x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Christie's to offload eyesore of struggling art galleries

Christie's International said its Haunch of Venison subsidiary will stop operating its two galleries and representing artists next month.

Christie’s International said its Haunch of Venison subsidiary will stop operating its two galleries and representing artists next month. Katya Kazakina via Bloomberg
Christie’s International said its Haunch of Venison subsidiary will stop operating its two galleries and representing artists next month. Katya Kazakina via Bloomberg

In the world of art galleries, the buck stops at the bottom line.

Christie's International said its Haunch of Venison subsidiary will stop operating its two galleries and representing artists next month.

The gallery in Chelsea, New York's major contemporary art hub, will close after its show, How to Tell theFuture from the Past, ends on March 2. Its London space, known as the Yard, will become a permanent exhibition and sales space for Christie's private sales department, according to Baer Faxt, an art market newsletter.

Haunch of Venison showed both emerging and established artists such as Ahmed Alsoudani, Patricia Piccinini and Frank Stella, and curated exhibitions such as Afro/Burri/Fontana in New York and The Mystery of Appearance, focusing on Britain's most important postwar painters, in London. Last year, New York hosted the first exhibition of new work by the German artist Gunther Uecker since the 1960s.

"The proposal is for Haunch of Venison to evolve into Christie's private sales," said Emilio Steinberger, the gallery's senior international director. "Private sales at Christie's have been growing exponentially and the decision was made that's where the focus should be."

Experts said commercial considerations were paramount for operations such as Christie's.

"At the end of the day, the auction house is about maximising profits," said Todd Levin, the director of Levin Art Group in New York. Christie's, based in London, said last month private sales last year were £631.1 million (Dh3.63 billion), up 26 per cent from the previous year.

They represented 16 per cent of business last year.

The restructuring will "affect a number of employees at Haunch of Venison, as well as some artists represented by the gallery", Christie's said.

Christie's spokesman Matthew Paton declined to confirm the total number of Haunch of Venison employees. Mr Steinberger said there were 15 in New York.

The gallery was founded by the art dealers Harry Blain and Graham Southern in 2002 and named after the London courtyard (Haunch of Venison Yard) in which it was based. Christie's bought the gallery in 2007 and had branches in London, Berlin and New York.

In 2010, the Berlin branch was closed. The same year, Mr Blain and Mr Southern left to start a new gallery, BlainSouthern. Several artists represented by Haunch of Venison also left.

In New York, Haunch of Venison was initially housed at Christie's headquarters in midtown. In 2011, it moved to Chelsea, taking over Yvon Lambert Gallery's space on West 21st Street and hiring Selldorf Architects to redesign it. Its former 20th and 21st floors space in midtown is now used by Christie's private sales group.

"To work as a primary gallery representing artists and estates is tremendously difficult," said Mr Levin. "It's a slow, incremental development of a career over many years and decades."

Lori Woodward, an art expert based in the United Kingdom, said a glut of artists' work was squeezing the market.

"Right now, there is a plethora of living artists' works on the primary, as well as secondary market, and if those artists have not had years of slow growth of prices that substantiate the worth of their works, the paintings are slow to sell - especially in a weak economy.

"This worry is leading buyers to ask for 10 to 15 per cent discounts in order to secure their investment," she said.

"Essentially, they are treating artwork purchases like stocks."

* with Bloomberg News