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    Christie's Modern-Art Auctions Rose 82% in 2006, Fueling Growth

    Date: 20 Dec 2006 | | Views: 4017

    Christie's International, the world's largest auction house, said its impressionist and modern-art auctions rose 82 percent this year, helping the company to gain market share from rival Sotheby's.

    "You have to have the best properties to sell into this strong market,'' Chief Executive Officer Ed Dolman said in a telephone interview last night. "We have been successful in securing them.''

    London-based Christie's, which is owned by the French billionaire Francois Pinault, sold $1.26 billion of impressionist and modern-art pictures in 2006, including four Gustav Klimt paintings recovered by Nazi victims' heirs. Postwar and contemporary auctions rose 59 percent, to $829 million. Worldwide, auctions rose "more than 30 percent'' from last year's $3.2 billion, though final totals aren't yet available, Dolman said.

    Christie's won most of the top lots for November's New York sales by forging relationships with sellers and promising incentives such as minimum prices, Dolman said. Klimt's portrait of the Vienna hostess Adele Bloch-Bauer sold for $87.9 million. A Willem de Kooning painting set a record of $27.1 million for a postwar work.

    Christie's and Sotheby's, whose executive offices are in New York, are by far the world's largest auction houses, with combined sales that might exceed $7.5 billion this year, based on their estimates. Both are benefiting from a surge in collecting by billionaires from America's Eli Broad to Hong Kong's Joseph Lau, and a 10-year tripling of contemporary prices.

    Sotheby's said it sold $3.4 billion of art worldwide in the 11 months through November, up 36 percent from the same period in 2005.

    Asian Art

    Christie's had the leading market share in Asian art, with auctions of about $485 million, up 29 percent, Dolman said. Sales of old-master pictures were about $239 million, a 16 percent increase, he said.

    In general, "we have a significant market-share advantage over Sotheby's,'' Dolman said.

    Sotheby's Chief Executive Officer William Ruprecht said last week that his goal in running a publicly traded company was profit, not market share. "We're not in the same game as Christie's,'' he said. Sotheby's shares have gained 71 percent this year.

    Besides selling Klimts and Andy Warhols, Christie's has an active business in lower-priced lots, from cars to James Bond guns. Christie's South Kensington rooms in London sold $70 million of art and collectibles in the first half, Christie's said.

    Hepburn Dress

    This month, Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy dress from the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's'' took $922,299 at Christie's in South Kensington, setting a record for a gown made for a movie.

    Publicly traded Sotheby's reports full-year auction totals, revenue and profit in March. Privately held Christie's doesn't disclose revenue or profit, though it reports auction totals twice a year. Final numbers for 2006 will be available later this month or in January, Christie's said.

    The next big auctions are in February 2007 in London. This year's London winter sales totaled $451 million, up from $322 million.

    By Linda Sandler, Bloomberg

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