Just over a month ago, Christie’s launched a new division meant cater to one of the most coveted demographics among auction houses, millennial and Gen Z buyers who want to spend their disposable income on hard-to-find sneakers, like those from a collaboration between Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1. But now, that division, branded as Department X, seems to be on shaky ground.
Part of the division’s uncertain future no doubt stems from the cancelation of what was supposed to be its first event: a private sale that was to feature the rare Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototype. Titled “Ye Walks,” the sale was shelved in the wake of a string of antisemitic comments made by Kanye West (who now goes simply by Ye). The backlash in the fashion industry has been swift, with brands like Balenciaga, Adidas, and Gap severing ties with him.
Though the art world has been slow to denounce Ye and his remarks, almost any mention of Ye has been scrubbed from Christie’s website, and Department X’s Instagram account is now offline. Christie’s confirmed that the sale was called off and that the house was “not selling any of this material nor do we have any plans to,” according to a statement first published by Artnet News.
One of the two pairs of shoes that was to be sold is a pair that Ye had worn to the 2008 Grammy Awards, which had sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2021 to the investment platform Rares. Christie’s had given the sneakers a pre-sale estimate between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.
A Christie’s spokesperson, however, told ARTnews that the house isn’t out of the sneaker game just yet. Apart from a sale of sneakers and collectibles scheduled for December, the house is “taking the opportunity to reconsider the marketing of the department.”
The first sign of trouble for the fledgling department came not even two weeks into its existence, after Christie’s collaborated with streetwear brand High Snobiety to create pricey swag as part of Department X’s marketing campaign, with the words “Art Handler” printed on $145 sweatshirts and $50 tote bags. A group of art handlers took to the internet to criticize the collaboration, lambasting it for promoting “class tourism” and belittling an often underpaid and unseen sector of the art market. One handler went so far as to post on Instagram a parody shirt that reads “Christie’s exploits Art Handlers.”
Following only a few hours of internet chatter, Christie’s deleted Instagram posts and pages on its site that announced the High Snobiety collaboration. The following day a Christie’s senior executive apologized to the staff art handlers in person, and the house released a statement saying, “We offer our sincerest apologies to our colleagues and to all who were offended by our recent marketing campaign. We take this matter seriously and are taking appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.”
As Christie’s searches for a marketing partner who can propel Department X into the collectibles and streetwear stratosphere, sneaker resale sites like StockX have seen the price of Yeezy-branded sneakers rise and fall since the controversy began, according to a New York Times story on the post-Yeezy future of the Sneaker verse.
But the StockX model is precisely what Christie’s wants: the brand has moved on from only trading in collectible sneakers to selling streetwear, apparel, collectibles, and even electronics, giving the younger set a way of investing or collecting outside of the traditional auction house walls or Wall Street itself. How Christie’s moves forward in this arena—with or without Department X—then remains to be seen.