In reference to the ‘da Vinci’ factor – the $400m sale last November in New York of Salvator Mundi – he said: “It is easy for the masterpieces to steal the headlines but the real story is the strong sell-through rates at all levels.
“We made very tough decisions last year that were very painful. But we have taken a conscious decision to sell fewer lots that are better chosen with higher sell-through rates.”
King Street rise
In 2017 the company closed its Christie’s South Kensington saleroom and moved some of the sales online or to King Street where sales were up 23% to £960.2m.
Sales across Christie’s online-only sales programme rose 12% in 2017, despite significantly fewer auctions. As average lot values and selling rates improved, sales here were up 12% to £55.9m from 85 sales, compared with 118 in 2016.
Rock said the strategy is now to offer better quality lots: “You can’t just offer anything online. It is not about stuffing these sales full of volume, we have to have quality in all areas. Too much volume can push prices down, that is what has happened in the regional auction houses with furniture. Online is a great way to bring in new buyers.”
Online sales accounted for 37% of new buyers during the year and, overall, new buyers across the business represented 31% of all buyers.
Total auction sales at Christie’s auctions rose 38% to £4.6bn but private sales slipped 32% to £472.4m. Rock added: “The Mundi showed a renewed appreciation of the best of the old as well as the new.
“The most expensive collection sold was Chinese works of art from the Fujita Museum Collection in March totalling £215.3m. This shows there is so much more depth across the market than just modern and contemporary.”
He said the company was positive about the future of the art market in the near term and added: “I have every reason to feel confident about the art market and it feels like we are in a good comfortable place.”
On the impact of Brexit he added: “We have to be adaptable when we know what the facts are. We are not worrying at the moment. We are confident about the market in the short term.”