Christie's Executive Moving to Sotheby's and The Russian Market

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie's America will be heading to Sotheby's. From the article, Porter appeared to be one of the main rainmakers at Christie's handling many delicate clients and high profile sales.

Also, see the second block quote for a Telegraph report on the disappointing Russian art sales from London. Sales have declined by over half, with foreign exchange rates and the lower cost of oil impacting the Russian economy.

The Wall Street Journal reports
Sotheby’s has hired one of Christie’s International’s top deal makers in another sign that competition between these once-genteel auction houses is getting scrappy.

Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas and a 25-year veteran of the house, confirmed Monday he has resigned to join his former rival.

The hire will likely stun the art world because Mr. Porter, age 55, was considered a lifer at Christie’s, a lawyer who worked his way up from handling small estates to brokering multimillion-dollar art sales, both privately and at auction. Within Christie’s, he was considered to be one of new Chief Executive Patricia Barbizet’s closest lieutenants and the company’s primary pitchman for hotly coveted consignments in the U.S.

Defections at his management level remain rare in the auction industry. Sotheby’s new CEO Tad Smith said he recruited Mr. Porter because he wanted to capitalize on the executive’s “decades of global experience in fine art to bear on the needs of our most valuable clients around the world.”

Sotheby’s effort to poach one of Christie’s best salesmen comes at a time when the world’s chief auction houses have gone into competitive overdrive. All year, the houses and their new CEOs have been wooing consignors with sweetheart deals that once would have been unfathomable, from securing buyers for major offerings upfront—using financial mechanisms called guarantees—to forgoing their own sales commissions. The new chief executive at Phillips, Ed Dolman, has also hired away a number of Christie’s staff, including Vivian Pfeiffer, a private-sales director, and Robert Manley, deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art.

Mr. Porter is known for helping collectors and institutions offload high-profile pieces, sometimes under delicate circumstances. Nine years ago, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University enlisted Mr. Porter to help find a private buyer for its Thomas Eakins masterpiece, “The Gross Clinic,” sparking protests from locals who wanted to keep the work nearby. He ultimately helped the university sell it for $68 million to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

He also helped Christie’s win the consignment for Elizabeth Taylor’s $157 million estate four years ago. In a recent twist, he represented Christie’s in its effort to win the right to sell off the estate of A. Alfred Taubman, a consignment it lost—to Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s declined to discuss Mr. Porter’s specific role, but Mr. Porter himself said he expects to focus on expanding the house’s private sales, an option for sellers who want to discreetly unload pieces or avoid the risk that comes in a public auction.

News of Mr. Porter’s hire was first reported by the Art Market Monitor blog.

Mr. Porter said he grew restless at privately held Christie’s after the company chose to retool the international private-sales group he helped organize there. Since January, private sales at Christie’s have been handled largely by auction specialists already ensconced in each of the company’s various departments, like contemporary art.

A Christie’s spokeswoman confirmed that this overall effort to integrate private sales “required much less of Marc’s involvement.”

Christie’s effort also coincided with an overall plateau in the art market. During the first half of the year, Christie’s privately sold $515 million in art, a 38% drop from the same period a year earlier. Sotheby’s privately sold $370.2 million worth of art during the first six months, up 26% from the same period the year before.

Mr. Porter said he spent months casting about for a new international role within Christie’s before Sotheby’s Mr. Smith approached him in early November about potentially making a move. “We really clicked,” he said of Mr. Smith. Because of a noncompete clause, Mr. Porter will start his new job in 2017.

In other hiring-and-firing news, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman said last month’s buyout offer has garnered enough takers to avoid potential layoffs.
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

London’s Russian art sales produced the lowest tally ever last week at £17 million mustered by four auctioneers. This time last year they raised over £40 million. The decline in the rouble and the price of oil were just two of the factors that contributed to the downturn. Art that is compatible with socialist realism, however, is still in demand. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales were led by paintings of rugged peasant women by Ukranian artist Abram Arkhipov, which sold for several times their estimates. Peasant Woman in a Red Dress at Sotheby’s was a classic idealisation of peasant life in the 1920s and sold for a record £905,000, more than three times the estimate.
Source: The Telegraph 

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