Market Monday: Crossing Over
This week, stories about blasting through art-industry boundaries––and the consequences left behind…
Whose World Is This?: Just days after postwar and contemporary guru Brett Gorvy announced his imminent departure for the gallery sector, Christie's org chart got another makeover at the top this week. News broke on Wednesday that Patricia Barbizet would vacate the CEO's office to make room for Guillaume Cerutti, the house's president of operations in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and India. Far from exiting Christie's corporate structure, though, Barbizet will become its vice chairman, while simultaneously retaining her position as chief executive of François Pinault's Artémis Group. (For the uninitiated, Artémis is the majority stake-holder in Pinault's luxury-goods conglomerate Kering, where Barbizet remained vice chair during her run inside Christie's C-suite.)
It's too early to tell what exactly Cerutti's ascension means for the future of Christie's and the auction market more broadly. But, as Marion Maneker points out, Cerutti's public comments to date hardly create the impression that he's been brought in to make drastic changes. With that in mind, I think the most telling aspect of this story actually concerns Barbizet. Granted, I'm certain she's sharp as hell, and on some level management is management, no matter what the professional space in question. Nevertheless, it speaks volumes about the 21st-century art market that a self-described "custodian" CEO has been able to so easily walk back and forth between Christie's and the luxury-retail market for the past two years––despite having no previous experience in art sales.
Just as important, executives in both industries can largely thank Pinault himself for their newfound fluidity. Upon acquiring a controlling interest in Christie's in the late 1990s, Pinault took many of the strategies that helped him build Kering––home to brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Stella McCartney––into a fashion empire and simply applied them to selling artwork (as Georgina Adam covers in detail in Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century). In that sense, it isn't just Barbizet, Cerutti, and the rest of Christie's staff who are living inside Pinault's art world. It's all of us. [The New York Times]
On a Roll: In the auction sector's opposing corner, Sotheby's made a significant personnel move of its own this week. The house's recently formed fine-art division announced that it would welcome Christy MacLear to advise artists and their estates on long-term planning and asset maximization. The role essentially scales up (and privatizes) MacLear's current professional responsibilities as the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's inaugural CEO and, previously, as the head of Philip Johnson's Glass House, where she also managed the estate of Johnson's partner, the curator David Whitney.
As Nate Freeman wrote on Wednesday, the MacLear hire represents the latest component of a major vertical-integration initiative at Sotheby's. 2016 has now seen the house acquire high-end advisory firm Art Agency, Partners, auction-market data-crunching venture the Mei Moses art indices, and authentication experts Orion Analytical––all as part of an increasingly obvious effort to expand beyond sales and become a one-stop shop for clients of all stripes in the 21st-century art industry.
However, approving as I've generally been of these acquisitions over the past several months, Sotheby's waltzes further and further out onto a tightrope with every one. Earlier this year, The New Yorker's James Surowiecki warned of the perils facing roll-ups, or corporations that continually buy other companies on the premise that they will be more profitable together than they were separately. In his words, "the challenge for roll-ups is that they have to keep feeding the beast: if you grow by buying, you have to keep buying to thrive. But, the bigger you get, the fewer deals there are that can truly boost your bottom line." In that sense, one could argue that Sotheby's is obeying the same dangerous "grow or go" impulse that has been so influential in the reshaping of the gallery/dealer sector this generation. And while I think it's probably wise for the big auction houses to compete with the big galleries to a point, it's also possible that both sides' shared appetite for expansion will eventually blow them up from the inside like a John Carpenter villain. [ARTnews]
Mission Creep: Finally this week, influential curator Douglas Crimp held forth in a wide-ranging interview about his memoir, his career arc, and how his profession has transformed during his lifetime. For context: After lucking into a job as a curatorial assistant to the Guggenheim's Diane Waldman in the late 1960s, Crimp went on to produce the now-revered Artists Space exhibition "Pictures," which became the launchpad for the lift-off of Pictures Generation icons like Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Jack Goldstein. Crimp has since taught, written, and curated extensively, both in the US and internationally, giving him an expansive view of his chosen role and the larger industry it's a part of.
The experience seems to have left Crimp with one central takeaway: namely, that in the 21st century, nonprofit curators no longer have the clear runway they need to mastermind and execute thoughtful, progressive exhibitions. Instead, they're forced to spend far too much time touring trustees around art fairs, catering to high-powered galleries, and buttering up possible patrons––all in order to compensate for the vast smoking crater now occupying the space where he and his colleagues used to be able to find adequate public funding for the visual arts.
I agree with Crimp's basic assessment. The collapsing walls between scholarship and, effectively, sales have helped to remodel the contours of both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors of the art industry. But given the worldwide trend toward austerity, privatization, and the ideological right of the political spectrum, it increasingly feels as though anyone who wants to sustain a career in this field better either adapt to the new art-world order... or start laying the groundwork for an alternative well outside the jurisdiction of traditional art institutions and legacy collectors. The way things are going now, the future may depend on it. [ARTnews]
That’s all for this edition––and for this year, thanks to where Christmas and New Year's Day fall on the weekly calendar. So until early January, remember Emerson: Every wall is a door (for better and worse).