James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy. Welcome back. You're in the C Space Studio here at CES 2023 with me, James Kotecki, and my fabulous guest, Neda Whitney, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Christie's. Welcome. 

Neda Whitney (00:32): 

Thank you. Thanks for having me. 

James Kotecki (00:34): 

We know of Christie's as an auction house. I think people, even if they're vaguely familiar with it, are just familiar with that aspect of the brand.  

Neda Whitney (00:34): 

That's right. 

James Kotecki (00:40): 

But can you just define how do you introduce Christie's and define it for people when you're meeting them for the first time? 

Neda Whitney (00:44): 

Yeah, I mean I think the general awareness is that we're an auction house and we've been an auction house for 256 years. We're a heritage brand, but I think we do so many more categories than fine art, which is what we're typically known for. We do luxury, we've sold dinosaurs in the last year. We sell rare books and manuscripts. 

James Kotecki (01:04): 

Presumably the bones, not the living- 

Neda Whitney (01:05): 

Right, yes, the bones. 

James Kotecki (01:06): 

I don't know what Christie's is doing these days. 

Neda Whitney (01:09): 

We sell rare books and manuscripts, we sell NFTs, we sell all manner of what you would quantify as luxury goods. And I think we are really the true definition of a luxury brand and that we are a one one, something that has history and is truly unique and not commoditized luxury. 

James Kotecki (01:28): 

Right, there's no other luxury auction house that I can think of off the top of my head. But let me ask you this. When I'm picturing an auction, is it all digital now or is there a nice room that the people are physically needing to go to and hold up signs like I've seen in movies and things like that, when auctions happen? What is actually going on? 

Neda Whitney (01:46): 

Yeah, it's both. A little bit less than half of our auctions are held online, and our clients are really open to that format. And I think post-pandemic, like almost every brand, we had to accelerate our digital transformation. And we had already been holding online auctions, but I think in a post-COVID world, a lot of clients are really comfortable participating in an online format. But like you mentioned, we still have a room where people hold up their paddles and bid in person. And when you're buying objects that can range anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions, I think oftentimes people want to come in person and see the objects, and then would like to participate, especially in some of our more key evening sales, in that in-person experience. 

James Kotecki (02:30): 

Is it a way that people have fun? Is it fun for people to do that, or maybe it's very high stress because they really want to buy it? 

Neda Whitney (02:35): 

It's a little bit of both. I mean, I've never personally raised my paddle for a couple million dollars, but I can imagine it being high stress. But there definitely is a vibe and an energy in the room. 

James Kotecki (02:44): 

Do you foresee, clearly this brand has been around a long time, probably be around a lot longer, but do you see physical auctions being a permanent fixture of this brand? Could we one day be talking about doing these auctions in the metaverse, and now you don't need to physically go there because you can see with very precise fidelity exactly what this thing looks like? You can even hold it using haptics or something. I'm just kind of imagining some future state. 

Neda Whitney (03:06): 

Yeah, I think we'll always see some sort of physical version. I just think with the level of rarity and preciousness of these objects, people will always have a want for that to be in-person. That being said, we already use AR technologies so that people can place huge sculptures in situ to see what they look like. We already use VR technology so that you can go into a room where a collection might have been housed and see what it looked like. We are very comfortable with those types of evolutions of technology. We're at CES and we've seen the most cutting edge of metaverse technology. It is nowhere near the level of fidelity that you would need for fine art, so we've got a ways to go before you're speaking of some of those things that you've said. If it works, we are a brand that is completely open to putting pieces there, but with something that needs to be in such fine resolution, it needs to make sense. 

James Kotecki (04:08): 

Tell me about, because you're Christie's and you said you're one of one, you have a lot of, I'm sure, unique insights and data in a sense about the markets that you're playing in. Tell me what 2022 was like and what those trends point to for 2023. 

Neda Whitney (04:21): 

Yeah, 2022 was our best year in 256 years. We sold eight- 

James Kotecki (04:25): 


Neda Whitney (04:26): 

Thank you. We sold $8.4 billion, and one of the best year for collections. We sold the top three collections globally. One of those was the collection of Paul Allen, former founder of Microsoft, and it was the most expensive collection ever brought to market. We sold the most expensive painting in the 20th century with Marilyn Monroe, Shot Sage Marilyn, by Andy Warhol. We sold the most expensive photograph ever to come to auction with Man Ray. So, it was a lot of firsts in the market and it also was interesting from a demographic perspective.  


We had more Millennials than we've ever had before transact with us. We saw growth in our luxury market, which is kind of an entry-level marketplace just because more people are familiar with having bought a watch, a bottle of wine, a handbag, a sneaker. We are seeing that the Millennial purchase power over the last five years has grown 127%. They're definitely a category of wealth that we are really taking seriously as a brand. We're seeing APAC spending power being really important as a demographic and growing tremendously. Those are all great data points from 2022. 

James Kotecki (05:41): 

This is incredible growth, congratulations. And yet I can't help but wonder, we're entering into this era of Web 3.0, where people talk about decentralization, where people talk about cutting out the middle man, where people talk about trustless, permissionless societies, and obviously Christie's is about being something in the middle of that transaction, a trusted party. How do you think about that brand in this new world? 

Neda Whitney (06:03): 

I think what you get when you come to a brand like Christie's is the curation and the knowledge. You can buy a piece of art on any number of types of website. You can go on eBay and buy a painting. You can buy a painting on the street in Manhattan. You can buy art in a lot of different ways. What you get when you come to a brand like Christie's is 256 years of knowledge of the art market, and some of the best specialists out in the world. You can't really quantify that and I don't think you can decentralize that knowledge. I think that knowledge base has an intrinsic value and we're a service. We're a service-based brand, and if you believe in the power of understanding the background of a piece of art or a diamond or dinosaur bones, then we are the people who have those specialists. 

James Kotecki (07:00): 

Christie's, I think in 2021, did the first NFT auction.  

Neda Whitney (07:00): 

That's right. 

James Kotecki (07:04): 

So obviously, you're in NFTs. Is there a line or a clear demarcation of something that Christie's wouldn't do? 'Cause obviously you're doing this wide range of stuff. What's the threshold for what is a Christie's thing to auction?  

Neda Whitney (07:17): 

Yeah, I think we get asked that question a lot, especially when NFTs came and people were like, "Why are you guys doing this?" And what we are not is an arbiter of what art is, right? That's not a decision I think anyone is allowed to and should make. What we do is we follow the signs of the market and culture and clients. What we saw is there was a groundswell of digital art and digital artists, and people that were passionate about that. And we spent a lot of time researching the trends in that area and finding with our first NFT, it was actually technically our second NFT sale, but the first major one that broke through with people, researching an artist who had done the due diligence of creating artwork every day for five years, and putting that artwork out in the society and having people in the community react to it. And we said, "This is something that's kind of undeniable." 


We've sold performance art. We've sold all manner of art. And I think as long as there is a cultural groundswell of people who believe in it and who have an appetite for it and that we feel confident around that, we will always experiment with selling that. 

James Kotecki (08:30): 

Interesting. What are you excited about for 2023? 

Neda Whitney (08:34): 

For 2023, having walked the floors at CES, I am really excited about, as a marketer, ChatGPT and AI technology. I think it has such interesting applications for the future of marketing and society as a whole, like what you can program AI to do now is really starting to take off, and how that can be applied in all manner of ... Whether it be customer service or being able to simplify procedures, I think that's really exciting.  

James Kotecki (09:03): 

Could it write a description of the auction item, obviously? 

Neda Whitney (09:06): 

It could write descriptions, it could just help simplify some of the stuff that's very manual today. I think we're always going to need, again, that ... Humanity's not going anywhere, but I think everyone could agree that there are some things that would be easier, simpler if they were automated. And I think ChatGPT can get us there.  

James Kotecki (09:29): 

Wow. So many exciting things to talk about. Thank you for bringing your insights and knowledge to us, Neda Whitney of Christie's. Thanks so much. 

Neda Whitney (09:35): 

Absolutely, my pleasure. 

James Kotecki (09:36): 

And thank you so much for watching the C Space Studio here at CES 2023. Keep it right here. I'm James Kotecki and more great conversations are just ahead. Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that, and get even more CES at ces.tech. That's CES.T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.