JOHN AL­BRECHT IN­SIGHT

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Ray Edgar FOR MORE WWW.LEONARDJOEL.COM.AU

Once upon a time col­lec­tors were as eclec­tic and ob­ses­sive as the grand auc­tion house them­selves and true col­lec­tors filled their homes with their ob­ses­sions. “It’s be­come too sani­tised,” says John Al­brecht, pro­pri­etor and manag­ing direc­tor of Leonard Joel, lament­ing a change in col­lect­ing habits.

Since its in­cep­tion 95 years ago Leonard Joel has been a grand auc­tion house. “We ba­si­cally sell every cat­e­gory across every price point,” ex­plains Al­brecht.

How­ever, in the world of col­lect­ing, it’s the col­lec­tors them­selves who are the rare com­mod­ity. Ar­chi­tec­ture is partly to blame for chang­ing tastes. Once boun­ti­ful, baroque in­te­ri­ors—syn­ony­mous with the clas­sic col­lec­tor —have been re­placed by far more min­i­mal­ist in­te­ri­ors. Mean­while val­ues too have changed—price, not aes­thetic, dom­i­nates dis­cus­sion.

Al­brecht marks the change oc­cur­ring in the 1980s. “Pre-1980s was the pe­riod where con­nois­seurs loved things be­cause they were beau­ti­ful, not be­cause they were valu­able. That is rarely found to­day.”

As part of the ven­er­a­ble auc­tion house’s 95th an­niver­sary celebrations, Al­brecht pro­duced a book on ninety-five trea­sures that cap­tured the soul and eclec­ti­cism of col­lect­ing. Al­brecht re­flects on the pub­lic’s chang­ing taste and ob­ses­sions.

RAY EDGAR: What’s the dis­tinc­tion be­tween pas­sion and ob­ses­sion? JOHN AL­BRECHT: Ob­ses­sion is pas­sion out of con­trol. RE: What cre­ates an ob­ses­sion? JA: Peo­ple ul­ti­mately col­lect mem­o­ries. If bot­tle-tops re­mind them of some­thing, that’s usu­ally where the ob­ses­sion be­gins. There’s al­most al­ways an el­e­ment of nos­tal­gia driv­ing a col­lec­tor. RE: Who are the ob­ses­sive col­lec­tors? JA: I’ve never met a bar­ris­ter that didn’t col­lect in an in­ter­est­ing way— any­thing from a stuffed pi­ranha to a non-de­script Euro­pean paint­ing. RE: Do col­lec­tors fit a par­tic­u­lar de­mo­graphic? JA: It’s not age spe­cific, but they un­doubt­edly re­quire the fund­ing to make the ini­tial in­vest­ment. RE: What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween col­lect­ing and hoard­ing? JA: Col­lect­ing is a so­cially ac­cept­able form of hoard­ing. I was dis­cussing hoard­ing with a col­league from Christie’s Lon­don and the pro­found change in taste that’s oc­curred in the last ten years. She called it the end of hor­ror vacui, ‘fear of the void’. In the Vic­to­rian pe­riod peo­ple just wanted to fill their houses with things. Now peo­ple are not afraid of space. They look more for a sig­na­ture piece, rather than ten things to rep­re­sent their tastes and vi­sion. RE: I’ve no­ticed that many of the items in the 95th an­niver­sary book are quite un­con­ven­tional. JA: Col­lec­tors and buy­ers will pay at­ten­tion to pieces that are both vis­ually stim­u­lat­ing and quirky. Let’s say the Rare Late Vic­to­ria Di­a­mond Pen­dant, It wasn’t René Lalique or 1920s Cartier, but it was very vis­ually stun­ning. That’s what I find sat­is­fy­ing. It doesn’t have to be a brand. The most ex­treme ex­am­ple was when Leonard Joel auc­tioned Andy Mac’s [pi­o­neer­ing] col­lec­tion of street art. RE: Who ac­quired Freeze Muther­stika − This is a fukup!, the mam­moth 15m mural pro­duced for the Big Day Out fes­ti­val? JA: An­drew King and San­dra Pow­ell, who are both ma­jor ur­ban art col­lec­tors in Melbourne. One of those rare cou­ples that have the courage to sell their tra­di­tional col­lec­tion and start again. It’s quite an emo­tional ef­fort to free one­self of thirty years of col­lect­ing and start com­pletely afresh. They sold a whole lot of tra­di­tional mod­ern pe­riod art: Boyds, Beck­etts, Black­mans. They now focus on ur­ban street art. RE: Euro­pean emi­gres gen­er­ated much of the post-war auc­tion mar­ket, what’s the sub­se­quent ef­fect of Asian mi­gra­tion on the Aus­tralian art mar­ket?

JA: The most no­table phe­nom­e­non in the last eight years has been a very af­flu­ent Asian com­mu­nity ini­ti­at­ing the repa­tri­a­tion and re­assess­ment of their own art and arte­facts. The most no­table ex­am­ple in the an­tiques in­dus­try is the 18th cen­tury Qing dy­nasty vase that turned up in an English pro­vin­cial auc­tion house, which was even­tu­ally sold for £65 mil­lion. RE: What else is highly cov­eted at present? JA: Any­thing in post-war mod­ern de­sign: fur­ni­ture, ob­jects, light­ing, fit­tings. RE: What’s driv­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of mid-cen­tury de­sign? JA: Glob­ally there has been a pro­found change of taste in the past ten years and a move­ment away from the tra­di­tional. It’s be­ing in­flu­enced by the way peo­ple live. Ev­ery­one has lots of win­dows and no walls. Ar­chi­tec­ture has had a pro­found af­fect on the way peo­ple col­lect. RE: Out of all of the ob­ses­sive col­lec­tors, the peo­ple who un­wit­tingly came across an ob­ject of ex­treme value, like the Rare Late Vic­to­ria Di­a­mond Pen­dant or the Rare An­tique Nat­u­ral Pearl, are what seem to truly ex­cite you. JA: It was com­plete chance that the nat­u­ral pearl sur­vived in a box of cos­tume jew­ellery for the best part of 50 years. It went to a Fifth Av­enue jew­eller in New York for $US130,000, and re­ally made a dif­fer­ence in the lives of those who sold the piece. They had no idea what they had. They’re the sto­ries I re­ally like. When you have gra­cious un­de­mand­ing sell­ers, you can of­ten de­liver a sen­sa­tional re­sult. I de­scribe our in­dus­try as ‘the econ­omy of beau­ti­ful things and in­ter­est­ing peo­ple’. When in­ter­est­ing peo­ple, with beau­ti­ful sto­ries and beau­ti­ful things come to­gether; that to me is ex­cit­ing. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily about the most valu­able things. RE: The Rare Vic­to­rian Ster­ling Sil­ver Mounted Nov­elty Claret Jug in the form of a Wal­rus seems more quirky than beau­ti­ful. JA: It went to Lon­don in the end. If it’s quirky and chal­leng­ing and a lit­tle bit spooky and not just pleas­ant, it will find a mar­ket. There was a whole Vic­to­rian pe­riod where it got pretty grotesque—at­tach­ing live bee­tles to brooches and ren­der­ing with an­i­mals. The Vic­to­rian pe­riod has a rep­u­ta­tion for a rea­son, be­ing sort of lav­ish, over the top and non­sen­si­cal. RE: Yet the Vic­to­rian pe­riod usu­ally sug­gests stuffi­ness? JA: Both. Deca­dent and stuffy. But def­i­nitely deca­dent, com­pletely deca­dent. RE: Are we less deca­dent now? JA: Now you’ve got a dif­fer­ent type of col­lec­tor. It’s not about ac­cu­mu­lat­ing as many Lalique or Moor­croft vases or Queen Anne sil­ver. It’s just: ‘I’d love to own a piece one day and I know where it will live when I ac­quire it.’ I find that ap­proach quite sani­tised. RE: Why are peo­ple ob­ses­sively col­lect­ing vin­tage lug­gage by fash­ion houses like Louis Vuit­ton? JA: There is a big mar­ket for brand lug­gage in­ter­na­tion­ally. Par­tic­u­larly Louis Vuit­ton and Hermès. When you buy some­thing new, it doesn’t have a soul. The trend is also per­haps a re­ac­tion against the mass pro­duced, the pol­ished and the per­fect. RE: What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween im­per­fec­tion and rar­ity? JA: I don’t think im­per­fec­tion gen­er­ates rar­ity, but im­per­fec­tion gives ob­jects hu­man­ity. RE: How does col­lect­ing chal­lenge the idea of lux­ury? JA: Lux­ury has be­come much more emo­tive now. We are ul­ti­mately buy­ing and sell­ing things im­bued with a whole lot of other feel­ings. Lux­ury is not about be­ing brand new. It’s about a beau­ti­ful weath­ered Louis Vuit­ton trav­el­ling case, which now can be some­thing I can put my feet on. I love think­ing about where it has trav­elled, that’s lux­ury. There is some­thing emo­tional about it.

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