Christie’s has abruptly cancelled its upcoming auction of American Indian Art, originally scheduled for May 24, releasing specialist Delia Sullivan and closing the department for an indefinite period of time. Although the auction house has yet to make a formal announcement, Toby Usnik, spokesperson for Christie’s, stated, “The decision was made to cancel the May sale and suspend all American Indian Art sales in the foreseeable future.”
More than 250 lots had reportedly been booked for the May auction and the status of each consignment is currently being negotiated by the auction house on an individual basis. According to Usnik, items are either being returned to the consignors or are being held by Christie’s for inclusion in a future sale at that will offer related lots. Some of the materials, however, are already making their way back into the marketplace as at least one other auction house has reportedly been in receipt of some of the properties.
“From time to time, we review business strategies as they are appropriate for an evolving market,” stated Usnik in regard to the decision to suspend the sale. While Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been the major players in this arena for many years, the market has become increasingly competitive. Auction galleries such as Skinner and Bonhams & Butterfields routinely post strong showings, while relative newcomers Cowan’s and Heritage have also tossed their hat in the ring.
This, at least temporarily, brings to an end an era that began in 1977 when Christie’s conducted its first combined sale of African, Oceanic, American Indian and Pre-Columbian arts. Subsequent combined sales were held in 1981 and 1985.
In 1994, Christie’s introduced regularly scheduled auctions of American Indian Art, making just over $1 million in its inaugural year. Sullivan, appointed head of the American Indian Art department in 2000, had been steadily building the sales. Last year Christie’s American Indian Art sales made just under $4 million.