Now at Bonhams, the Marketing Guru Behind ‘Salvator Mundi’ Is Applying His Genius to Selling (Much) Cheaper Art
Marc Sands says there's a lot of work to be done to attract buyers spending south of $1 million.
Marc Sands is the kind of guy whose name you might not know—but you’ll know his work.
As chief marketing officer at Christie’s, he was instrumental in the campaign behind the auction house’s most outlandish coup: the record-smashing sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which brought in a whopping $450 million in late 2017. As part of a multi-pronged campaign, he worked closely with former contemporary art head Loïc Gouzer to address sensitive issues of authenticity and provenance while also courting some of the world’s biggest buyers.
Now Sands, who also held positions at Tate and the Guardian Media Group, has landed at Bonhams, which is bolstering its executive ranks several months after it was acquired by the private equity firm Epiris.
Sands’s “track record in transforming brands is extraordinary, and his experience in the auction business, in particular, will be of enormous importance,” said Bruno Vinciguerra, who joined Bonhams as executive chairman last September (he was formerly chief operating officer at Sotheby’s).
“The role of marketing in the commercial art space is an interesting one,” Sands told artnet News in a phone interview from London. “Funny enough, it has the best chance of having the greatest impact in an institution like Bonhams, more so than at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.”
Why? Bonhams’s competitors “operate very much at the top end,” he says. “It’s a very small group of people, most of whom already know each other. It’s a nudge role.” With Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips, price points tend to be $1 million and above, he says, noting that “there’s a lot to play for between $10,000 and $1 million.”
When you’re dealing with those lower priced objects, “you have the capability to reach a wider audience and to engage more with the existing one. It’s much more prevalent than at the high price point.” And with economic uncertainty linked to the looming threat of Brexit, Sands thinks the lower rings of the art market are remarkably stable, and tend to fluctuate less than at the top.
Though it’s too early to talk specific targets, Sands says Bonhams’s new ownership is looking for higher sell-through rates at auction and is working to reach a broader audience. “They’re not looking to cut to growth, they’re looking to grow for growth,” he says.
While Sands is familiar with most of Bonhams’s auction categories, motorcars—a major focus for the auction auction house—are new to him, and will require “a quick build-up to speed,” he says. But overall, he says, “whatever the categories are, you can change your tone and look and feel, but the principles are largely the same. You just have to apply them with immense rigor.”
Asked what convinced him to make the leap to Bonhams and serve under new ownership, Sands emphasized how much he enjoyed the more than four years he spent at Christie’s and calls his time there “absolutely fantastic.” But the chance to try something new was “too interesting not to give it a go. Nothing is going to trump the Leonardo or the Rockefeller sale”—another big coup he helped market for his former employer—”but there’s plenty of stuff here that needs doing.”
So how did he approach that Rockefeller sale? “Obviously it was going to be big in America, because of the name. But we were not totally sure about the rest of the world,” he says. But once he and his team started doing research, they realized how global the Rockefeller footprint was.
“Basically they had activity all over the world,” he says. “We researched what they did and built a narrative around that. It was a real deep dive.” And it’s that approach that Sands hopes will serve him well at Bonhams.
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