Breaking Down Christie's Massive $5.7 Billion 2011 Sales Results

Breaking Down Christie's Massive $5.7 Billion 2011 Sales Results
"Collection of Elizabeth Taylor:The Icon & Her Haute Couture" sale at Christie's, New York
(Courtesy Getty Images)

Followers of the art market in recent years are well aquainted with the usual parade of records and unthinkably huge numbers when yearly results are announced. Well, Christie's has just announced its sales totals for 2011, and they do indeed involve a parade of records and some unthinkably huge numbers. Business, it would seem, is booming: With some $5.7 billion in total sales reported, this was a very good year for Christie's. 

What to make of all this? What's going on beneath all those numbers? Below, we look at some of the finer grained details of Christie's 2011 performance:   

Total sales for 2011: £3.6 billion ($5.7 billion)

According to the auction house, the total is a record in pounds (but not in dollars because of conversion rates) — and it's up a truly massive £300 million (nine percent in pounds, 14 percent in dollars) from last year’s £3.3-billion sum. The company is based in London, so it reports sales in British pounds sterling. Because it’s not a public company it isn’t required to report revenue or profit, the twice-yearly reported sales totals are some of the only financials to analyze.  

Most expensive lot of the yearRoy Lichtenstein’s “I Can See the Whole Room!… And There’s Nobody in It!” (1961) at $43.2 million

Pop art, as ever, is hot. Our own Judd Tully covered the November contemporary sale in New York and noted that the lot was scooped up by New York-based dealer Guy Bennett, who took it home for a client at a price near the high end of its $35-45 million estimate. It helped Christie’s to a $773-million total for contemporary art, which continues its run as the best-performing category of the year.

Most expensive Impressionist and modern lot of the yearPablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise, Robe Bleue” (1939) at £18 million ($28 million)

Its Nazi-looted history helped this portrait of Picasso’s mistress Dora Maar sell for several million pounds above its £4-8 million estimate in London last June. However, the Imp-mod category as a whole declined 28 percent to £548.6 million.

Asian art sales: £552.9 million

Meanwhile, the total for the Asian art category is up 13 percent from 2010, and now trumps Impressionist and modern art for sales. Something to think about. 

Growth in Hong Kong: 11 percent

That would seem to be quite respectable — but it’s also a notable leveling off from the epic 114 percent growth it reported in 2010 in Asia.

The Elizabeth Taylor Sale: $157 million with 100 percent of 1,778 lots sold.

The Taylor sale was one was one of the undoubted media events of the year — and the hype paid off for the house, clearly. The $157-million total presumably doesn't even include any revenue from all those people buying tickets and standing around the block to see Liz's baubles when the auction house toured them around the world. As for the sale itself, probably enough has been said about that.

Private sales totals: £502 million

The house's incursion into the private market continues, and the half-a-billion total for Christie's in this department amounted to a 44 percent increase from 2010. It’s a boon for the auction house, clearly. For journalists, however, the increasing attachment of auction houses to this kind of transaction also means that trying to make sense of the art market becomes more difficult — for those not privy to the back-room deals, that is.

Originally posted on Above the Estimate.