A very interesting Q&A to brilliant Christie’s Loïc Gouger published by ArtNet have revealed few interesting emerging trend in the art Market, pointing out how the “the whole way of collecting has changed”.
Surely, we cannot say that Gouger is the traditional auction house specialist with a academic and critic profile. Let’s say, Gouzer certainly takes home the distinction, if one can call it that, of being the oddest fit among those ranks. He’s a very antsy character, who, from his social network profile, often gives the impression that he’d rather be doing something other than the workaday labor of powering the world’s number-one auction house, perhaps directing a movie, or playing soccer, or raising money to save the whales.
However, also after Salvator Mundi’s record sales, it seems he’s really anything but a slouch.
Gouzer’s title at Christie’s is technically co-chair of the postwar and contemporary art department for the Americas, but it might be more apt to view the 38-year-old Swiss dynamo as the auction house’s chief innovation officer. Since joining Christie’s in 2011, he has repeatedly broken new ground by bending the rules, first gaining attention for the standalone “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday…” auction in 2014—a curated mix of edgy work from across generations, with Richard Prince’s infamous Spiritual America as its centerpiece—that he advertised with a skateboarding video.
In this Artnet interview the discussed about how the art market has changed over the lasts 10 years, but also about his strategic, yet very personal usage of Instagram also to sell works of art, his feelings on China’s growing weight in the art market, and why collecting art makes you a better businessman.
Here you can read some selected abstracts from the interview
- When asked about his strategic usage of Instagram, as a mean to sell art but in the meantime also for a free expression of himself and his own passions ( he posted a mix of blue-chip artworks from your upcoming sales, wildlife-conservation statistics, and photos from your personal life) Gouger has answered:
“Instagram is an incredible tool because you have direct access to collectors. I would estimate that at least 80 percent of the collectors I deal with follow us on Instagram at Christie’s, so we can use it undercut the traditional press, which is a good thing. Sometimes I also use it as a calling card when I’m putting together an auction in order to attract works: “Hey, guys, I’m doing a sale—this is what I’m looking for…At the same time, while I work for Christie’s, Instagram is my private realm, so it’s this gray zone that allows you to do certain things…Normally I’ve heard that if you do Instagram you should always be consistent and post about the same thing. In my case, I’m pretty schizophrenic—I jump from showing artworks to showing dead sharks and talking about conservation. And it works. Suddenly, when I sit down at board meetings of [the ocean conservation nonprofit] Oceana and look at who recently gave donations, I see random names that follow me on Instagram. I really like this cross-pollination between art collectors and the environment..I’ve actually sold quite a few artworks on Instagram, and I’ve also done some private sales for Instagram. A lot of times it’s clear because after I’ve posted something I get a phone call from someone saying, “Hey, I saw this on Instagram—I want to bid on it.” Now, the tricky thing is that there are a lot of collectors who sometimes contractually require that we post the work they’ve consigned on our Instagrams. I don’t want to do it, and I don’t really accept it. I want to be free, posting what I want. But more and more we have collectors requiring that, if they give their work, we have to post it on Instagram, or on WeChat. Most Chinese collectors live and breathe WeChat, and buy art they see on WeChat. I don’t use WeChat, but I really should.
- Then, when asked about the how art collecting has changed over last 10 years and how collectors behave, above all, has mutated, he observed :
“Collectors have changed quite a lot in the 10 years I’ve been doing this job. When I started, you would sit down with a collector, they would ask questions, you would show them the work, you would show them the catalogue raisonné, you would explain how this work fits into the oeuvre, you’d have a whole discussion to help form a judgment. Now people’s attention spans have become far shorter, and not only in art but in every way. These days, people come in and you’ll say, “Here’s a Twombly painting—you should compare it to others in Twombly’s catalogue raisonné,” and they’ll say, “I just need to know if it’s an A or an A+ or B+… You have people who can literally pull the trigger on a $20 million or $30 million painting just by seeing an image on Instagram, and without asking further questions. It’s interesting, socially, but sometimes I get a bit depressed about it. It’s sad that maybe only eight percent of the collectors today actually enjoy discussing art and asking questions. In a way, as specialists, we have so much to give. We have learned so much over the years. But now a lot of people don’t really care. I guess it’s the way people make their decisions. I think the whole way of collecting has changed, quite a lot. But I have a bit of nostalgia for those days, not so long ago, where every time you would sell a painting it was a whole conversation”
- Therefore, replying to the provocation of how art has become like playing golf, namely a status symbol for successful businessman, while agreeing with him Gouger also pointed out all the spurs and potential behind art collecting for all people, but moreover for entrepeneurs and businessman:
“…some people do Sudoku, some people do crosswords, and some people collect art. It’s really something that opens your mind. The other day I was having lunch with François Pinault in New York and someone asked him how important it was for him to collect. He answered, “I think if I hadn’t started collecting, I would still be selling wood in Brittany.” It opened his mind to everything, because it forces you to keep the part of your brain that handles curiosity active. Collecting art is incredible mind gymnastics, basically, because it means always pushing yourself further. Which raises an interesting point: most collectors we deal with are incredible autodidacts. I know very few collectors who have actually been educated at Harvard or Yale—most of the time, art collectors are self-made men or women, school dropouts who created empires and were extremely successful. And the one common denominator is their curiosity. The know-it-all people usually don’t collect art, because they know it all”
- To conclude, when aked to express his feelings on the current art market state of health and to express his outlook for the art economy over the short term, and then over the longer term of the next 10 years, he said:
“People are always worrying that the art market must be a bubble. But actually that’s a misinterpretation. The art market has been strong, but it’s not booming. The reason why it always looks so strong, with huge prices and all that, is because auction houses tend to focus on the artists that are doing well at a specific time, because those are the works that transact. All the artists that are not performing well? These are the ones that we don’t talk about. So, number one, I think the art market is pretty healthy. But it’s not a bubble. What is not very healthy, however, is the fact that, is the power of brands is becoming overwhelming. So people buy from galleries and auction houses as if they were Hermès or Gucci or Tom Ford. I think there are a lot of great artists who are not in the limelight, and a lot of smaller galleries that struggle to sell some very good artists. So the auction house has a responsibility to not just focus on the same 200 artists but to try to experiment and bring a lot of unsung heroes to the market.
But as for collecting, it’s almost a genetic, subconscious urge, and it’s not going to go away—it’s only spreading. Every season we have a new influx of collectors from Asia, from Silicon Valley. I see a lot of growth there, because there’s still only a fraction of the people who can afford to who buy art. Just imagine, I think Leo Castelli’s entire mailing list was 150 or 200 people, and they were a major gallery. Now galleries have mailing lists of tens of thousands of people.
So even if there are downturns, which there will be, the growing pool of collectors is going to keep the market going strong. I went through the market crisis, but it was interesting that while people stopped buying for a while after Lehman Brothers [collapsed], it was almost like those mushrooms that don’t pop up some seasons but still continue to grow underground. When the crisis was over, all those mushrooms, all those new clients, came out from everywhere.
If you’d like to read the full interview, you can find it there at Artnet News.