A sculpture by Alberto Giacometti sold for $101 million. A picture of wildflowers by Vincent van Gogh went for almost $62 million. A painting of the American flag by Jasper Johns went under the gavel for $36 million. And that’s just this month.
Recent auctions at Sotheby’s in New York have brought astronomically high prices, and that’s priceless news to Philipp Herzog von Württemberg. “We are in the midst of a mega-boom,” the managing director of Sotheby’s Germany and chairman of Sotheby’s Europe told Handelsblatt. “It’s like it was before the financial crisis.”
Yet the auction house will soon find itself dealing with somewhat more modest bids, maybe $500 for a chest of drawers, or $1,000 for a photograph, as it begins a collaboration with the Internet auction house eBay. Starting next year, the website’s 145 million customers will be able to take part in Sotheby’s New York auctions, with the two companies planning to set up 18 art categories on their websites. The tie-up is expected to yield up to €400 million, or $499 million.
The auction industry is stunned by the tie-up. Why is the cultured, upmarket auction house teaming up with the online flea market, they ask? Mr. Von Württemberg has done the math. Last year, 36 million eBay customers purchased goods worth an estimated $8 billion in the collector’s items category. “If only two, three or five percent of that comes our way, then the collaboration more than pays off,” he said.