Dealer Spotlight: Forum Auctions on Collecting Opportunities in a New EU

With the present weakness in the British pound, Forum Auctions' new sale offers excellent buying opportunities for international collectors.

Takashi Murakami, Open Your Hands Wide (2010). Courtesy of Forum Auctions.

artnet sat down with CEO and founder Stephan Ludwig to discuss Forum Auctions’s upcoming summer sale, the shifting nature of the auction house, and the subversive messages in Banksy’s work. The house’s upcoming Modern and Contemporary Editions and Works on Paper offers a wide scope of critically acclaimed artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Tracey Emin, and Takashi Murakami, among others.

Ludwig’s longstanding position as an innovator in the auctions community has led him to not only observe changes in the art world over almost two decades, but he has also placed himself at the forefront of technological advancements. The auctioneer also explores the implications of Brexit on the art market, and how e-commerce advancements paired with the tumultuous state of the British pound may provide collectors with unforeseen opportunities.

Tell us about your background in art and what led you here.
My introduction to the art world came about by a somewhat unromantic commercial route. On retiring as an investment banker in 2000, I was persuaded to invest in a start-up UK regional auction business. The nascent business grew over the following 10 years into Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions, a “top five” UK auctioneer, which I subsequently sold to the Stanley Gibbons group.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? What has surprised you the most?
From a technical perspective, the development of new products promoting both accessibility and transparency for private buyers. For example, we have launched the industry’s first automatic point-of-sale financing facility whereby buyers can borrow against auction purchases interest-free for three months. On the human side, I am constantly surprised by the commitment, knowledge, and expertise of staff in the teams I have assembled—both specialists and business managers.

David Hockney, Lithographic Water Made of Lines (1978–1980). Courtesy of Forum Auctions.

How would you describe the atmosphere of an auction house sale? How has this environment changed over the years?
Like any marketplace where dynamic pricing is a key component of the outcome, there is inevitably a combination of both fear and greed at play—though one of the joys of our industry is that these unattractive emotions are masked by the collector’s boundless love for the product on offer. With the continuing growth of remote bidding over the internet, the emotive atmosphere within the saleroom plays less of a role, though I imagine that the individual emotions of internet bidders avidly punching at their bidding buttons more than makes up for this.

What was your proudest consignment in the last year?
Our inaugural Editions auction in October 2016 saw all 42 works, exclusively by the British street artist Banksy, being sold with 18 new world records. Launching a department with a white-glove sale hammering 150% of low estimate is any auctioneer’s dream, and a particularly remarkable achievement for a new business.

When is your next important sale? Why should we come?
We are holding our summer sale of Modern and Contemporary Editions and Works on Paper on July 6, 2017. As a British auction house, we have a natural focus on British artists and this sale again presents excellent examples of works by David Hockney, Harland Miller, Anish Kapoor, Bridget Riley, and Howard Hodgkin, alongside international heavyweights Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and many more.

With the present weakness in the British pound versus both the US dollar and euro, this sale offers many excellent buying opportunities for international collectors.

Banksy, NOLA (2008). Courtesy of Forum Auctions.

From the summer sale, what piece would you bid on?
I am not a sophisticated collector, but appreciate the highly irreverent yet incisive commentaries expressed in much of Banksy’s work. For example, NOLA (2008)—lot 290 in our upcoming sale—was the artist’s reaction to the catastrophic mismanagement of the humanitarian disaster post-hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Along with a satirical portrayal of a well-dressed school girl being sheltered from the rain, the title of the work, NOLA, is the acronym for the local news service that was slow to publicize the plight of the poorest inhabitants living in the worst affected areas. This work serves as a reminder of how eager we are to minimize our exposure to the extremes of suffering immediately around us.

If you could have dinner with any three artists, living or dead, who would you choose?
Michelangelo, for his extraordinarily haunting quality of representing human form, Einstein, because he is simply the cleverest human that has ever lived, and, of course, Banksy—let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to know who he really is?

Harland Miller, I am the one I have been waiting for (2011). Courtesy of Forum Auctions.

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