On Thursday, Christie’s announced that its sales for art — both fine and decorative — are up 53% from 2009. The famed London-based auction house brought in $5.25 billion in art sales last year — higher than its peak sales before the recession, an article in The Wall Street Journal notes. What’s more, sales were up globally — notably in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
According to the Journal, Christie’s owes a good portion of its success in 2010 to Pablo Picasso, whose work brought in a total of $158 million. A record $106.5 million was paid for a single painting (“Nude, Green Leaves and Bust”) by the Spanish artist in May.
Is Christie’s blockbuster year yet another sign that the global demand for all things expensive is finally thawing? Like most sectors, luxury goods manufacturers experienced a sharp drop in sales during the downturn. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton last year, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger — whose research involves consumer attitudes toward high-end brands — noted that many shoppers were “avoiding ostentation more during the recession to avoid getting scorn from [those who were] cutting corners and avoiding layoffs.” Others reported high-end consumers sheepishly forgoing logo-emblazoned shopping bags, instead opting for plain paper ones.
But in late 2010, that trend seemed to be reversing. In October, Bain released its annual “Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study,” which projected a 10% jump in sales in 2010, citing the “unexpected rapid return of U.S. shoppers to luxury stores and continued double-digit growth in China.”
Certainly, the art market in Asia is booming. In China, Christie’s sales of Asian art went up by 115% in 2010. In Hong Kong, the auction house’s art sales were up by 114%, according to Bloomberg. The prize sale in Hong Kong last year: a pair of cloisonné incense vessels for $16.9 million.
Luxury goods designers smell the opportunity. According to the Financial Times, Italian fashion house Prada is preparing to list on the Hong Kong Stock exchange by May, “as it seeks to tap voracious Asian demand for luxury goods.”
Ironically, soup — considered by many to be an emblem for frugal dining during recessionary times — was another hot item for Christie’s this year: A painting by Andy Warhol of a humble Campbell’s soup can and can opener was auctioned off in November for $23.9 million.