Why Did a Top Sotheby’s Executive Leave on the Eve of a Major Auction?

She had recently been promoted.

Gabriela Palmieri. Photo J Grassi/Patrickmcmullan.com.

Following a tumultuous year at Sotheby’s that saw a buyout-induced staff exodus in the wake of a management shake-up, artnet News has learned that another top longtime executive—contemporary art chairman for Americas Gabriela Palmieri—has left the auction house on the eve of its major fall sales.

Sotheby’s press office confirmed Palmieri’s departure to artnet news, saying in an email: “Gabby was a valued colleague and we were sad to see her go. We wish her only the best in future endeavors.”

Auction experts who requested anonymity told artnet News that the timing of her departure—just weeks before the major fall evening contemporary art sale on November 17—is highly unusual. High-level staffers would typically time a departure to occur after a major sale, particularly after spending months securing consignments and gauging interest from potential bidders and buyers.

Gabriela Palmieri speaks onstage at "Modern Kings of Culture" Art Auction in 2014. Courtesy of Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Grey Goose.

Gabriela Palmieri speaks onstage at “Modern Kings of Culture” Art Auction in 2014. Courtesy of Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Grey Goose.

Palmieri, who had been with Sotheby’s for 16 years, was promoted to chairman six months ago. She previously held positions including head of day sales and head of evening sales, and was key in securing the consignment of Roy Lichtenstein’s painting Sleeping Girl (1964), which fetched $44.8 million at auction in May 2012, at the time a record for the artist.

Two sources in the auction field told artnet News that a clash between Palmieri and Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith led to her departure.

Additional factors suggest the development was abrupt. Palmieri’s bio on Sotheby’s website was still active when artnet News confirmed her departure in late October. A few days later, it was gone.

In addition, Palmieri is still featured as a specialist in the latest Sotheby’s catalogues for its upcoming contemporary art sales.

On Monday, October 31, artnet News received an email from Pratt Institute, the New York art school, promoting an upcoming benefit event, including a live auction “led by Sotheby’s Gabriela Palmieri.”

A Pratt spokesperson, contacted about the sale, claimed to be “unaware of Gabby Palmieri no longer being at Sotheby’s.” West Coast chairman Andrea Fiuczynski is now handling the sale.

Palmieri could not be reached for comment.

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