55 billion worth of private sales, it was a record year. Two new gallery spaces, one in the Hamptons and one in Palm Beach, bring works available for private sale to locations where collectors gather, and Sotheby’s Gallery Network connects clients to a range of artworks from some of our most trusted gallery partners.

Also appealing to those who were looking to shop outside the auction calendar this year was the newly launched Buy Now platform, an immediate way to purchase specially curated mix of art, design, jewels, watches and more.

Growth in Asia Has No Limit

For the 5th consecutive year, Sotheby’s has been the market leader in Asia. In 2020, Asian clients were responsible for 30% of Sotheby’s worldwide auction sales, and of the top 20 lots sold worldwide, nine went home with Asian collectors. Online, the power of Asian buyers is increasing faster than anywhere else in the world, more than doubling in 2020.

The Demand for Luxury Goods Is on the Rise

Passion-fueled purchases for luxury items like jewels, watches, handbags, wine and sneakers drove sales to exceed $600 million in 2020, which included 260 online sales that totalled $150.5 million, a five-fold increase over 2019. Among the highlights, Michael Jordan’s Game Worn Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985 sold for an outstanding $560,000, setting a new world auction record for any pair of sneakers at the time.

Expanding the Definition of Cultural Icons

In 2020, we reinvented what a masterpiece can be. Cultural achievements and milestones of all kinds were celebrated with the sales of unique trophies like a trio of Alfa Romeo concept cars, a pair of game-worn Nike Air Jordans, a dining table by Carlo Mollino and a toy crown-turned-cultural-relic m ade famous by rapper Biggie Smalls, which sold in Sotheby’s first-ever auction devoted to Hip Hop.

All Eyes Are On Us

More than ever, our audience went far beyond those participating at auction. Sotheby’s livestreamed marquee sales attracted more than four million views, owing in part to our growing following across social channels, Sotheby’s has 3.8 million followers, the largest of any auction house.

No Exhibition? No Problem

Being unable to see artworks in person didn’t stop collectors from buying – instead they relied on a host of innovative ways to preview artworks from afar, including videos, virtual exhibitions and tours, and one-on-one video chats with specialists. At the very highest level, works in the marquee auctions were bought after having been previewed through Sotheby's virtual platforms.

Julian Cassady Photography

New Collectors Flock Online

Sotheby’s is open to all, and this year new buyers came out in record numbers, especially online – 44% of bidders and buyers in online auctions were new to Sotheby’s.

Giving Back

During this unprecedented year, Sotheby’s supported artists, individuals, and communities in need, organizing and facilitating new charity initiatives around the world. From an auction benefiting Christy Turlington Burns’s maternal health nonprofit to MayDay, a charity sale for Covid-19 relief, Sotheby’s expanded the art of giving, raising over $40 million.

2020 Major Moments

Top Results of 2020

Top Lots of the Year

Looking Ahead

Upcoming Auctions & Exhibitions

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Science and Popular Culture

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