THE PAST 40 YEARS
The early 1980s, a period of market and corporate uncertainty, was followed in 1983 by the acquisition of Sotheby's by businessman A. Alfred Taubman and a small group of investors. Led by Michael Ainslie, Sotheby's once again became a private company. At the same time, the art market was revitalized by several important sales that set the stage for the series of auctions at Sotheby's which have entered the history books for their drama, their prices and for the way they captured the public's imagination.
One of the most stunning auctions, held on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1987, was the sale of the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor. In an intensely competitive environment, bids via satellite from New York vied with bids from a celebrity audience and from phone buyers around the world. Over $50,000,000 was raised during the course of the sale - more than five times Sotheby's highest expectations. Anything seemed possible in the late 1980s. In 1989, for example, the firm sold Impressionist and Modern art totaling a staggering $1.1 billion in New York and London. Indeed, by the end of the decade, prices had risen to such levels that auctions attracted global media attention on an unprecedented scale. With these successes in hand, the company went public for the second time in 1988. As the 1990s began, the all-embracing chill of a global recession made its mark on the art market just as emphatically as it did on so many other markets. With the perspective that 250 years of history provides, though, Sotheby's has learned to manage these art cycles and has seen recovery follow recession a number of times.
In fact, Sotheby's grew considerably in the subsequent decade. Both of the firm's main locations, London and New York, undertook extensive expansions and renovations in the 1990s. In London in 2001, Sotheby's opened premises at Olympia to complement sales at the firm's New Bond Street headquarters, almost doubling Sotheby's gallery space in London. State-of-the-art features and technology provide the most professional and comprehensive level of client service of any UK saleroom. Sotheby's New York also underwent an exciting expansion project. Completed in the spring of 2000, the firm added six additional floors to the York Avenue headquarters, allowing Sotheby's to consolidate New York office and warehouse space and provide specialist departments with their own exhibition spaces. The finished result is highlighted by a tenth-floor gallery that has been called "one of the great dramatic exhibition spaces of New York...an environment to rival almost any of the city's museums."
In 2000, Sotheby's became the first international art auction house to hold auctions on the Internet. Sothebys.com was the venue for some dramatic and unprecedented successes, such as the sale of a first printing of the Declaration of Independence for more than $8 million, 21 panels of the historic Boston Garden floor, and a masterwork by Frederick, Lord Leighton. In addition, Sotheby's opened its traditional saleroom auctions to Internet bidding through the eBay Live Auctions service. Although no longer an auction venue, Sotheby's website remains a vital tool for the dissemination of information and news about the auction house worldwide, and select sales are open for bids via the Internet. Whether expanding our infrastructure or exploring cyberspace, Sotheby's continues to demonstrate innovation and responsiveness to the needs of our ever-expanding international clientele. As clients' needs and collecting tastes evolve, Sotheby's flexibility and unwavering focus on expertise and client service will remain our hallmarks into the 21st century.