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Thu 21 Jul 2011 02:21 PM

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Christie’s racks up $10.8m in MidEast sales in H1

London auction house sees H1 sales rise 15% to record on Warhol, Asian sales

Christie’s racks up $10.8m in MidEast sales in H1
Christies sold $3.2bn of art and antiques worldwide in January through June

Christie’s International’s first- half sales increased 15
percent to a record, boosted by auctions of contemporary works by artists such
as Andy Warhol, and $10.8m in sales in the Middle East

The London-based company was also helped by growing private
sales, demand in Asia, and a 30 percent growth in the number of successful
lots.

It sold £2bn ($3.2bn) of art and antiques worldwide in
January through June, the most for any half-year in sterling, Christie’s said Thursday.

“Sales have increased across a range of departments,” Steven
P. Murphy, chief executive officer, said in an interview. Lots priced between £500,000
£1m were in demand, with average selling rates of more than 90 percent, he
said. “While a small percentage of clients buys for investment, we’re seeing a
general cultural shift toward art,” he said.

A Warhol self-portrait priced at $38.4m was the top
performer in the first half. Contemporary art fetched £431.1m, a 40 percent
increase on 2010. This was more than in 2008, though not as much as in the
first half of 2007.

“The contemporary market has returned,” said Murphy. “It’s
done so for a wide range of names,” he said, countering perceptions that the
auctions were over reliant on established postwar artists. Works by Warhol
accounted for more than $90m of sales at its New York evening auctions in May.

Sales of modern British art and prints grew by 257 percent
and 73 percent respectively. London was Christie’s biggest auction center, with
£607.7m of transactions.

While private sales rose 57 percent to £286.7m, no single
auction item exceeded $40m. Impressionist and modern-art sales declined 30
percent. Auctions in the Americas dropped 13 percent because of a shortage of
collections. In May 2010, a record $106.5m was paid in New York for a Pablo
Picasso painting from the estate of Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Brody.

Hong Kong sales grew 48 percent to £296m, consolidating Asia
as the third-biggest sales center. Worldwide sales of Asian art took 356.7 million
pounds, up by 45 percent.

An Asian private client was the buyer of a Michelangelo
drawing for £3.2m in London on July 5. Chinese buyers continue to be the
largest group at international wine auctions, which increased 107 percent to £28.7m.

The London-based auction house is a private company owned by
the French billionaire Francois Pinault. Christie’s was bought by Pinault’s
holding company, Artemis, for $1.2bn in May 1998.

Murphy, the former president and chief executive of the US-based
publishing company Rodale Inc., was appointed CEO of Christie’s in September,
2010, replacing Edward Dolman, who became chairman. Dolman left to join the
Qatar Museums Authority, sparking renewed speculation that the Gulf state might
be interested in acquiring the 245-year-old auction house.

“Investing in smaller departments and in Asia is a strategy
for growth, not for a sale,” said Murphy, 57.

The previous best half-year sales figure was £1.8bn, in the
first half of 2008.

The auction house doesn’t report revenue or profit, and
discloses sale totals twice a year. Sotheby’s (BID), the largest publicly
traded auction house, is scheduled to release its results in early August.

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