Sotheby's to Jam May New York Sales Into One Week to Spur Buzz

  • Scheduling has become a major weapon in auction-house wars
  • Sotheby's sold $1.15 billion of art in November, beating rival

Sotheby’s plans to jam its big semiannual New York sales into one week in May, shaking up its traditional auction schedule amid volatile financial markets and heated competition with rival Christie’s.

For years, the auction houses coordinated their major evening sales in New York during two weeks in early May and November. Impressionist and modern art sales took place in the first week, followed by postwar and contemporary auctions. The main events took place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s alternating who goes first every season.

“Reflecting today’s market, and in response to the evolving taste of the world’s great collectors, Sotheby’s will present one week of auctions preceded by a dynamic, 10-day exhibition,” the company said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.

Scheduling has become a new weapon in an arsenal that also includes price guarantees and global tours. A prominent place on the schedule can help win trophy pieces, generating buzz and attracting buyers.

Evening Event

Sotheby’s said it will start its May sales with an evening auction of Impressionist and modern art on May 9, a Monday. For the first time, the company will use more than 65,000 square feet of gallery space throughout the building to exhibit the works in a single preview.

In upending its schedule, Sotheby’s will follow Christie’s. Last May, Christie’s squeezed all its auctions into a single week and added an extra blockbuster sale spanning the 20th century. The approach paid off as the auction house walked away the winner, selling the world’s most expensive artwork at auction, Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger” painting that fetched $179.4 million.

Sotheby’s sold $1.15 billion of art during the last round of semiannual sales in November in New York, slightly surpassing Christie’s $1.1 billion tally.

Christie’s hasn’t finalized its May dates yet, a spokeswoman said.

Sotheby’s top lot in November was Cy Twombly’s 1968 abstract painting depicting chalky loops on gray background that went for $70.5 million, an auction record for the artist.