French billionaire Drahi considers US listing for Sotheby’s amid record-breaking year

Sotheby’s sold a total of US$7.3 billion dollars’ worth of art in 2021 – the highest annual turnover in this international auction house’s 277-year history.

The stellar results arrive as Sotheby’s owner, Patrick Drahi, is reportedly listing Sotheby’s in the United States stock market. If successful, it would be the third time that the company would change from private to public hands.

In 2019, the French telecom billionaire stunned the art world when he acquired Sotheby’s for US$3.7 billion dollars – a deal that ended its 31 years run as a public company. According to sources, Drahi is reportedly interested in listing Sotheby's, but there is no further news so far.

Patrick Drahi

During summer 2019, BidFair USA, an investment company owned by Drahi, reached an agreement with Sotheby's to acquire the international auction house for US$3.7 billion dollars.

For more than 20 years, Drahi has spearheaded the telecommunications and media industry. Acquiring telecommunications systems across the world, Drahi turned Altice into a multinational broadband, telecommunications, media, digital and advertising company. Clients span across Western Europe, the United States, Israel and the Caribbean.  

According to Forbes, Drahi’s net worth was around US$9.08 billion dollars, ranking 190th in the world’s richest list. Under the pandemic, the tycoon’s assets shrunk – Drahi's net worth decreased to US$7.7 billion dollars, while his ranking on the richest list became 186.

This year, Sotheby's garnered a record-breaking annual turnover of US$7.3 billion dollars

Shortly after acquiring Sotheby's, Drahi restructured the management team – replacing the then Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Corporate Officer (CCO). Senior employees also left – including August Uribe (former Vice Chairman of the Americas and Head of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department in New York), and Jonathan Olsoff (former Worldwide General Counsel).

In the past year, Vinci Chang (former Head of Modern Art, Asia Department); Yuki Terase (former Head of Contemporary Art, Asia Department); and Kevin Ching (former Sotheby’s Asia CEO) also announced their departure. The news shocked the auction industry and art collectors.

Nathan, Patrick's son, was appointed as the new Managing Director of Sotheby’s Asia. 

With the departure of Kevin Ching (right), Nathan Drahi (left) took over business at Sotheby's Asia

Despite these management changes, Sotheby's underwent successful changes in the digital world. 

Earlier in April, the house cooperated with a third-party platform to sell and auction the NFT art of the mysterious digital artist, Pak, and fetched US$16.8 million dollars within three days.

Then, in May, Sotheby’s accepted buyers to pay the hammer price of Banksy’s paintings in cryptocurrency. It was the first time the international auction house accepted “cryptocurrency as a payment option for a physical work of art.”

In October, Sotheby’s launched its NFT marketplace, Metaverse – making it the first auction house to have a NFT-dedicated platform. The first wave of auctions were led by celebrities such as Steve Aoki and Paris Hilton. 

Sotheby's introduced online and cross-city auctions during the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, the entire auction industry was affected in the first half of 2020.

By the summer, Sotheby's ratio first came up with online and cross-city auctions. The three major auction sites of New York, London and Hong Kong participated simultaneously. Buyers used the telephone or online platforms to bid for lots. This arrangement was imitated by peers and has become the norm for Evening Sales today.

Pak's NFT art fetched US$17 million dollars in three days

Established in 1744, Sotheby’s initially focused on auctioning ancient books.

It later expanded to the fields of art, jewellery, real estate and automobiles. Sotheby's was the first international auction house to hold auctions in Hong Kong (1973), Russia (1988), India (1992) and France (2001), and the first international auction house to enter the mainland Chinese market (2012).

In 1977, Sotheby's first went public and was oversubscribed by 26 times.

Six years later, in 1983, American tycoon Alfred Taubman acquired Sotheby's – privatising the auction house again. And then, in 1988, Sotheby's was listed in New York for the second time.

In 2016, China Taikang Life Insurance, headed by Chen Dongsheng (Mao Zedong's grandson-in-law), spent approximately US$230 million dollars to acquire 13.5 per cent of Sotheby's shares and become the largest shareholder. The second largest shareholder was Third Point, a hedge fund owned by famous American fund manager, Daniel Loeb.

In 2019, Drahi acquired Sotheby's for US$3.7 billion dollars. If he decides to list Sotheby's, this international auction house will be listed for the third time.

The first wave of NFT auctions on Metaverse was led by Steve Aoki and Paris Hilton

Divorced real-estate American tycoons Harry and Linda Macklowe's Collection was the most expensive single collector auction in history

During this year, Sotheby’s had notable achievements and top five lots are presented below:

  • With around 20 auctions remaining in 2021, Sotheby’s surpassed its 2020 results by 71 per cent. Auctions fetched US$6 billion dollars, while private sales achieved US$1.3 billion dollars
  • Macklowe Collection was the most valuable single owner auction, totalling US$676 million dollars
  • The trend of Modern and Contemporary Art is becoming more popular, with auctions and private purchases totalling US$4.3 billion dollars. It accounts for nearly 59 per cent of Sotheby’s total annual sales
  • US$5 million to US$50 million dollars transactions increased from 91 in 2020 to 158 in 2021
  • More than 125 records were made for leading artists in Sotheby’s Marquee Sales
  • More than 50 per cent of the bidders on the NFT platform, Metaverse, were under the age of 40
  • 46 per cent of bids or bought lots worth more than US$5 million dollars came from Asian collectors

Top 5 Most Expensive Lots in 2021

1 | Sandro Botticelli | Portrait of a young man holding a roundel, Tempera on poplar panel

Auction Date: 11 May 2021

Created in circa 1480

58.4 x 39.4 cm

Sold: US$92,184,000

Buyer is reportedly a Russian collector

2 | Mark Rothko | No. 7, Oil on canvas

Auction Date: 15 November 2021

Created in 1951  

240.7 x 138.7 cm

Sold: US$82,468,500

Seller: Macklowe Collection

Buyer is reportedly an Asian collector

3 | Alberto Giacometti | Le Nez, Bronze, steel and iron

Auction Date: 15 November 2021

Conceived in 1949; cast in 1965

81.3 x 72.4 x 38 cm

Sold: US$78,396,000

Seller: Macklowe Collection

Buyer: Justin Sun

4 | Claude Monet | Le Bassin aux nympheas, Oil on canvas

Auction Date: 12 May 2021

Created in 1917-1919

100 x 200 cm

Sold: US$70,353,000

Buyer: American Collector

5 | Jackson Pollock | Number 17, 1951, Enamel on canvas

Created in 1951

Auction Date: 15 November 2021

148.6 x 148.6 cm

Sold: US$61,161,000

Seller: Macklowe Collection