The Back Room
The Back Room: A Post-Auction World
This week: Ex-Sotheby’s collaborators get competitive, an overseas auction cheat sheet, the next million-dollar millennial artist, and more.
Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.
This week in the Back Room: Former Sotheby’s collaborators get competitive, an overseas auction cheat sheet, the newest million-dollar millennial artist, and much more—all in an 8-minute read (2,058 words).
Top of the Market
Partners Turned Pugilists
In 2016, Sotheby’s shocked the art world by paying between $50 million and $80 million to acquire Art Agency, Partners, the boutique advisory firm led by Amy Cappellazzo, Adam Chinn, and Allan Schwartzman.
Though it was questioned at the time, the deal paid off handsomely in the years after. Like the climax of some auction-sector Avengers movie, each member of the triad combined their unique skills into a synergistic offensive that won serious consignments, clients, and sales for a house in desperate need of restabilizing.
After earlier farewells from her ex-partners, Cappellazzo will be the last of the AAP Three to exit Sotheby’s (a story Artnet News broke in April)… and now Nate Freeman reports that the former collaborators will soon be competing via their own ambitious new ventures.
Here’s a pocket dossier on what we know about each AAP alum’s post-auction-house plans so far. (Cappellazzo and Schwartzman declined to comment; Chinn did not respond to an email.)
Top Sotheby’s Role: Head of Global Fine Art
Departing Sotheby’s: July 2021
New Company: Name not yet finalized
Launching: Mid-fall 2021
The Concept: Nate calls it a “deeply ambitious shop… best suited for a post-COVID world where good material is hard to come by but demand—and the capital for it—is endless.” In a May 31 Financial Times interview, Melanie Gerlis wrote of A-Cap’s venture that “she will still be advising clients on buying and selling art, though doesn’t rule out working with artists directly,” and that she will prioritize the ability to pivot quickly.
Key Personnel: Unknown, though rumblings that fellow high-powered Sotheby’s expat Yuki Terase could be involved had reached Kenny Schachter last month.
Top Sotheby’s Role: Chief Operating Officer
Departed Sotheby’s: December 31, 2018
New Company: LiveArt Market
Relaunched: June 2021
The Concept: An online platform where buyers and sellers can remain anonymous and “quickly transact without the messiness of personality getting in the way,” Nate says. LiveArt Market focuses on the middle-market (works priced at $50,000+) and only charges sellers a flat 10 percent fee for its role—an enticing cut in comparison to auction houses, advisors, and dealers.
Key Personnel: John Auerbach, formerly chief of e-commerce for Sotheby’s Art and Objects, jewelry, timepieces, and fine wine divisions; and Boris Pevzner, founder of collection-management platform and auction-price database Collectrium (which got into some trouble after being acquired by Christie’s).
Top Sotheby’s Role: Chairman of Global Fine Art
Departed Sotheby’s: May 2020
New Company: Schwartzman and Associates
The Concept: Nate relays that Schwartzman’s venture “hopes to be the go-to shop for the world’s billionaires trying to build up a horde of masterpieces,” courtesy of a “crackerjack team of art market sharpshooters.” The firm’s website adds that it will advise “artists, museums, philanthropic organizations, and civic initiatives,” not just collectors.
Key Personnel: Simon Preston, former Pace Gallery director and founder of a namesake dealership on the Lower East Side, plus veterans of LVMH, Sotheby’s, and David Zwirner will accompany a slew of longtime AAP pros.
The Bottom Line
After years spent helping Sotheby’s muscle up its public and private sales arms, the AAP Three are each heading up ventures premised on the notion that traditional art-market structures are no longer optimal for the industry’s current and future dynamics. How their respective strategies evolve will be just as worth watching as how their client lists, trophy sales, and balance sheets compare.
The Week in Gavels
I See London, I See France
This week also included multipart sales at Christie’s London and Paris showrooms, as well as Sotheby’s London. Results overall were respectable though not exactly exhilarating.
The houses once again emphasized that strong bidding from Asia was vital to their (modest) success—a buy-side trait that is by now about as unsurprising as waking up with the same number of eyebrows you had when you went to sleep the night before. (Sotheby’s noted that spending from Asia has doubled year-to-date across its London sales.)
Below, your cheat sheet to each individual sale. (All prices include premiums unless otherwise noted; presale estimates do not.)
The house ran three auctions back to back to back on Wednesday:
20th/21st Century Evening Sale (London)
- Total sales: $166 million (£119.3 million), squarely in the middle of its…
- Presale Estimate Range: $128 million to $187 million (£93 million to £136 million)
- Offered: 52 lots (excluding one withdrawn presale)
- Guaranteed: 17 lots (16 of them by third parties)
- Sell-through Rate: 88 percent of offered works (87 percent counting withdrawal)
- Top Seller: Pablo Picasso‘s L’Étreinte (1969) for $20.2 million (£14.7 million) against a low estimate of $15.1 million (£11 million).
- Verdict: Solid, not spectacular.
The Collection of Francis Gross (Paris)
- Total sales: $31.6 million (€26.5 million), well above its…
- Presale High Estimate: $24.9 million (€21 million)
- Offered: 24 lots
- Sell-through Rate: 96 percent
- Top Seller: René Magritte’s La Vengeance (1936) for $17.3 million (€14.6 million), above its low estimate of $16.6 million (€14 million).
- Verdict: Impressive!
20th/21st Century Evening Sale (Paris)
- Total sales: $15.8 million (€13.3 million), within its…
- Presale Estimate Range: $11.7 million to $16.9 million (€9.9 million to €14.3 million)
- Offered: 14 lots (excluding two withdrawn presale)
- Guaranteed: None
- Sell-through Rate: 100 percent of offered works (88 percent counting withdrawals)
- Top Seller: Pierre Soulages’s Peinture 162 x 114 cm, 17 avril 1972 for $2.5 million (€2.1 million), far above its high estimate of $1.8 million (€1.5 million).
- Verdict: (Quiet nod-and-shrug combo.)
The house ran tandem sales on Tuesday:
British Art Evening Sale (London)
- Total sales: $67 million (£48 million), north of its…
- Presale High Estimate: $65 million (£46.8 million)
- Offered: 34 lots (excluding one withdrawn presale)
- Guaranteed: 10 lots (seven of them by third parties)
- Sell-through Rate: 88 percent of offered works (86 percent counting withdrawal)
- Top Seller: Lucian Freud’s 2002 portrait of David Hockney for $20.7 million (£14.9 million), above its presale high of $16.5 million (£12 million).
- Verdict: (Wimbledon-style respectful hand clap.)
Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (London)
- Total sales: $150 million (£108 million), higher than only its…
- Presale Low Estimate: $133.7 million (£96.6 million)
- Offered: 57 lots (excluding three withdrawn presale)
- Guaranteed: 34 lots (26 of them by third parties)
- Sell-through Rate: 93 percent of offered works (88 percent counting withdrawals)
- Top Seller: Wassily Kandinsky’s Tensions calmées (1937) for $29.5 million (£21.2 million), firmly inside its presale estimate range of $24.8 million to $34.4 million (£18 million to £25 million).
- Fun Fact: Tensions calmées was consigned by heirs of Willard Gidwitz, who bought the work for just £10,000 in 1964 with money from his family’s Chicago-based beauty brand Helene Curtis. The seller back then? The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
- Verdict: Slightly uninspiring since “bidding hovered under or near the low estimate” for “quite a few” of the lots with third-party backing, per Eileen Kinsella.
The Bottom Line
Although these sales gave us few OMG moments, their steady results still look like a positive indicator when you remember we’re only three to six months removed from when civilization-saving vaccines became widely available in high-income Western nations.
A Tale of Three Cities
If you want to get a job at an auction house sometime in the next decade, it would be wise for you to learn Cantonese. That’s the takeaway from this chart, which tracks the total auction sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips over the past decade.
Asian demand in particular helped save the Big Three’s P&L from ruin during the pandemic. Total Hong Kong sales fell just three percent in 2020, to $1.05 billion, compared with a 43 percent drop in New York and a 38 percent decline in London. This year is poised to be a record for the Asian hub, with almost $900 million worth of art sold year to date.
“Five years ago, if I told someone that I wanted to sell their work in Hong Kong instead of New York that would have been a significant conversation,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales, told Katya Kazakina this week. “Today, they don’t even flinch.”
“By the time I came along, these collectors wanted to speak to anyone but someone with the title ‘art advisor.’”
—Megan Fox Kelly, the president of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, on how some freewheeling, underqualified folks can give the profession a bad name.
Say It Ain’t So, Joe + Three More Market Morsels
Portuguese collector and private museum founder José “Joe” Berardo was arrested on suspicion of defrauding several of his home nation’s banks to the tune of nearly a billion euros. (Artnet News / Reuters)
- The works owned by his Museu Colecao Berardo in Lisbon were “seized… as collateral” and remanded to the government for safekeeping in 2019.
- The museum remains open to the public; Berardo owns hundreds of other works outside the institution.
Millennial artists aren’t the only ones who can shatter auction estimates—a Fragonard once deemed worthless by its owners tripled expectations at a small French house to fetch $9.1 million. (The Art Newspaper)
Sorry, museums—David Geffen’s latest $150 million largesse went to the now-tuition-free Yale School of Drama, which will be renamed in the mega-collector’s honor. (New York Times)
Are we now working in an industry worth between $1.7 trillion and $3 trillion in value? Multiple recent estimates scream, “Yes!” Georgina Adam says, “Bro, c’mon…” (TAN)
Here’s what else made a mark in the latest Wet Paint (and elsewhere).
- Collector and X Museum founder Michael Xufu Huang will curate an upcoming show at Pace’s Palo Alto gallery.
- Gagosian will have a booth (meaning: room or cabana) at this summer’s Felix art fair in L.A.
- Kasmin now reps the James Rosenquist estate in the U.S. (with Thaddaeus Ropac still manning the controls in Europe). A major solo show at Kasmin will go on view next year.
- Painter Alexander Harrison has joined the roster of Various Small Fires.
- Laurent Le Bon, former head of the Centre Pompidou-Metz, has been named (checks notes) the next president of the Centre Pompidou.
- Kabelo Malatsie, a former director at Stevenson Gallery, will become director of the Kunsthalle Bern, making her the first non-European and only the second woman to helm the institution.
- James Cuno will retire as president and C.E.O. of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
- Today at 9:30 a.m. E.T. (3:30 p.m. G.M.T. +2), Documenta will hold a livestreamed press conference to announce whether its next exhibition (Documenta 15) will proceed in 2022 or be rescheduled. Click here to tune in.
- Bill Acquavella and Jose Mugrabi consigned an untitled 1988 Basquiat triptych to Sotheby’s Jay Chou sale, where it sold for $37 million against a $32.8 million low estimate.
Work of the Week
Flora Yukhnovich’s Pretty Little Thing
Estimate: $60,000 to $80,000
Sale Price: $1.2 million
Sold at: Phillips New York
Sale Date: June 24, 2021
If you correctly guessed that the only artist to out-earn London-based Flora Yukhnovich at Phillips’s most recent New York day sale would be Roy Lichtenstein, honestly you can come to my apartment and just take whatever you want. Rebeka Bowling, head of day sales at the house, called the result “a complete surprise” that struck like lightning from “a perfect storm of pent-up demand.” Katya reports that around 50 bidders registered to compete for the lot, which was only the fourth of Yukhnovich’s to to reach the rostrum… and that’s if you count a canvas that went for $950,000—nearly six times its estimate—at a White Columns charity auction in March.
After her 2017 grad school exhibition at City and Guilds of London Art School, Yukhnovich was signed off Instagram by Parafin Gallery. The dealership sold out all eight of the paintings (priced at £30,000 each) and several works on paper (priced at £2,000) that made up her 2019 solo debut at the space. But she left Parafin to join Victoria Miro this January following a one-person show there last year. With few works available and a waiting list already allegedly numbering in the hundreds, be prepared for Yukhnovich to follow the starlight road of recent auction phenoms like Julie Curtiss and Loie Hollowell in the months and years ahead.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.