Market Monday: Question Everything
Interrogating another line-up of industry news...
Let's start with Sotheby's, which this week completed enough voluntary staff member buyouts to hit its cost-cutting targets and holster its threat of layoffs. The golden parachute brigade was led by Mitchell Zuckerman, one of the house's top financial and operations executives dating back to 1988. His departure raises an interesting question: Is it a bad omen for Sotheby's that one of the first staffers to apply for "the package" (as my dad calls it) is also theoretically one of the most intimately familiar with the company's finances... or a good omen that someone who theoretically had significant responsibility for controlling the house's runaway costs will now exit stage left? Only time will tell. [artnet News]
In the midst of finalizing its employee exodus, though, Sotheby's also made a significant hire––one that simultaneously weakens its chief rival. The house announced that Marc Porter, chairman of Christie's Americas, will resign his current post in order to join Sotheby's in a "high-ranking business position" yet to be titled. Robin Pogrebin implies that Porter's defection may have been triggered by Christie's decision earlier this year to strip him of his role as international head of all private sales, dividing the responsibility among department-specific executives instead. Since Sotheby's has been particularly weak in private sales in recent years, Porter would be a tremendous asset if installed in a position similar to the one he lost at Christie's. The only questions are: How much further behind in that lucrative niche will Porter's new employer be by the time his noncompete agreement expires in "about a year"? And how quickly would he be able to make up the difference for a company still hemorrhaging cash? [The New York Times]
NASDAQ felt compelled to weigh in on the art market this week, warning investors to tread carefully if all the talk of record-shattering auction prices has enticed them to try their hands at flipping paintings. The only part of the piece I found interesting is that now even Emigrant Bank, which "has generally cast itself as a bank that doesn't cater to ultra-high net-worth clients," has an art financing division. So if there was still a lingering question about whether Wall Street at large was all-in on the "art as asset" narrative (just as Madison Avenue is all-in on the "art as pop culture" narrative), consider it answered. Now cue Gagosian and Zwirner as McConaughey and DiCaprio. [NASDAQ]
Finally, French art dealer Mathias Coullaud gave a refreshingly transparent interview about his choice to end a three-year partnership with compatriot Audrey Koulinsky and launch his own gallery. My favorite moment comes when Coullaud explains that he hates the term "gallerist" because of its faux intellectual trappings, and that he instead finds "a lot of nobility in the term 'merchant.'" If Coullaud's refusal to play the name game is indeed evidence of a total no-bullshit approach to his gallery, the question becomes: Will it ultimately hurt or help his business? My guess is that, in an era where NASDAQ is reporting on the art market, he's going to be just fine. [Art Media Agency]
That's all for this edition. Remember that you can sign up for the Gray Market newsletter for more links and analysis every Sunday night. Til next time, hope you find all the answers you're looking for.