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  • Mar 23, 2020

Auctions Set Sights on May, June, and Beyond

*Last updated March 25, 2020

Major international auction houses have closed their offices in response to Covid-19.

With more than 15,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New York City to date, the metropolis has become an epicentre of the pandemic in the United States. Meanwhile, other countries have imposed strict restrictions including border controls and bans against large gatherings to combat the escalating severity of the novel coronavirus. Major international auction houses have responded by rescheduling their forthcoming spring sales and closing their global offices. 

Bonhams shuttered its US and United Kingdom salerooms after a March 18 report by ArtNews disclosed that one of the auction house’s Los Angeles employees had attended a sale with flu-like symptoms. On March 20, the house announced the postponement of all of its upcoming sales until after April 21, while its international salerooms and offices in the US, UK, and in Hong Kong remain closed. Previously, it had announced on its website that it was “exploring a ‘behind closed doors’ sale format” for UK sales, including Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, originally set for April 21. Earlier in February, following the initial spread of Covid-19 within China and nearby regions, Bonhams had pushed back its Asia Week New York sales, originally slated for March 12–19, until June, while it postponed its March sale series in Hong Kong, with dates yet to be confirmed. 

Meanwhile, Christie’s released a statement on March 13 regarding the delay of the majority of its March and April sales planned for Europe and the US. Since March 19, most of the house’s global offices are also closed, with the exception of its Hong Kong branch, which has re-opened, and offices in mainland China, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Jakarta, which are all operating with reduced staff on site. While the auction house’s spring series for Hong Kong (May 30–June 3) is currently set to proceed as planned, its 20th Century Week in New York (May 12–15), which consolidates both New York and London sales, has been changed to June 23–26. Christie’s March 18 sales of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, and Indian art from the Jane and Kito de Boer Collection, in New York, were postponed with no new dates yet released.

Also on March 20, Sotheby’s announced that some of its New York spring sales from the categories of design, photography, prints, and contemporary art, would be moved online. The auction house closed several of its global offices including New York, Paris, and Milan, although its London and Hong Kong offices so far remain open. The house is currently rescheduling sales 30 days in advance, with several March sales still continuing in London this month, including 20th Century / Middle East (March 24) and The Orientalist Sale (March 31). In late February, the house announced that its Hong Kong spring series, slated for the week of April 5, would be delayed until the week of July 5. The contemporary and modern art sales as part of the Hong Kong suite, which were moved to April 16 for New York, will also now take place in Hong Kong during July.

Likewise, Phillips stated on March 14 that it has postponed all of its upcoming European and American sales until mid-May, while its 20th Century and Contemporary Art sales in London and New York have been consolidated for New York, now to take place during the week of June 22. The house is planning to continue with its Hong Kong spring series as scheduled on May 31–June 2.

Since Covid-19 reached Europe, with Italy suffering a major outbreak in late February, many more countries in the continent as well as elsewhere have experienced spikes in confirmed cases. International air traffic has come to a standstill, with an increasing number of nations refusing entry of non-citizens and urging their own citizens not to travel abroad. As of March 23, there are nearly 340,000 confirmed cases and 15,000 deaths worldwide.

Lauren Long is ArtAsiaPacific’s news and web editor.

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