Christie’s recently announced that is building a new storage facility in Brooklyn to expand upon its CFASS business in London and the new storage facility it is building at the Singapore Freeport. To get a better sense of the reasons behind this bold increase in their capacity and continental reach, AMM spoke to Joseph Stasko who runs the business:
What is CFASS?
CFASS is a acronym for Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services, and it’s a wholly-owned, independent subsidiary of Christie’s and it provides fine art storage for clients.
CFASS has been in London for about 24 years. We made a decision about two years to grow this business as an extension of Christie’s services to its clients. I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about Christie’s as the world’s leading art business. This is one of the areas that we’re looking to grow.
We looked at the model, and we decided to expand around the world. So we’re not building from scratch. We’re renovating this facility in Brooklyn; we have a space that’s currently being built, Singapore Freeport, giving us a footprint in Asia.
We’re building the facilities to a very high level, very much a state of the art climate control facility.
Have you worked with any of the insurance companies for their standards?
Yes, through AXA Global Risk Partners We had them come in, and because we were designing the facilities in New York and looking at the facility in Singapore, we had them come in and scorecard our London facility so that we could learn from them. So we’ve been in touch with them regularly and we’re very pleased that our London facility did exceptionally well in this score carding.
They’re educating the clients, and that’s one of the hardest parts.
We’ve found that a lot of the fine art storage facilities, certainly in New York and in other cities around the world, have grown from logistics companies.
It’s the fine arts shippers who started to find themselves holding on to clients’ property, and it grew into a storage business. In a number of cases, truly horrendous conditions, truly very, very poor quality conditions existed. In no way is that to say all of them are, there are really some fine facilities around that have over the last few years focused on being quality facilities, but we certainly have been, from the Christie’s auction side, we go on appraisals regularly and find ourselves in situations that are shocking, if there’s an item being held in certain facilities…it’s amazing.
CFASS has been around for 24 years, or you bought a pre-existing company?
We started it as a partnership 24 years ago, I think it was with an insurance company and a security company. Then we ended up buying them out maybe 20 years ago or so, really for the most of it’s life, it’s just been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Christie’s in London.
That you use primarily as a Christie’s facility or that you used as a service to sell to your clients?
It’s completely separate from the Christie’s auction business.
So it’s not marketed through the auction house?
We will market it through the auction house in terms of a flier or something like that. We have no systems integration; we share no information; we’re just completely separate. We have our own clients–and they may or may not be Christie’s clients.
Walk us through the strategic thinking that has you building facilities on multiple continents. Was it a consulting project that gave you the idea?
I think there’s a couple of things.
One is that we have the facility in London, and we’re able to look at it closely and understand the business.
Secondly, we have been and found ourselves, for many years, being a conduit for clients who are coming to us, looking for recommendations for storage. We’re constantly asked about it.
Lastly, it’s something that our clients are already buying; it’s an extension of the service that we can give them; and it’s a business we know. We know how to handle and store art, not just from the CFASS business in London, but also from Christie’s 200 years of experience.
The integration between Christie’s core business and CFASS is the art handling and training that will happen before the handlers are chosen to work at CFASS. They’ll go through substantial training at Christie’s to learn how to handle art in different ways, different types, and how to work with it.
In that sense, we leverage Christie’s expertise.
What makes you think collectors need so much more storage?
For Christie’s and for CFASS, this is a long-term play. We’re not looking at this saying, “We need to fill this in the next year or the next two years, is there a need, where are we?” This is very much about the long-term relationships with our clients, the long-term needs for our clients. We see this as a growing field over the long term, but we know there’s a certain volume of requests that come in on a weekly basis to us that we’re pushing along and we’re hoping that can be one of the options in New York City, that we can capture a portion of this market. Our focus is very much on the private clients, and that’s where we think our niche is going to be.
What is the growth in the need for storage, are collectors buying more art?
I think it’s a couple of things.
In a market like this, you find people downsizing homes. So people want to store now instead of selling. It’s also major estates that are coming around that might decide to hold off on selling. I think the growth is also partially due to the size of the mega collections and the size of the work that’s being collected at this point.
Is there any particular kind of art you see more of?
At the moment, we’re not doing wine storage in New York or London. We will do wine storage in Singapore, because the wine storage in Singapore is long-term, and in New York and London, there’s much more usage, so we’re not in that field yet.
I don’t think that there’s a specific trend. You look at when we’re storing paintings, it takes up less space than storing furniture. We wrap it up by square foot, so it’s hard to determine that versus objects.
The only thing I would say is that our business is a business that caters to the type of client that needs to really take care of their property, it’s a higher-end client, and that’s the type of property that we sell.
If I’m storing stuff with you, do I check it like a library, piece by piece? Or do you give me a secure locker segregating my stuff together?
You have both options. You can have an individual room where pieces can be delivered. We can receive them for you on your behalf, bring them into your own individual room, and you can store it there.
We can also store single items for you so that you do not have your own room, and we can receive it for you, condition it, bar code it and photograph it and put it in the warehouse.
If I have stuff I don’t want you to know what it is, I can get it sent in to you in a way that I control who handles it?
Absolutely. Often, what we do in those cases is that when it comes in, we keep it in a holding area. Usually when you’re sending something in a crate to us, you want somebody to uncrate it and condition it to make sure it hasn’t arrived damaged. So we’ll put it in a holding area for you to use so that your person can come in, check it, and move it in to your room, or we move it with them and assist moving it into your room.
That happens pretty regularly, where the client just says, “I’m getting a crate delivered on Tuesday, can you store it for me until my restorer arrives or my registrar,” they go in, check it, say, “OK,” and we move it into their room.
Is all of your business to private collectors? Or are there dealers?
We have dealers and foundations and institutions as well.
So are they a substantial part of the storage business?
There’s only so much I can say about that, but I will say that our primary clients are private clients.
Insurance companies are telling their clients, “If you’re not hanging it on your wall, your insurance premiums are going to be better if you put it in a facility like CFASS.”
If you’re on vacation and your property is of a certain value, it’s good to put it in a facility like CFASS.
Collectors buy and don’t always have the room to hang everything, or they want to move it around or they want to change it. Where are they going to keep it during that period of time? It really makes the most sense to keep it at a facility where it’s climate controlled, it’s secure, people are looking after it.
In the facilities that we have in London and New York and Singapore, you have 24-hour manned security watching everything that’s going on, all the time, to make sure there’s no fluctuations in temperature. It’s very, very carefully taken care of. For what ultimately is really not a tremendous amount of money, you’re able to store some very valuable items there, and for these clients, it’s well worth it.