Sarah Thornton Talks to Francis Outred
At the peak of the market in May of last year, Francis Outred dropped out of sight. He had worked for nine and a half years at Sotheby’s, rising to the position of Senior Director, Head of Evening Auctions and Private Sales in London. A few weeks ago, after seven bloody months in the global economy, Outred resurfaced at Christie’s in a position the auction house created for him, International Director, European Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art. Sarah Thornton met Outred at Matsuri in St James, London.
Thornton: Your timing is impeccable. Where the hell have you been?
Outred: I’ve been on gardening leave. [Time spent waiting out a contractual non-compete clause.] I spent a month in France at the Institut de Français, improving my French. I took an evening class in Farsi. We went to Boston, Cape Cod and Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. I spent a lot of time with my son, Alexander. When I left my old job, he was eight months and didn’t know who I was.
Thornton: Your wife, Helen Perkins, worked in the same department at Sotheby’s. I guess the potential pillow talk prohibited her from keeping her job?
Outred: She was offered work in other departments, but she’s a Contemporary art specialist, so she’s taken a senior sales position at White Cube.
(More details on Outred’s new role after the jump.)
Thornton: Not many people have crossed the great divide. Laura Paulson went from Christie’s to Sotheby’s to Christie’s again, but I imagine it is hard to maintain relationships when you work at a direct competitor.
Outred: I think they understand. Christie’s offered me an exceptional role that allows me to bring a new pan-European model to the business.
Thornton: Have you noticed any differences in the corporate cultures of the two auction houses?
Outred: I’ve only been here three weeks! My initial observation is that the overall structures are similar. From auction to auction, the houses learn from each other.
Thornton: What about the personalities?
Outred: [laughs] Yes… Brett Gorvy and Amy Cappellazzo were a magnet. And it’s a pleasure to be working with Pilar Ordovas. But the fact that Christie’s is a more global company, which isn’t run out of New York in quite the same way as Sotheby’s, is motivating for someone based in London.
Thornton: I assume that your experience in private sales is particularly useful at this time. I hear there’s high volume trading behind the scenes.
Outred: Yes. Over recent years, private sales have become an ever more important part of the auction business. Plus, the disparity between valuations from last summer and this winter is less marked in private sales, because you can negotiate between seller and buyer to find a happy medium in a concrete price.
Thornton: Moreover, behind the scenes you need one buyer, whereas at auction you officially need two.
Outred nods as he finishes his salmon sushi.
Thornton: You’re one of the few auction house people I know who went to art school. You studied painting at Chelsea, right? Do you think this gives you a particularly good eye for picking out artists who are unproven at auction? You were an early supporter of Peter Doig.
Outred: I see myself as an all rounder. Emergent and established post-war masters. I love Doig’s work. My other favourites are Bacon, Richter, Warhol, Gursky, and Fontana.