Auction houses haven’t had much luck trying to get into the primary sales sector of the art market. Christie’s never made a go of Haunch of Venison. Even on the secondary market, Sotheby’s had to write down much of its Noortman purchase.
Nonetheless, Sotheby’s new CEO, Tad Smith, did a lot of signaling on this morning’s conference call where he pointed to the need to improve on Sotheby’s private sales which dropped dramatically last year and raised the figure of $35bn as potential market where Sotheby’s might become more active.
When asked about potential partners or purchases, Smith demurred. But he did add this:
“There are clearly interesting opportunities for us to think about partnering with various groups because significant areas of that part of the market are consolidating with large branded dealers around the world.”
That makes a fair bit of sense. There are a handful of primary dealers with global footprints. There might be a few more who are lacking the financial support to grow into that level. The question is, could Sotheby’s do a deal with someone like Thaddeaus Ropac (just to throw out a name, not to suggest there’s a conversation going on)? And what would that deal look like to work to the dealer and Sotheby’s advantage?
This may be fanciful. But Georgina Adam reminds us in her FT column this weekend that there’s a quiet roll-up taking place in the secondary market:
the Londoner Gérard Faggionato closed his gallery and moved to David Zwirner earlier this year; and now the Chicago-based Valerie Carberry Gallery has merged with the Richard Gray Gallery of New York and Chicago. In a statement, Carberry says: “It is an honour to be invited to join the gallery as a partner and to be able to play a role in shaping its future.”