As we head into the last week of December, we get to see how certain industries fared throughout the year. One that had a pretty spectacular 2022? Auctions.
With almost $18 billion in cumulative sales, the three major auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips—had their best year ever, Bloomberg reported recently. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that art itself had an amazing year.
In 2022, Christie’s brought in $8.4 billion in sales, while Sotheby’s reached $8 billion and Phillips made $1.3 billion. Christie’s claims that its stratospheric result is the highest annual total in art-market history.
That house’s overall total was buttressed by a whopping $6.2 billion in sales of 20th- and 21st-century art alone. Classics—including Old Masters, memorabilia, antiques and decorative arts—added another $789 million, while luxury categories hit almost $1 billion. Rounding out the total was $400 million in sales of Asian and world art.
At Sotheby’s, meanwhile, fine art and luxury sales made up $6.8 billion, a decline from last year’s $7.3 billion. But the house’s overall total was buoyed by sales at RM Sotheby’s, which offers collectible cars, and Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions, which deals in real estate. While Sotheby’s doesn’t own either of those companies outright, it does include their sales in its final numbers.
Phillips, which is best known for its contemporary art sales, pushed into new categories this year, helping to elevate its total sales. Indeed, sales of modern art—including works by Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein and Pablo Picasso—increased an impressive 50 percent.
While these numbers are certainly eye-popping, they rely heavily on a few major sales. As Bloomberg notes, they don’t necessarily reflect the strength or weakness of the overall art market. Phillips, for example, sold an $85 million Jean-Michel Basquiat painting and a $41.6 million Cy Twombly. And Christie’s sold seven of the year’s 10 most expensive artworks, including a Marilyn Monroe portrait by Andy Warhol that hammered down for $195 million.
Whether the art market will sustain these kinds of sales figures is an open question. For now, the auction houses will have to be content with their new records.