This discussion of Sotheby's strategy and Christy MacLear's departure from Art Agency, Partners is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscribers get the first month free on monthly subscriptions. Feel free to cancel at any time before the month is up. Sign up for AMMpro here.
Late on Friday before a holiday week, ARTnews published the news that Christy MacLear, a high-profile hire at Art Agency, Partners, the advisory division of Sotheby's, had left the company quietly. Normally in these situations, a Summer Friday news dump, the news is coming from a corporation looking to minimize the coverage and allow all parties to move forward with minimal embarrassment.
This particular new dump didn't seem to come from Sotheby's, though. The initial reports were instigated by ARTnews. Sotheby's response suggested they were caught unawares on Friday afternoon which caused executives from the firm to provide on-the-record quotes Monday.
If the goal was to minimize MacLear's departure, the strategy didn't work. If the goal was to maximize the coverage or put MacLear into the best light, that didn't seem to work either. Though a near real-time response came on Twitter from an art market gadfly engaged in a long-running quixotic battle with the auction houses.
This surprising graft from the Rauschenberg Foundation did not take. It may tell something important about Sotheby’s AAP strategy in the artist’s estate business https://t.co/VBnOikYpxg
— alain servais (@aservais1) June 29, 2018
Everyone is being frostily polite in the news reports. MacLear, who is the more likely party to have alerted ARTnews, finally provided the site with a quote:
It has always been my honor to work on planning legacies of artists—I took the leap to AAP/Sotheby’s to verify the need and then innovate in the field. We did that, and now it is time for me to work on behalf of artists independently after my non-compete period.
Sotheby's countered with this from AAP's Allan Schwartzmann:
The business is moving forward in several directions in a healthy way—we are just beginning a second phase consultancy for several prominent artists of different generations regarding major museum placements; gallery affiliations; funding programs; and long-term legacy planning. There is increasing demand for our artist advisory services.
In other words, Schwartzmann and MacLear are signaling a footrace to sign up more estates. Which brings us back to the gadfly's question: Is Sotheby's APP strategy succeeding? Servais's critique isn't very clear and it is unlikely that we'll get a more articulate expression of that critique beyond the implicit argument that the auction houses are an expansionary threat to the art market eco-system.
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