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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

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