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,
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