Dodie Kazanjian writes the piece accompanying Amy Cappellazzo’s photo shoot in Vogue. It also coincides with her announcement of Art Agency Partners, her new firm with advisor Allan Schwartzman.
Kazanjian’s assessment offers a few clues to what Art Agency Partners will do. Vogue is presenting Cappellazzo’s move as the art world’s Big Bang and it is worth following Kazanjian’s reasoning through to its conclusion. Cappellazzo is a singular personality in the art market. Is her new venture a sign of significant change in the art market or a measure of her own ambitions?
Let’s start with Cappellazzo’s most famous quote:
In a 2006 interview, Amy’s somewhat tactless remark that “we’re the big-box retailer putting the mom-and-pops out of business” went viral and infuriated a lot of art dealers, but in retrospect it sounds increasingly prophetic.
Prophetic? Absolutely. But in the broader economy, the age of the big box retailer is fading. With a few exceptions, big box stores are now retail’s laggards, the installed base that is being disrupted by online commerce.
That brings us to Christie’s using the Warhol estate to juice their online selling platform:
her primary focus was on what became Christie’s major coup in 2012, beating out Sotheby’s and Gagosian to partner with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts on a series of Warhol sales. This was a big game-changer in the industry. “We basically said, ‘We’re now representing artists’ estates,’ ” she says. The real development here is that most of the Warhol sales are happening online—because Amy insisted on it. Thousands of minor works, priced at less than $100,000 each—Polaroids, photo-booth strips, prints, T-shirts with Andy’s self-portrait in a fright wig—are being made available through e-commerce and promoted through social media. There is enough material to keep going for the next five years.
There’s plenty of material but not necessarily enough money. Because Christie’s does not make available the online sales results, we will never know whether the five-year supply of Warholiana will generate a sufficient return on Christie’s $100m investment or even recoup it.
Therein lies the bind for anyone with big ambitions working at an auction house. On the top end, the auction house heavy-hitter cannot get paid like a private dealer. But the bottom end cannot be expanded enough—and least not yet—to generate volume or margins that materially change the fortunes of the enterprise.
Having come to the conclusion that the big box in art dealing has done all it can do, Cappellazzo is looking for a bigger canvas:
“Auction houses can never fully represent a collector’s interests,” she continues, “and I feel there’s much more opportunity outside the auction house than inside. What I want to do is build the best possible full-service business—not just one that makes the most money but one that can look after you the way Bessemer Trust or Guaranty Trust looked after your family. There’s an incredible need for expert, long-term advice, about the works of art themselves and also about managing this immense new asset class.”
Collectors, no matter how big or rich, are not enough. Cappellazzo sees an even bigger stage beckoning:
“I’m also going to be advising artists.” Established artists, she means—not to represent them, but to offer the market-savvy expertise she’s acquired over the years. Dealers won’t like this, but Amy has a lot of artist friends, and just about everyone she’s ever worked with wants to work with her again.