Art auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been appraising and selling fine art for centuries (both were founded way back in the 1700s!). This tradition of art auctioneering has changed tremendously over time, but perhaps the most significant change to the process occurred recently at Sotheby’s, which recently started streaming its art auctions online.
For the first time ever, Sotheby’s auctioned art both online and in the showroom by allowing e-commerce giant eBay to live-stream one of its art auctions. Writes William Grimes for The New York Times, “The buildup was intense. Since July, when Sotheby’s struck a deal with eBay to have its auctions carried live, the marriage of the blue-blood auction house to the blue-collar online retailer had generated tingles of anticipation.”
Despite the great anticipation surrounding the first-ever Sotheby’s auction live-stream on eBay, Grimes describes the event, which occurred in late March, as “sedate” and “more like a day at the library than a cut-and-thrust bidding war over Cameoware dishes.”
It comes as little surprise that Sotheby’s is innovating the way that art auctions are held. In 2014, hedge funder Daniel Loeb won three seats on the auction house’s board, which subsequently influenced the direction that Sotheby’s was heading in regards to its newfound business strategies. Indeed, fine art meets big business at Sotheby’s, which Grimes aptly dubs a “blue-blood auction house” in his recent coverage of its relationship with eBay.
At Cultivating Culture, we’ve previously written about how out-of-reach certain aspects of the art world seem to be to your average art-lover. Christie’s, a rival art auction house, sold a painting for an historic $142.4 million back in 2013, which definitely revealed a great divide in the art world. Many speculate that Sotheby’s aims to reach a wider global audience by live-streaming some of its art auctions on eBay. As Grimes points out, “Sotheby’s is hoping to bring its sales to eBay’s 155 million worldwide users, who can simply navigate to a special Sotheby’s section of the eBay website and register 24 hours in advance of the auction they’re interested in.”
Reportedly, Sotheby’s tried to partner with eBay back in 2002, but received a lackluster response. Only time will tell if this partnership proves to be an innovative approach to art auctions, or another business strategy that further divides art collectors.