How Christie’s is chang­ing the auc­tion game

A few weeks be­fore the Rock­e­feller Col­lec­tion auc­tion in New York – set to be one of the year’s most mem­o­rable events for the art mar­ket – Gulf Busi­ness sat down with the CEO of Christie’s, Guillaume Cerutti to dis­cuss mar­ket trends, the busi­ness of art,

Gulf Business - - FEATURES - Car­los Pe­droza

We sit down with the CEO of Christie’s, Guillaume Cerutti, to dis­cuss mar­ket trends, the busi­ness of art, and how the world’s old­est auc­tion house is em­brac­ing dig­i­tal

You had an ex­cep­tional year in 2017 – 26 per cent gen­eral growth and 68 per cent in the Amer­i­cas.

“It was a re­flec­tion of the mar­ket, and of course the Da Vinci (Sal­va­tor Mundi – hang­ing in the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi) was the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive sale. But as a whole, the mar­ket was stronger in 2017 in al­most all cat­e­gories. Is true the Da Vinci helped, but even with­out the Sal­va­tor Mundi sale, it would have been a very good year.”

What makes the auc­tion mar­ket and the art mar­ket in gen­eral seem­ingly bul­let-proofed against re­ces­sions or eco­nomic fluc­tu­a­tions?

“It would be a mis­take to think that the art mar­ket is pro­tected against eco­nomic fluc­tu­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, 10 years ago, the mar­ket went into a re­ces­sion. It is a mar­ket like any other with cy­cles and very di­ver­si­fied. It’s made by many mar­kets and each one very dif­fer­ent from the other. That said, the last decade has been un­der­pinned by the fact that there is more wealth in the world and more col­lec­tors; there has been a ma­jor change in the art mar­ket in the last decade or the last 20 years. And the fact that this mar­ket, which was very much a western mar­ket fo­cused on Amer­ica and Europe, has be­come a truly global mar­ket with col­lec­tors from the Mid­dle East, Asia and other parts of the world. This fact prob­a­bly drove the mar­ket to a dif­fer­ent level.”

In the last cou­ple of years, we’ve seen a slow­down in the lux­ury sec­tor, with over­stock­ing, on­line mi­gra­tion and so on. In your busi­ness, where do you

think the cy­cle is right now?

“In the lux­ury mar­ket – and we know this well be­cause our sis­ter com­pany is the Ker­ring group – we couldn’t say there’s a slow­down be­cause brands like Gucci, Balenciaga or Saint Laurent have ex­pe­ri­enced growth that we would love to have in our mar­ket.

“But com­ing back to the art mar­ket, one should look at it as be­ing made of sev­eral parts. It’s true that if you take the cat­e­gories that are re­lated – let’s say 20th Cen­tury and con­tem­po­rary art – they have been ex­tremely strong over re­cent years. And why? Prob­a­bly be­cause there is a shift in taste, but also the two have been linked be­cause there are so many new col­lec­tors in the mar­ket and their pri­mary point of en­try to the art mar­ket is very of­ten con­tem­po­rary art, mod­ern art or cat­e­gories linked to these. For in­stance, photo, de­sign, or lux­ury.

“All these cat­e­gories have been very strong over the last years, more than the clas­sic cat­e­gories like old mas­ter’s paint­ings, dec­o­ra­tive arts, and an­tiq­ui­ties, which have not de­clined in value, but maybe the num­ber of col­lec­tors is not as strong as on other fields.

“That’s the pic­ture we have at the mo­ment – a mar­ket that is very dif­fer­ent from one cat­e­gory to the other. We are never at the same mo­ment on the cy­cles of the dif­fer­ent mar­kets. Con­tem­po­rary art some­times can ex­pe­ri­ence cor­rec­tions be­cause it has been so strong and some­times it has to go on dif­fer­ent stages, have a plateau and come back. The cy­cle here some­times goes very quickly, while in other fields like dec­o­ra­tive arts we have a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.

“We try to sup­port, to de­velop the rise of new col­lec­tors. We ex­per­i­ment with new sales for­mats, we are ex­plor­ing on­line sales and it’s a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. And that’s key for us. We are an in­dus­try, and the art mar­ket is set to be an in­dus­try, but the re­al­ity is that we are crafts­men. We deal with in­di­vid­ual col­lec­tors sell­ing unique ob­jects and each cat­e­gory is dif­fer­ent from the other; each ob­ject is dif­fer­ent from the other. We are sell­ing unique ob­jects, we are not man­u­fac­tur­ing. We are in an ac­tiv­ity that has been the same for many years and the mar­ket has changed, but the re­la­tion­ship with the client and with the ob­ject re­mains the same. That’s the magic of what we do and at the same time that’s the chal­lenge be­cause you rein­vent your­self ev­ery day. We are not man­u­fac­tur­ing or cre­at­ing a prod­uct, we are sell­ing art based on emo­tion and pas­sion to col­lec­tors and that’s a very spe­cial thing.”

Do you think there’s been a change in the art fairs dy­nam­ics? There used to be a very es­tab­lished art fair cir­cuit and now we can see dif­fer­ent in­de­pen­dent fairs across the globe that bring a dif­fer­ent kind of client to this en­vi­ron­ment.

“That’s a re­flec­tion of the world in which we are and that’s also true for auc­tion houses in a way. You have gal­leries, fairs and auc­tion houses that are truly in­ter­na­tional, present in the main hubs in the world and they are run like real cor­po­ra­tions and play­ing at an in­ter­na­tional level.

“On the other side, the mar­ket still has a very im­por­tant place for niche busi­ness – smaller com­pa­nies work­ing some­times with emerg­ing artists and play­ing a role that is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary and es­sen­tial for the

We are an in­dus­try, and the art mar­ket i s set to be an in­dus­try, but the re­al­ity i s that we are crafts­men.

Christie’s will hold its keenly-an­tic­i­pated Rock­e­feller Col­lec­tion auc­tion in New York in May

La ta­ble du mu­si­cien by Juan Gris

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