Sotheby’s in 2021… an exceptional vintage


In 2021, Sotheby’s opened new premises in Cologne (September) and Los Angeles (October), as well as an additional private sales pop-up gallery in Monaco, and a Metaverse; but it also enjoyed an explosion in demand, soaring prices on works by very young artists and the incredible success of NFTs, all of which generated breathtaking annual results for the company.

Last month the American firm announced a record annual turnover of $7.3 billion, even before the year had ended. It was the company’s highest ever annual turnover total in its 277-year history. Its owner, Patrick Drahi, also took the opportunity to indicate the possibility of an IPO. Here are some of the key elements in Sotheby’s 2021 performance… a performance that is effectively reshaping the entire global art market.

More bidders than ever before

Sotheby’s reported a record number of bidders in 2021, of whom 44% were new participants. According to Sotheby’s, the “rapid expansion of web and mobile platforms and a shift to a hybrid livestream auction format, combined with on the ground experiences enhanced with state-of-the-art technology, have dramatically expanded access to an unprecedented number of participants over the last 12 months”.

The new bidders were mainly attracted by emerging artists and NFTs. Others have also invested in the art market’s big names. Alberto Giacometti’s Nose was acquired for $78.4 million by Justin Sun (31), founder of the cryptocurrency platform Tron.

Growth in digital capacity and outreach

Sotheby’s digital outreach is also growing with over 16.6 million livestream views last year, 4.2 million social followers across all platforms, 13.2 million unique visitors to, 6.5 million unique visitors to online catalogs, and over 200,000 bids placed online this year representing 92% of total bids; while online sales generated a record $800 million.

Sotheby’s has also created a virtual gallery at Decentraland to exhibit NFTs and has established dedicated Twitter and Discord channels to interact directly with the NFT and crypto communities.

The new NFT windfall

The meteoric rise of NFTs and the launch of Sotheby’s Metaverse, an NFT marketplace dedicated to Web3, have driven a spectacular expansion towards a new audience, with 78% of NFT bidders being new to Sotheby’s and over half being under 40. Sotheby’s has posted nearly $100 million in NFT sales over the past year, including a record for a CryptoPunk ($11.8 million) and a record for a single Bored Ape ($3.4 million).

Larva Labs, CryptoPunk 7523 (One of 9 Alien punks), 11,7m$. 10/06/2021, Sotheby’s New York.


The power of the Asian market

Sotheby’s, which posted an Asian turnover of over $1.3 billion in 2021 (auctions and private sales combined), has positioned itself as the leading international auction house in Asia for the sixth consecutive year.

Over the last few years, the firm’s results have clearly been driven by fast-growing Asian demand. In 2021, notably, the number of new bidders in the region participating in Sotheby’s global sales showed remarkable growth of 60% compared with 2019.

Moreover, Asian collectors have shown they are willing to bid higher than in other countries. Sotheby’s estimates that on average Asian collectors are willing to bid double the value of bidders in other parts of the world.

The firm’s results clearly illustrate this dynamism, with 65% of the lots sold having fetched beyond their high estimates in Sotheby’s Asian sales.

It also posted a 90% sell through rate across all sales staged in Asia. Its results for Modern and Contemporary Art sales in Asia ($603 million) were up 36% versus 2020.

Asian collectors

Asian collectors now represent a third of the business volume in Sotheby’s global sales (all categories combined, including other fields such as wine and watches).

In November, Asian collectors were very active in New York. They participated in the successful sale of several works of great value, notably works by Mark Rothko, Yoshitomo Nara, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Claude Monet, Egon Schiele, Roy Lichtenstein and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They accounted for roughly 20% of the turnover hammered at the firm’s New York outlet, and it was an Asian collector who set Banksy’s new record at $25.4 million for Love is in the Bin (October 2021).

A year marked by numerous new records

More than 125 artist records were hammered in 2021. Among them:

  • the highest price ever paid for an Old Master at Sotheby’s: $92.2 million for a Sandro BOTTICELLI masterpiece.
  • the record for a Latin American artwork, when Frida KAHLO’s Diego y yo sold for $34.9 million.
  • a new record for BANKSY, whose painting Love is in the Bin tripled its high estimate to reach $25.4 million, three years after the same painting partially shredded in Sotheby’s London auction room.
  • a set of 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs sold together for $24.4 million, setting a new auction record for a single lot sold online at Sotheby’s.
  • Sotheby’s first NFT sale, in collaboration with PAK, grossed $16.8 million with 3,000 active buyers.