Inside Gagosian Art Advisory with its director Laura Paulson
The competition was strictly between Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and there was always a lot of heartache when you lost a shipment. We didn’t have the appeal of a truly global audience for contemporary art because at the time, there weren’t any. But there was a generation of absolutely amazing collectors who focused on their collections in the years leading up to the art market downturn in the early 1990s. This downturn has become an incredible buying opportunity for collectors. such as Eli Broad, Norman Braman and Sam Heyman. They bought with precision and with an eye for truly great works, and at that time, many were available at auction. Most of the sales were the result of tough times, which we don’t see as much in the market today.
Over the past 10 years, the story really is one of the arrival of a large pool of international collectors and the opening of new markets in Asia and, to some extent, the Middle East. It started, for example, during the sales in Hong Kong, when we saw huge sums for porcelain and jade, but as the market grew, many of these new collectors started to consider art. Western and post-war American art as an important part of their overall collection. They pursue first-rate modern and post-war works and are eager to understand how these works fit into the larger context of art history, and they care about nuances of provenance and stories. who owned these works and their importance in terms of art value and history.
The Canvas: At least in the future, auction houses say they will be much less interested in market share and are increasingly likely not to offer terms to customers who end up by being unprofitable for the home solely in the interest of winning a prestigious trophy prize or gaining market share. Do you think this will likely be the case in the next few years?
LP: Personally, I have doubts. I mean, yeah, it got so reckless in so many ways that it took a little break to re-evaluate and try to figure out the market, but at the end of the day when we are sent consignment proposals and marketing material on behalf of our real estate clients, market share is still the touted metric.
It’s interesting, because now that I’m on the other side, frankly, I realize how the notion of market share doesn’t make sense to customers. What matters to our clients is the expertise, the time and the willingness to work hard to maximize the value of their collections. An auction house may not be the leader in market share one season, or perhaps it is not currently the latest auction record for an individual artist, but what is important is so the auction house will treat the collection with the highest level of respect and genuinely work to leverage its value in every way possible.
The Canvas: What effect do you think third-party entities like AGP will have on major collections coming to market?
LP: I believe that each area has specific needs which may or may not be met by certain market entities. For example, I just worked with the Friday Foundation on the Jane Lang Davis and Richard E. Lang collection. Because there were certain philanthropic elements in the field, this was not a situation where a collection could be purchased directly, as was the case with the Marron collection.
However, I think for some estates, where families just want to say ‘we’re out’ and prefer not to be so involved, these kinds of third party options may make sense. The Marron collection was almost entirely made up of post-war and 20th-century artists, and there was no furniture or other foreign collection categories. So as such, they have met the needs of the customer. However, in many fields the collections include works of various genres and categories. In these cases, an auction house would clearly be a preferable alternative. So, again, each collection and area has its own needs. But in the case of Marron, I think it worked really well, and generally speaking, I think it’s important to have an alternative in the market. It forces everyone to work a little harder.
The canvas: Okay, so this will be the last question I ask you on this subject. To me, it seems like there has never been a better time to advise really important / major collections. Auction houses and galleries are competing for this business. In recent years, auction houses have increased their purchase premium for the best lots, at least in part to take into account the remuneration of consultants outside said collections. And due to the increasing amount of concentrated wealth, there are more and more of these types of collections to recommend. So, from your perspective, at the end of the day, what are most of these domains and collections looking for when it comes to determining where to store their works (whether privately or at auction)? And do current market options currently meet these needs?
LP: First, no matter how prepared you are, facing an estate collection that needs to be managed, it will be a challenge. Even for the most organized people, the process is complicated and often emotional. You try to troubleshoot as much as you can beforehand, but you can never fully prepare yourself to deal with the family dynamics surrounding an estate.
One of the last things I worked on before leaving Christie’s was the collection of great collector and philanthropist Melva Bucksbaum. We had 1,500 works on a computer spreadsheet, and I sat down with everyone in a room and said, “Okay, that’s not going to be fun, but we’re going to go through each of them. these works and decide where it is going to be sold, how it is going to be sold and how it fits into an overall collection view. I have the patience to do this because I am interested in the full texture of the collection itself. This is how you develop the advocacy for the complete collection. I knew Melva, adored her and wanted us to do a great job for her legacy. However, there aren’t many rewards in auction houses these days for this mentality of rolling up your sleeves and getting down to business, even though that personal investment remains so important to customers and to winning. Business.
The Canvas: I know that, especially since Michael and Bernie joined the company, Gagosian Advisory works with a number of young collectors. And I think it’s fair to say that especially during this last year of the pandemic, young collectors have been particularly comfortable spending increasing amounts of money to build their collections, even though this means that they cannot see the work in person in advance. What do you see young collectors gravitating towards for their collections?