Amid Auction Rescheduling, Timing Proves Critical

It was speculated earlier last month that Christie’s might be cancelling its June postwar and contemporary art auctions in London, and now, it is confirmed by the auction house. The shifts in the international auctions calendar continue to rustle things up and cause major changes. Christie’s London stated to aim their concentration on nurturing two main seasons for these auctions: March and October. Auction house officials said this year was particularly busy for collectors; Venice, Documenta 14, Art Basel and later New York sales in May have all narrowed down the free space in the summer calendar of the art world. Other sources claim this is just one of the radical changes Christie’s has implemented under the guidance of the Guillaume Cerutti who came to the position of chief executive of the major auction house in December. Christie’s June Impressionist and Modern sales are scheduled to go on as usual.

Global President of Christie’s, Jussi Pylkkänen said in a statement: “We are always looking to ensure that we offer collectors the very best material at the right moment and as the art world calendar is always evolving, we are leading the market by making changes to meet the needs of our global audience.” Choosing the right time and carefully planning the auction might be the key factors for its success or fail, and amidst the surplus of events taking place around the world, this is proving to be more and more of a challenge. Another influencing factor for this decision was prior successful experience with date changes, namely, the February Post-War and Contemporary Art sales were moved to late February and early March, and this proved to be a good move; the sell-through rates reached 95 percent by lot and 98 percent by value. As fickle of a market as the art market is, the turf is often uneven, and it must be adapted and changed in face of the circumstances. For instance, Phillips and Sotheby’s also made some changes in their dates simply to avoid clashing with the Chinese New Year.

The international art calendar is mostly dictated by the most powerful art fairs, and the rest of the elements from the art world must follow their lead. Holidays often impose an obstacle for fairs and major auctions as well, and everyone tries to work around it or reschedule if necessary. All three auction houses had to move their dates forward last October, aiming to coincide with Frieze London, and the art fair itself was rescheduled due to clashing with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. However, this time it might be only Christie’s that is switching things around, Sotheby’s said they have no plans of rescheduling, while Phillips hasn’t reached a decision yet. In the case of being the only auction house to change the dates, this decision might be attributed to a string of belt-tightening measures announced under the leadership of Guillaume Cerutti, the recently appointed chief executive. After shutting down the Amsterdam auctions and closing Christie’s South Kensington saleroom, the new chief executive has shown an inclination towards radical measures.

It remains to be seen whether this approach will truly bring focus and more success to the planned two key points in the year and maximize London’s position in the international art auction scene, or will it fail to crossover the gap and simply be a missed opportunity for the major auction house. After all, their competitors, Sotheby’s, have said the June contemporary schedule has always been a very successful season, yielding more than $1.5 billion in Sotheby’s London June sales in the past decade alone.

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