‘The way that art moves is endlessly fascinating’
The art auction business is the perfection combination of the commercial world and also intellect, according to Christie’s Chairman of Asian Art Jonathan Stone.
The industry is not just about the ownership of rare artworks, but also the transferal of great art to future generations and to develop the appreciation of art.
“We are a commercial enterprise, but at the same time, we are the custodian of ‘the gold’ through our hands. Working in the industry is like being part of the flow of cultural history. For me, the way that art moves is endlessly fascinating.”
After graduating with a master’s degree in history from Peterhouse, Cambridge University, Stone worked in marketing and distribution in Japan. But it was his burning love for art, history and culture that led him to quit his job and pursue a degree in art history.
He completed his master’s in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, and Stone recalls he wanted to find a job that combined his business experience with his love of art. That led him to Christie’s in 1999.
Stone had worked his way up the ladder and currently serves as the company’s chairman of Asian Art, overseeing the business, specialist and sale aspects of its Asian Art category for auctions and private sales all over the world, including in Hong Kong, London, New York and Paris.
“All the time, we are dealing with the most wonderful objects. Every year, thousands of objects pass through Christie’s’ hands, so we have the privilege to be able to see, touch and feel the objects. It’s like living in a museum, but being closer to the objects.”
While it is a privilege to handle great pieces of art, Stone says “at the same time, we are doing business and make money for our shareholders”.
In 2000, Stone moved to Tokyo and was later appointed representative director of Christie’s Japan. Now fluent in Japanese, he describes the experience in Japan as “wonderful”, and especially with an English education, being exposed to another country’s culture changed his world view. It also introduced Stone to the beauty of Chinese art.
“Fortunately for what I’ve done subsequently, the wealth of Asian art that is in Japan is superior.”
Stone was appointed international business director of Asian Art in 2005 before assuming his current position in 2011. Under his direction, Christie’s sales of Asian art worldwide have increased significantly, while his role in developing Asian art as a sales category has also contributed to Christie’s rapid growth in Asia.
It has seen the establishment of Hong Kong as Christie’s third-largest sales market and a major hub in the global art market.
Stone says it’s important in the auction business for people to be able to trust the experts. These specialists must also uphold responsibility and integrity in the entire auction process when dealing with clients. Although their job is multifaceted and complex, he says they must balance their duty to clients and be sensitive towards business.
It’s imperative for people working in the auction business to be openminded, and be able to work and listen to people from various cultures and nationalities, he says.