Loic Gouzer bows out; Phillips moves next door; Did the Macklowe maneuvering just get more interesting; The endless 1MDB scandal
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Loic Hits the Beach
Today, the hard-to-believe news came across early in the morning that Loic Gouzer would be taking some to work on environmental issues “before coming back to the art world with a new project.”
Gouzer follows Francis Outred and Koji Inoue out the door at Christie’s. If anyone at the auction house is panicking over this, they’re not showing it. Instead, there is some indication that the long era of the star system at Christie’s might be coming to an end.
Going back twenty years, starting with Philippe Ségalot’s appointment as the head of Contemporary art at Christie’s, followed by the odd couple act of Brett Gorvy and Amy Cappellazzo with the secondary plot line of Laura Paulson, to the buddy act of Alex Rotter and Gouzer, there have been attention-getting stars in Christie’s Contemporary art department. The unstated premise seemed to be that big buyers and sellers were attracted to, amused and seduced by, and felt comfortable with big personalities in that role.
Less than two years ago, Gouzer took to a post-sale press conference podium to remark that the sale’s success showed that even without the previous star department head, “we could do it by ourselves.”
Six months later, Gouzer pulled off the seemingly impossible gambit of offering a Leonardo in a Contemporary auction. Instead of flopping, the work sold for more than twice what any previous work of art had ever achieved under the hammer.
How can you top that? How can you face the grind of one auction season after another where a $90m painting only manages to meet expectations? Whatever Gouzer’s reasons for wanting to change it up, it isn’t hard to imagine craving a resetting of expectations.
The fall of the auction house stars may not come as a coincidence. After a year dominated by big estates, and the prospect of another huge estate looming for 2019, another sort of business model is coming into focus that allows the auction houses the best of both worlds without the carrying costs of the star system.
We are in a very late stage of the art market cycle. The industry is packed with advisors, agents and free-lance business getters who provide deal-making as a service (or at least on commission, now more likely paid by the consignor than the auction house.) With a broad wingspan to bring in deals—and its access to third-party guarantors—an auction house can now let some of its talent go knowing full well they’ll be back in the door soon when they have a hot prospect.
Phillips Moves South … Sort Of
Phillips announced today that it would be moving to the 432 Park Avenue tower that sits just off the avenue on 56th St and has a companion structure facing 57th street. The new space comes in three parts totaling 55,000 square feet:
- 19,000 square feet of offices at 40 East 57th
- 30,000 square feet in an underground concourse between 57th and 56th streets which “along with auctions and exhibitions, will feature a cafe, auditorium and private sales galleries.” The auction house adds that “the venue will allow for the strategic integration of digital elements into the design of the galleries to represent a 21st-century auction house,” whatever that means.
- The final 5,000 square feet of space will be in the “Park Avenue Cube, a white-glass modernist structure that will be a glowing beacon at night.” The structure is on the northwest corner of 56th Street and Park Avenue, just steps from Phillips’s current location
Did Phillips Just Get a Leg Up in the Macklowe Positioning?
The fact that Phillips announced a real estate deal with Harry Macklowe this morning doesn’t give it an obvious advantage in trying to land the sale of the collection. The judge in the Macklowe divorce wrote in her ruling, “Given the Wife’s mistrust of the Husband, the court agrees with him that the appointment of a receiver to sell the art is in the parties’ best interest.” The purpose of the receiver is to maximize value in the sale and avoid disputes. The judge will choose a receiver if the two sides cannot agree upon one.
Nevertheless, it seems hard to imagine that Phillips moving into more dramatic sale rooms and exhibition space doesn’t owned by Harry Macklowe doesn’t give it some sort of a boost. Even without Macklowe as a landlord, Phillips may be equalized by the Macklowe collection’s reputation. The army of advisors, in-the-know collectors and dealers will do much of the marketing and selling on the Macklowe collection. The receiver’s goal of maximizing value might take away the balance sheet advantage Christie’s has shown in recent beauty contests.