Sotheby’s ends auctions in Chicago

Twentieth-century decorative arts market may shift to local firms and Phillips


After 1 November, Sotheby's will no longer hold auctions in Chicago. "It's part of a corporate restructuring," explains Helyn Goldenberg, Sotheby's Midwest chairman. Last year, the Windy City outpost raised just $21,382,912 from 15 sales. With disappointing worldwide results for the second quarter of the year and profit warnings, Sotheby’s is making cutbacks, and the Chicago staff will be trimmed from 31 to 12.

Only three years ago, Barbara Diesroth, Sotheby's 20th-century decorative arts director, said; “We firmly believe that Chicago is the appropriate centre for post-war furniture.” Now she says there was not enough money in the speciality, which is characterised by mid-range prices. "We were in competition with the internet and if we got a $150,000 Tiffany lamp, it would go to New York.” Now mid-tier lots sourced in Chicago will be sold on Sotheby's website.

Sotheby’s withdrawal should boost regional auction houses such as Treadway, while Phillips New York may also benefit: its 20th-century decorative arts are headed by two highly regarded experts, James Zemaitis, formerly of Christie's and Artnet, along with Alexander Payne, previously of Phillips and Bonhams in London. Christie's has been crippled by the departure of Nancy McClelland, who served as international department head of 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts department and who had brought in over $75 million in sales last year.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 118 October 2001