Christie’s to cut workforce in effort to reduce costs in soft art market

January 13th, 2009

christies-hq-8-king-street-london
Christie’s headquarters, 8 King Street, London

Christie’s has announced a broad restructuring plan in measures designed to deal with the deteriorating economic environment, and the resulting fallout in the art market.

While details are still vague, a statement issued by Christie’s indicated that the company has “begun to implement a company wide reorganization, which includes significant staff reductions, not renewing many consultants’ contracts, and the continuation of other cost-reduction initiatives, that will ensure we remain competitive and profitable in 2009,” without specifying exactly how many jobs would be eliminated.

“There’s a consultation process going on at the moment, so we’re not in a position to comment on numbers,” Alexandra Buxton, Christie’s European head of public relations, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. These measures follow a series of dismal auctions including a contemporary art sale in November where $114 million, or less than half of the low estimate was raised, as covered here by ArtObserved.

Christie’s cut costs as art market slows [New York Times]
Christie’s Auction House to Slash Jobs [Wall Street Journal]
Christie’s to Cut Jobs as Crisis Cuts Auction Sales [Bloomberg]
Christie’s Plans “Significant Staff Reductions” [ArtInfo]
Cuts Announced at Christie’s and Denver Art Museum; LA Arts Writers See Layoffs [ArtForum]

Previously on ArtObserved:
CHRISTIE’S AND SOTHEBY’S OLD MASTERS AUCTIONS IN LONDON SHOW RESILIENCE Dec 5
AO AUCTION ROUNDUP 5 OF 5 – NOVEMBER AUCTION SUMMARY: THE REALITY OF AN INDISPUTABLE BUYER’S MARKET Nov 19
AO AUCTION RESULTS: CHRISTIE’S “THE MODERN AGE,” THE ALICE LAWRENCE AND HILLMAN FAMILY COLLECTIONS SELL FOR LESS THAN 50% OF ESTIMATE AS ROTHKO AND MANET HEADLINERS ARE PULLED Nov 8
SOTHEBY’S STOCK DROPS 14% (DOWN 75.7% FROM ITS HIGH) FOLLOWING DISMAL ASIAN AUCTION RESULTS Oct 7
TOP AUCTION HOUSE PHILLIPS DE PURY BOUGHT BY RUSSIAN LUXURY RETAIL COMPANY MERCURY GROUP Oct 7

edouard-vuillard-les-couturieres-christies
Les Couturieres by Edouard Vuillard, to be auctioned by Christie’s next month. It is expected to sell for $8 million. Image via New York Times.

Christie’s and other auction houses have sustained losses after providing guarantees to sellers, and after buyers from emerging markets such as the Persian Gulf, India and Russia failed to materialize and prop up the art market as many experts predicted. Christie’s initiative comes after Sotheby’s declared its intention to eliminate $7 million in costs during the 2009 fiscal year through similar measures. Sotheby’s share price has suffered in the onslaught of the collapsing art market, and is down more than 76% from its one year high, a further 5% drop from when ArtObserved last covered the stock’s price. Phillips de Pury, perhaps anticipating the crash and seeking to build a war chest, was bought by Mercury Group, a Russian luxury goods group, in October–covered here by ArtObserved.

Christie’s, the world’s largest art auctioneer, is privately owned by Francois Pinault, a French billionaire and the owner of PPR, a luxury goods holding company that holds controlling positions in Gucci, Yves St Laurent, Puma and other high end fashion and retail brands. Pinault is rumored to be considering a divestment of Christie’s, just over a decade after he bought the firm for $1.2 billion, in 1998.