Auction Sales Have More Than Tripled in 2021 as the Art World Comes Roaring Back

Auctioneer Oliver Barker at Sotheby’s Rembrandt to Richter sale, July 28th 2020. Sotheby's

According to new data released by Pi-eX, in the first half of 2021, auction sales increased by 230% as the industry gamely bounced back from the terror and austerity of the pandemic. Specifically, the data shows that the auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips were able to drum up $5.8 billion in sales by June 30, which is a big jump from the $1.75 billion they were able to generate in the first half of 2020. Interestingly, the numbers also indicate that one of the major factors that determined the surge was the return of various options when it came to buying; the share of online-only auctions dipped to 56% in the first half of 2021 from the 73% that defined the first half of 2020.

“There is no doubt that it is the return of the live auction format on the traditional auction calendar that explains the growth in the first semester this year versus last year,” Christine Bourron the chief executive of Pi-eX, said in a statement. Nevertheless, it’s indisputable that virtual auctions, the advent of NFTs and the skyrocketing popularity of authenticated blockchain artwork also hugely contributed to the large bump in sales numbers that auction houses are currently enjoying.

Specifically, new data also indicates that NFTs of all kinds have generated $2.5 billion in sales in 2021 so far, with $150 million in sales generated on the OpenSea NFT marketplace in June alone. If these trends continue, auction houses have latched upon a lasting income stream that could supplement or even eventually dominate their additional sales of more traditional artworks. Inarguably, the biggest thing to happen in the auction world so far this year was Christie’s sale of an NFT by Beeple, a net artist who found himself skyrocketed to fame when his artwork sold for $69.3 million. This is likely only the first of many mammoth sales to come. Auction Sales Have More Than Tripled in 2021 as the Art World Comes Roaring Back