Auction Houses Postpone Live Sales and Pivot to Online

By Robin Pogrebin, Scott Reyburn and Zachary Small
Suspended animation: Francis Bacon’s “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” was shown at Sotheby’s in London in March and estimated to sell for upwards of $60 million in the May Contemporary Art auction in New York. Sotheby’s has not said if the sale will be canceled or postponed. The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACS, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
Francis Bacon’s 1981 three-part oil painting, “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus,” was supposed to feature in Sotheby’s marquee contemporary art evening auction in New York on May 13, where it was estimated to sell for at least $60 million. That live auction clearly won’t be happening now, in light of the coronavirus. But Sotheby’s has yet to announce what it plans to do with its May sales instead: Hold them online? Postpone them till late June, as its competitors, Christie’s and Phillips have — assuming it’s possible for people to gather by then? Cancel till the world is less upside down? Like companies all over the world, auction houses now find themselves in uncharted territory, trying to find a way to keep their businesses afloat even as the future of buying art looks as if it may be forever changed. [More]