Zooming through lockdown and breaking records along the way 

A T-rex skeleton named Stan that fetched $31.8m and a $28.6m Cezanne watercolour entered the history books this year
Zooming through lockdown and breaking records along the way 

Stan, one of the largest T.rex skeletons ever discovered, sold for $31.8 million at Christie's.

All the ways the world changed permanently in 2020 are not yet clear. 

What is utterly transparent is that an industry largely driven by respect for the traditions and skills of the past has embraced the future in ways that would have been unimaginable before this pandemic struck.

The world of art and antiques has zoomed through lockdown by acquiring new skills and exploiting technology to its fullest. The virtual world has become the real work of auctions, antique fairs and sales.

Paul Cezanne's 'Nature morte avec pot au lait' sold for $28.6 million, a world record for a watercolour by the artist.
Paul Cezanne's 'Nature morte avec pot au lait' sold for $28.6 million, a world record for a watercolour by the artist.

Covid 19 has halted large scale viewings and crowd-pulling events. It has not stopped the supply of goods coming to market, new benchmarks being set, new buyers entering the scene.

The way in which the market at all levels has risen to the challenges posed by severe restrictions on movement, total lockdowns and the rest of it, and the speed with which it has happened, is little short of astonishing.

The technology exists and more and more of us availed of it. In Ireland for the first time ever this month, online spending overtook physical spending. According to Revolut, about 25% of spending in Ireland was online in March, before Covid-19 led to the imposition of restrictions. This month it is 51%.

The impact of a change of this magnitude on local auction houses cannot be overstated. Auctioneers are finding new buyers and bidders from a cohort of people who would not normally attend viewings or auctions. 

These newcomers to the market are happy to buy from photographs and condition reports from auctioneers. This is happening right now, locally, nationally and globally.

Many of us do hanker after the real thing. So do auction houses. 

Revolut found that when shops in Ireland re-opened after the first lockdown customers resumed buying in physical stores, as well as buying online. 

There is no reason to suppose that it will be any different when it comes to auctions. When this thing passes auctions will be back, but it is anticipated that in the post-pandemic world online bidding will play a much bigger role than ever before.

The figures are nothing short of extraordinary. Last month a total of 280,000 people tuned in to Christie's 20th century evening sale live-streamed from New York. 

The auction of 59 lots realised $340,851,500. The top lot was Cy Twombly's Bolsena which made $38 million.

Sales totals for live-streamed auctions may be lower than might have been achieved by separate stand-alone auctions in ordinary times but the levels of engagement are high, and growing. Around 35% of all buyers at sales this year are new to purchasing at the house where they bought.

Major sales have a new hybrid look, which has and continues to evolve since the original 2020 schedules of sales had to be torn up and revised. One of the lots at Christie's Contemporary Art auction was Stan, one of the largest, most complete and widely studied Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever discovered. 

Named after the palaeontologist who first discovered a partially unearthed hip bone the T.rex came to auction from the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota with an estimate of $6-8 million. It sold for $31,847,500 in an auction which also saw a $28.6 million record for a watercolour by Cezanne.

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