[intro] . . . in Seven Paragraphs[/intro]
In the London Evening Standard, Godfrey Barker does a quick profile of dealer Ivor Braka. We took out all of the biographical bits so you could just concentrate on the art dealing:
Braka’s success is based on his disregard for the rules. Most top London galleries have three to ten directors and as many assistants. Not Ivor: he is a one-man band. Most galleries have plate-glass windows, stage exhibitions and invite the public. Not Ivor: you visit him by private appointment at his Chelsea residence. And he does not purchase art to order; he buys the paintings that he would like to have hanging in his own home. […]
His choices as an art dealer were equally contrary. ‘I was following my own judgement,’ Braka explains. ‘I still am.’ But suddenly his judgement began to look courageous. He was buying and selling 1970s Minimalism, notably Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Mangold, early. He got into Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach well before the pack, and David Bomberg and Stanley Spencer. It was hit and miss but soon the hits began to overshadow the misses. How did he spot the importance of Bacon, Auerbach and Freud so early? He shrugs. ‘I studied them at Oundle in the 1960s. They were household names to me. But they were new information to the commercial market, which was very slow to catch on. I was not smart, my rivals were stupid.’ […]
‘I loved the art but not the deal. It took 15 years before I enjoyed that. The deal is the essence of our business. The game – the Machiavellianism of it, the hide and seek, the placing of things, the selling them on, sometimes at a loss, sometimes at multiple profits – it did not interest me then and does not much interest me now.’
But he proved unexpectedly good at it. Ivor’s break came in 1989 when the Bond Street dealer Thomas Gibson introduced him to a terrifying 6ft 8in Swede, Bo Alveryd, who ran an art fund called the Roc Group, and spent $200 million on an eight-week shopping spree in London.
Gibson told Braka to meet him at 6am. Alveryd showed up at 7am, thrust out a paw and announced: ‘We’re gonna be friends.’ It was Ivor’s beautiful day. He produced his Francis Bacon self-portrait, which he had bought with Gibson for $2 million (those were the days), and asked $4.2 million for it. ‘Not bad,’ Ivor declared, waving at the picture. Alveryd is a man hardwired to disagree with all humanity. ‘No,’ he thundered, ‘it is a masterpiece. You will have the money on Tuesday.’ Braka, with his laid-back manner, had made the big breakthrough. ‘Thomas did a dance,’ he remembers.
Ivor was set up. He was an independent from the outset – though he often bought pictures in this high-priced market in partnership with Mayfair colleagues such as Gibson. Rich men, moving pictures from country to country, demand discretion and Ivor’s special-appointment, ultra-private act had high appeal. Only Lady Angela Nevill and Billy Keating in Chelsea and James Kirkman in Brompton Square were doing anything comparable.
By 2001, when Bacon prices began their mountainous climb – from $5 million to $86.3 million in seven years –Braka had been two decades in the Bacon market. He knew the pictures, the owners, the collectors and where the bones were buried. It was the same with Freud and Auerbach. These last four years he has confidently bought and sold for record prices.
Ivor Braka: Rock ‘n Roll Art Dealer (This Is London/Evening Standard)