SPEAKS WITH RAÚL MARTÍNEZ
Since Amy Capellazo joined
Christie’s in 2001, the global turnover
of the post-war and contemporary department she co-directs with
Brett Gorvy has soared from $1,167 million to $1,560 million,
an exponential growth that reflects the extraordinary strength of the
contemporary art market in recent years, and Cappellazzo’s success
in achieving record-breaking sales. Included in several editions of Art
Review’s famous ‘Power 100’ – a ranking that lists the most influential
figures in the art market – Cappellazzo is in an ideal position to speak
about the state of the art market today.
RAÚL MARTÍNEZ: What are the reasons for the contemporary art boom
in the last years? Is there a new perception of art as an alternative form
The arrival of a new generation of collectors, in
conjunction with emerging art markets, has fueled sales considerably.
Many more people are now attracted to collecting. In addition to that,
the contemporary art market allows entry at many different price points,
which is not the case for the Impressionist market. You can, of course,
buy works under $100,000, but building a serious collection takes
large amounts of capital, whereas in the contemporary art world you
can start with young artists and test your collecting ability before raising
the bar. Part of it is being attracted to the contemporary art world,
which is a very alive; you can meet artists, travel the world and go to
exhibitions and art fairs, and you’re sure to meet interesting people,
have lovely dinners and go to fancy parties.
RM: Despite pessimistic forecasts, the art market does not seem to
been particularly hit by the economy’s slowdown. Is the art market
uncorrelated to financial markets? What results do you expect in 2008?
There’s a lot of bad news in the larger market right now. The stock
market and the credit markets are terrible. The art market hasn’t really
shown signs of going bad yet, but there will be corrections. But this has
more to do with buyers’ psychology than with capital. Those who have
resources and want great collections will continue to buy. The art market
is extremely strong at the top, so the correction is likely to be at lower
RM: Is the art market overheated? Isn’t there too much speculation
The market is exponentially bigger in terms of who is buying and
where the artists are coming from. There’s such variety – each artist
has his or her own micro market. The Jasper Johns market has nothing
to do with the market for Damien Hirst, the Motherwell market has
nothing to do with the Jeff Koons market. They’re micro markets within
a macro market. It’s like saying bio-tech and Pepsi Cola – they’re two
completely different animals that have almost no relationship with each
other because their markets are so different.
RM: The market has never seen as many young artists sell at auctions
nowadays. Thirty-five contemporary artists sold over $1 million dollars in
2007. Doesn’t this affect production (negatively)?
I’m sure it’s not without effect. But the perception of the visual artist
in society is certainly changing. I don’t have the credentials to critique
this, but I think it’s fascinating. To me, as a younger person coming of
age, the artists that made money were the musicians. You knew a young
musician would get a contract, become a rock star, buy a big house in
Hollywood. But now that the music industry has this huge problem with
royalties, many musicians make no money whatsoever. The perception
of visual artists was that they were starving, that it was really hard to
make a living. It’s very interesting to see that change. A lot of artists
like rock stars now, and they’ve replaced the position rock stars used to
occupy in the creative landscape.
RM: Auction houses and art fairs play the predominant role in
today’s art market, traditionally dominated by galleries. As you were
mentioning, collectors prefer the excitement of buying at art fairs and
auctions and visit galleries less and less. Are auction houses taking over
the role of galleries?
This business is under rapid transformation. It’s really interesting to
be doing this now, because the art business in general is destined to
change. Galleries and auction houses have different roles. A gallerist’s
client is really the artist; he or she has to nurture that part of the
Our primary client, on the other hand, is the consigner and buyer.
Nevertheless, an individual who runs a gallery or shop in one location will
have a harder time competing with the more global reach of collectors. If
I had a gallery and had a little bit of money to keep the business going I
would be thinking really actively about how to be more creative.
RM: Christie’s has recently acquired Haunch of Venison, and will open
new premises in New York. I imagine this is being faced with fear and
opposition by the galleries…
Change is always fearful. It depends how you feel about change,
how you move with it. With Haunch of Venison we’ve moved into the
primary art business. But I also think it’s a gradual change; we’re still
feeling our way, deciding on the best strategy. We’re making some
important decisions, but I think we’re also being very cautious and
thoughtful. We will certainly continue to move forward in that direction,
because it makes sense for us to go that way.
RM: You are also facing new competitors. Artnet has recently launched
its new online auctions service. Do you think it can affect your business?
What effect are new technologies having on the art market?
New information technologies are certainly affecting the art market.
Information becomes more accessible and that makes the art market more
transparent. The moment there is a bank of information that everyone can
share, anyone can study and analyse it in more or less the same way. And
a better informed market is a more transparent one. We have Christie’s
Live, and it’s a really useful part of our business and growing (Christie’s
internet sales totalled $158 million in 2007). But I don’t think people
buy things over the internet without seeing them first. They do it simply
for the convenience of not having to come to Christie’s, of being able
to bid at home without having to attend. They can get a sort of telecast
from home. If Artnet can mirror our viewing spaces and specialists, they
can start to play the game. But there are huge entry barriers, like global
networks, access to capital and collections, relationships with clients that
have taken generations to grow. Anyone can go into this business, but it’s
a business that has enormous barriers. I wouldn’t like to go in fresh
the competition. For Artnet it makes sense, it’s the next step in developing
RM: You once mentioned that you can burn a whole career on a failed
sale. Auction houses have a great influence on artists’ prices and careers.
How do you deal with such power?
I wish I had that much control and power over everything, but we are
really a sort of barometer of the market. We alone can’t drive the market
– there are too many forces influencing it. We can certainly be influential,
but we could all die tomorrow and artists would go on, because it’s a
market. How do I deal with the power and responsibility? I feel very
responsible and cautious when I am thinking about artists’ careers, but I
also feel the market has a life of its own. Ultimately, an artist’s work has
outlive its market. The quality of the work, what it means, its legacy and
cultural value are all things the artist must be constantly aware of and
RAÚL MARTÍNEZ IS A WRITER
BASED IN NEW YORK AND MADRID