The Art of the Dealing
With major new funding and powerful art world backers, can Paddle8 become the auction house of tomorrow?
In a cavernous apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, African sculptures compete for space with $600 Marvel Comics-inspired sneakers and a Steve Jobs action fgure, still in the box. Photographs by Cindy Sherman line the walls, while in a back room an of-white Robert Ryman painting hangs below four other prized canvases. These are but a sample of the works owned by collector Jean Pigozzi, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, who has amassed one of the world’s most eclectic art collections, including the largest private holding of African contemporary art.
In December a small selection of the works in Pigozzi’s New York home will be sold through the online art auction house Paddle8. Founded in 2011, the company has quickly emerged as the Internet’s premier art dealer, recently raising a $34 million Series C from investors who included the powerful New York gallerist—and new Paddle8 board member—david Zwirner.
Zwirner joins artist Damien Hirst, White Cube Gallery’s Jay Jopling, shipping scion Stavros Niarchos III and VC frms Founder Collective and Mousse Partners, who have funded Paddle8 with $44 million to date. Once seen as a virtual Christie’s for contemporary art, Paddle8 has now expanded to feature design items, movie memorabilia and fashion accessories, as well as special sales with notable collectors such as Pigozzi.
“Our lofty vision is that there should be three auction houses in the world— Sotheby’s and Christie’s at the higher end, focusing on the business of selling work of $500,000 and up, and us operating online, consolidating this middle market of $500,000 lots and below,” says cofounder Alexander Gilkes, a 36-year-old Eton-educated art world authority who worked at LVMH before becoming chief auctioneer at Phillips.
“I noticed auction attendance was dwindling and that these auctions occurred at times of day that didn’t best capture international demand,” Gilkes says, leaning back in his boardroom chair at Paddle8’s Cooper Square ofces. He had sensed the brick-and-mortar system was failing a new class of young collectors; meeting eventual cofounder Aditya Julka in 2010 validated his suspicion. “Aditya was looking for an entry into the art market and didn’t know where to start,” Gilkes remembers.
Flush from selling his biotech company, Julka wanted to start a collection. “I thought