Town & Country
Christie’s to leave South Kensington
ALUMNI of major auction house Christie’s are reacting with dismay to news of the probably closure of the South Kensington premises it has occupied since 1975, known as CSK. Alongside a scale-back in Amsterdam, this will result in 250 job losses and leave King Street as its only UK saleroom. Despite the fact that CSK is ‘the busiest saleroom in the UK’ (www.christies.com), the two London sites are said to be not currently operating at full capacity.
‘If you go through the alumni of CSK, there are so many people in the London art world who got their start at the valuations desk there, says Jo Baring, director of the Ingram Collection and former head of Modern British art at CSK.
Michael Jeffery of Woolley & Wallis and former specialist at CSK is one of them: ‘Like many people, I owe my career to Christie’s South Kensington. I joined in 1992 straight from university as a porter. CSK was a wonderful educational environment.’
‘I don’t know what will take its place now,’ adds Miss Baring. ‘Perhaps one of the regions will step up, but I remember when Olympia closed, it was thought that all that business would go to CSK and, in the end, it just dissipated.’
The auction house says that the closure is the result of a ‘global review’—indeed, new flagship offices and exhibition spaces were opened in Shanghai in 2013 and Beijing in 2016 and, last year, 35% of its new-buyer revenue came from Asia; next month, Christie’s will open in Los Angeles. In 2016, sales fell 16% from £4.8 billion in 2015 to £4 billion, but the ecommerce platform increased sales by 109%, with total online sales reaching £161million.
‘Christie’s continues to adapt to meet the needs of our clients and plan for the future as every business must,’ comments CEO Guillaume Cerutti. ‘Following our success in leading the development of online-only art sales and growing our global client base… we are considering shifting more sales into our key regional hubs and online.’
Understandably, the news has received a mixed response across the art and antiques industry—and not just for sentimental reasons. Catherine Manson of Christie’s maintains that the remaining London saleroom will still offer specialist sales ‘that are broad and varied in categories and price points. We will also add to our online sales calendar some of the themed pop-up sales that CSK specialises in—i know there are many in the trade who feel that this means full closure of certain areas altogether, but that is not the case’. Nevertheless, Roland Arkell, contributing editor at Antiques Trade Gazette, points out that ‘the once strong ties that bound together the different strata of the antiques trade will be weakened without CSK’. He adds that ‘few will celebrate the demise of another of London’s middle-market salerooms’, which the Times’s Richard Morrison estimates serve 99% of collectors.
COUNTRY LIFE’S saleroom correspondent Huon Mallalieu, whose career started at Christie’s, is sorely disappointed by the closure of what has been ‘the entry point for new collectors and the training place for the next generation of expertise’. ‘By sacking 250 employees,’ he says, ‘and shutting down virtually every specialist department other than Contemporary in order to concentrate solely on multimillion-pound sales, the long-term effects will be catastrophic.’
‘Not too long ago, CSK’S specialist sales kept the loss-making Contemporary market afloat,’ he continues. In his Art Market pages of January 29, 2014, Mr Mallalieu reported on the much trumpeted $58.4 million (£47.2m) sale of Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog of the previous year. The result was that a market value was established for the remaining four in the edition that far exceeded the $2 million–$6 million believed to have been orginally paid for each. ‘Christie’s no longer seems interested in the art market, but in fashion, which is a completely different thing.’
Christie’s South Kensington saleroom is to close its doors after 42 years on the site