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Christie’s confirmed over the weekend through the Financial Times and a release sent out on Saturday that it was remaking the London sales calendar. The art press is taking the news as a sign of Christie’s belt-tightening. For example, this is the Art Newspaper’s assessment:
In a statement, it says this year is “particularly busy” for collectors, with Venice, later New York sales in May, Documenta 14 and Art Basel all putting a squeeze on the art world summer calendar–and consignments. The move comes amid a string of belt-tightening measures announced under the leadership of Guillaume Cerutti, who was appointed chief executive in December. These include closing Christie’s South Kensington saleroom, which hosts around 60 sales annually, and slashing its Amsterdam auctions.
One way to read the change is that Christie’s is making a virtue of necessity; another is something more consequential. The calendar move can be seen as a tacit admission that Christie’s is particularly squeezed by this year’s late May sales to find enough material for a bang-up London sale in June.
As mentioned before, there’s been a great deal of pressure building in the art market for a shift in the global auction calendar. Though moving to October may be a stopgap measure. The Frieze sales are an easy destination to alight upon in the short term but moving the Contemporary sales to October when New York’s sales are in November doesn’t actually alleviate the problems with gathering appropriate material in response to the preceding sales.
Many wish the London Contemporary cycle of major evening sales and full day sales would magically move to September which would allow the calendar in the West more evenly spaced. March, May, September, November isn’t perfect but it does give the specialists more time to gather material around the Winter and Summer holidays and with time in between the sales.
This doesn’t address Hong Kong which still functions as fairly distinct and independent market—even if some of the buyers in the Asian market are becoming increasingly important to the London and New York sales.
Nevertheless, there’s still another reason for Christie’s move here that hasn’t be discussed much. Opening up space in London for greater emphasis on the British and Irish art makes a great deal of sense. Modern British art seems to be blowing up as a category but it can’t get enough attention squeezed between the Modern or the Contemporary markets. It has a far greater chance to grow as a step-child to the Modern market in June.
This strategy is similar to what Christie’s has already done in the Old Master market. Whether the London Contemporary move is based upon the success of the Old Master strategy or not, the move is consistent with Christie’s looking for new formats built around re-structured collecting categories—which is a good thing.
We should be looking there, and not necessarily cost cutting, to try to discern Christie’s intentions.
Christie’s cancels June contemporary art auctions (The Art Newspaper)