Christie’s Acquisition of a Cutting-Edge Art Startup Was Supposed to Change Everything. Instead, It’s Become a Big Headache.
Christie's acquisition of the startup Collectrium has resulted in a pricey learning curve.
In early 2015, when Christie’s reportedly shelled out somewhere between $16 million and $25 million to acquire a tech startup called Collectrium, the platform was hailed as something of a godsend for the art collecting set.
Collectrium was touted as way for clients to securely store and manage detailed information about their art collection in a single virtual space. The same platform would also offer them access to a database of millions of auction results from hundreds of auction houses around the world. The idea was that combined, these two tools could help collectors keep track of their collection and make informed decisions about future acquisitions, all at the same time.
But that dream never came to pass. Now, the database is defunct, Collectrium’s founder and CEO has left, and Christie’s has scaled back sharply on the initiative. Perhaps most troubling of all, the auction house is also stuck fending off litigation from a competitor who alleges that Collectrium’s much-touted database was built on stolen data.
How Did We Get Here?
The problems surrounding Collectrium illustrate, once again, the challenges the art world faces when trying to adapt technology to its notoriously opaque and fickle business. Even as most industries have been thoroughly transformed by the digital revolution, the art trade is still struggling to streamline everything from online bidding to collection management. As the race to bring the 300-year-old auction business into the 21st century rages on, Christie’s appears to have ended up with a platform that, by some accounts, over-promised and seriously under-delivered.
A representative for Christie’s says the auction house has not pulled the plug on Collectrium, but rather folded it into the broader company. Christie’s has “changed how we are deploying Collectrium resources,” the spokesperson told artnet News. “We have integrated the team to bring this capability more closely into the heart of Christie’s. We recognized that Collectrium has some truly outstanding technology and people that we want to harness in our broader business rather than operating as an independent subsidiary.”
But the process of integrating Collectrium into Christie’s has been rocky. Six months ago, Collectrium’s CEO and founder Boris Pevzner, who started the company in 2009, left “to pursue another venture,” he and Christie’s confirmed to artnet News.
Then, at the start of the year, Christie’s laid off roughly 10 people within Collectrium’s sales, marketing, and operations departments—equivalent to just over a third of a staff that, at its height, numbered approximately 25 to 30 people. The remaining staff now stands at approximately seven people.
Several people familiar with Christie’s acquisition of Collectrium told artnet News that the acquisition was pricey, a poor fit from the start, and marred by a lack of vision or integration strategy. The fact that Christie’s quickly found itself at the center of a lawsuit related to Collectrium’s data collecting activity didn’t exactly help matters, either.
Competitor Alleges Data Theft
In late 2016, Christie’s and Collectrium were sued by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, which alleged that its data had been stolen. That case is now in arbitration in Texas federal court and due to head to trial within the next four months. Christie’s declined to comment on the litigation.
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