Christie’s is wooping Sotheby’s butt because of better management, financing, brownnosing

Both major auction houses have announced their year-end results for 2006, and, surprise, surprise, Christie’s did way better: $4.33 billion in sales, compared to $3.66 for Sotheby’s.

I point to the single clearest reason for Christie’s success, and it’s that the firm is run as a single-proprietor entity.
Here’s the quote from the IHT article by Edward Dolman, the chief executive of Christie’s International:

“We are a private company. I enjoy great flexibility given to me by the owner, Monsieur [François] Pinault. Because he is one of the world’s great collectors, he understands the market. It is our ability to assess the risk factor very closely and to take quick decisions that gives us the advantage.”

This conforms to what I always say about any commercial art business, whether a flea market stall or a major auction house: they have got to be run as a single-proprietor entity. One person has got to take all the major decisions. I firmly do not believe that a share-held entity can ever react quickly enough or carry the renaissance-man blend of refined connoisseurship with the by-the-balls moxy necessary to survive in the art and antiques business.

The direct result of consolidated management is quicker, bolder financing. Or more precisely, the ability to promise better guarantees for the market’s most serious objects, and thereby insure that Christie’s get the lion’s share of headline-grabbing sales.

As for brownnosing, well that has everything to do with how Christie’s scored the biggest art deal of recent years: the Bloch-Bauer Klimts that were yanked off the walls of the Upper Belvedere. But that’s too big for this post… and so it gets its own.

What did Christie’s do to get her?

How Christie’s kept top spot over Sotheby’s in 2006 sales [IHT]

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