Broadcasting the First Billion Dollar Art Sale: The Paul G. Allen Collection at Christie’s
"What a night, what an exciting night..." Guillaume Cerutti, Christie's CEO, told a reporter as he left Christie's iconic Rockefeller Centre salesroom after part one of 'Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection' had achieved $1.5 billion in a single evening - a record for the industry. Indeed, it was exciting, and the sales would continue the following day, bringing the total for the collection to an eye-popping $1.62 billion with all the estate's proceeds dedicated to philanthropy as Mr. Allen had wished.
The end result was two incredibly auctions broadcast live to 4 million global viewers across 6 hours of live auction with 27 records broken and all lots sold. A broadcast like that takes ample preparation and a unique global team. Christie's auction house - a leading force in the art market - emerged from the pandemic having overhauled its marquee live auctions into the most innovative hybrid of live and online events in the art world.
“Through its partnership with Chrome Productions, Christie’s has honoured the centuries-old traditions of auction, while also reimagining the offering of its iconic Rockefeller Center salesroom in order to deliver an event carefully balanced between engaging live production and a luxurious in-room experience”, said Robert Chew Chrome Productions’ VP, North America and Executive Producer of the production.
The production approach centred around three main components: monumental & immersive screens to showcase the masterworks on offer, dynamic & fast-moving cameras, and a unique reverse angle to give the at-home audience a comprehensive understanding of the room. At the front of the auction room, two 3m x 3.5m LEDs flanking the auctioneer bringing not only immersive details of the artwork, but also key sales information such as estimate, current bid, and currency conversions. At the rear of the room, a massive 8.4m by 1.8m screen hung from the ceiling and bathed the room in the colours of the artwork before transitioning to become the command centre for the auctioneer to field global online bids.
In New York, auctioneers Adrien Meyer and Jussi Pylkkänen took bids from clients in 19 countries for the historic Part I – which surpassed the $1 billion mark at the 32nd lot and broke 27 records across categories saw 60 extraordinary works achieve a total of $1,506,386,000, establishing the Allen collection as the most valuable private collection in history by smashing the previous record of $922 million. Of the evening sale, Max Carter, Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, said, ‘Never before have more than two paintings exceeded $100 million in a single sale, but tonight we saw five. Four were masterpieces from the fathers of modernism — Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh and Gauguin.’ An incredible 31 countries participated in the bidding the following day. The which saw an additional 95 works offered – again 100 percent sold – for a total of $115,863,500.
Fielding bids for masterworks in a historic auction like this is a unique mix of art and sport. Chrome captured the fast-paced action with a dynamic mix of camera technology and production design. We introduced two telescoping tower cameras that craned over 13’ over the audience providing dynamic movement throughout the sale capturing both sides of the phone banks and the auctioneer. These were supplemented by carefully placed robotic cameras similar to those used in live sports – programmed to pick bids out of the room with the touch of a button. To give the online audience the utmost confidence in and understanding of the in-room experience, we introduced a “reverse” angle behind the auctioneer. This unique angle over the sale room brought to life the monumental LED screens displaying real-time bidding to give viewers a comprehensive understanding of how bids were fielded in the room and from around the world. By putting viewers on the podium with the auctioneer, we provided them with what many felt was the ‘best seat in the house’. Just as with every element of the production, the placement and footprint of our cameras had to be balanced between what would allow for the most engaging content without interfering with the in-room guests experience of the event. To do this, every camera was designed to be controlled completely remotely with no manned cameras in the room.
Working on Christie’s auctions is an enormous feat from a post production perspective, involving a vast amount of preparation in the preceding months: designing, pre-visualising, and setting up automation to allow for changes right up to the wire. It’s a distinctly different challenge from delivering a TVC, where you might have several days to hone and refine a 30" spot. The biggest challenge with live events is the sheer amount of content needed to make the show exciting for viewers. Working with a team of editors and graphics artists across time zones, Chrome were able to create an immersive experience for both the in-room and remote bidders. Melly Cook, Head of Production at Chrome Productions, said, "It's always a pleasure to come back to New York and work with Christie's and our world-class team on the shows. Innovation is high on our list, and the team are constantly looking for tweaks here and there to bring improvements year on year." Driving both the screens and the live broadcast required the creation of 1000 pieces of video content for both Evening and Day Sales and countless hours of dedication from both the in-house team and external partners. The broadcasts, however, attracted over 4 million viewers across Christie’s global channels and the multi-country preview exhibition saw tremendous interest, drawing over 20,000 visitors globally, with lines forming outside of Rockefeller Center for the ten-day preview – prompting one commentator to note that “lines to get in snaked so far through Midtown you’d think people were waiting for Saturday Night Live tickets.”
“The works were just extraordinary. It was a special collection and special sale. It was a really great moment for the art world…If you had any hesitations about the strength of the art market before [Wednesday] night, it was absolutely put to rest.” said Rachel Rosan, a veteran of the auction world and art advisor. “Accounting for inflation, collectors on Wednesday spent nearly four times what Thomas Jefferson dropped on the Louisiana Purchase,’ noted another astute reporter. The global team at Chrome Productions could not be proud to have been part of the team entrusted with sharing this historic collection with the world and we look forward to continuing to develop and adapt these industry-leading events as the hybrid event landscape continues to shift post-COVID.