In the latest sign of the disruption underway in the art market amid the pandemic, three powerful alumni from Sotheby’s have joined forces to create a new company that will focus on the rapidly growing pool of buyers in Asia.
Amy Cappellazzo, the former chairwoman of Sotheby’s fine art division, and Yuki Terase, the former head of contemporary art in Asia, in November will begin operating an international art advisory firm that handles transactions and offers market expertise, advising on the acquisition of works of art or the dissolution of collections.
Adam Chinn, another founding partner and Sotheby’s former chief operating officer, will handle the company’s business and legal operations.
The market for major collectors in United States is largely saturated, Cappellazzo said in a joint sit-down interview. “They have so much already that they are only buying to fill in,” she explained, “whereas when you get a whole crop of new collectors they’re much more voracious because they’re starting to build something.”
“The only smart thing to do,” she added, “is to build a business that can multitask.”
The company reflects several changes in the market, namely collectors’ increasing comfort with buying art they haven’t seen in person (through online sales or from emailed PDFs) and a rising interest over the last five years among Asian buyers in purchasing Western artists.
During the pandemic, when people could not travel and avoided in-person activities, buyers have been forced to trust the due diligence of condition reports, catalogue raisonnés and photographic representations, Cappellazzo said.
The company, called Art Intelligence Global (AIG), will be headquartered both in Hong Kong — where Terase will be based and where the offices are to include a large exhibition space — and in New York, at 32 East 57th Street, former home of the storied Pace/MacGill Gallery, where Cappellazzo and Chinn will move in early next year (working remotely until then).
The equal footing of both offices reflects a recognition that, over the last five years, the Asian market has become hugely important — surpassing Europe as the second largest in the world after the United States, the team said, and fueled by young buyers from the fields of technology and entertainment in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.
“Asia is really at the point where it can originate this kind of world-class success and expertise in the region, not something that’s imported from Western organizations,” Terase said. “It’s become such an important market to determine even how you structure New York sales.”
Over her decade at Sotheby’s, Terase — who previously worked in mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley in Tokyo — helped build the Asian presence of American auction houses, starting with a Hong Kong pop-up auction in fall 2016.
“That was really the first time that any international auction had offered Western art in the main auction series,” she said. “At the time, no one believed in consigning great pieces to Hong Kong — they said collectors will come and buy in London or New York.”
Last week, Sotheby’s five modern and contemporary Hong Kong sales totaled $185 million, bringing the year-to-date total in those categories in Asia to $600 million, a 35 percent increase over 2020.
In addition, 40 percent of Sotheby’s last four evening sales — and nine of the top 20 pieces that sold there in 2020 — went to Asian buyers. Major collectors of Western art now include Asians like the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and the Taiwanese pop star collector Jay Chou.
Cappellazzo came to Sotheby’s when her advisory firm, Art Agency, Partners — managed with Allan Schwartzman, a longtime art adviser, and Chinn, an investment banker and lawyer — was acquired by the auction house in 2016.
She previously spent 13 years as chairwoman of postwar and contemporary-art development at Christie’s and began her career as an art adviser and curator.
In addition to AIG, Chinn will continue in his role as a co-chairman of LiveArt, an art trading platform he helped found in June.
AIG is not the only new partnership casting an eye toward Asia. It echoes the recent merger of four prominent dealers, announced in August: Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, Amalia Dayan and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. Their company LGDR, starting in January, will represent artists and organize exhibitions, while also advising collectors and brokering auction sales — but attend art fairs only in Asia, where they say such gatherings remain an important gateway to a wider array of young collectors.
The AIG team, while providing a broad range of services, will advise Asian clients on promising new collecting areas, such as NFTs — which Cappellazzo said she believes are “here to stay” — and works by artists of color, a category that has already exploded.
In Hong Kong, Basquiat’s sword-brandishing “Untitled (Red Warrior)” brought about $21 million last week; in June, his triptych sold for $37.2 million; and in March, another Basquiat warrior painting brought $41.8 million, a record high price for Western art in Asia. Last week, a recent painting by the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, “White Hat White Shades,”brought about $680,000, well over its estimate.
Edward Dolman, executive chairman of Phillips, the auction house, said the new company made sense, given that Asia is “the fastest growing area of the market,” and adding that to build its presence in China, Phillips recently started partnering with Poly Auction, in Hong Kong.
Christie’s, for its part, is building a new headquarters in Hong Kong and has been hosting non-selling exhibitions to promote Western art in Asia. “One third of our transactions are now with clients in Asia,” said Marc Porter, Christie’s chairman, Americas. “In the same way that the art business had to expand from London and Paris, we have the same responsibility now in Asia. It’s a beginning of a trend for the century.”
Cappellazzo said she had long admired Terase, having collaborated closely with her at Sotheby’s. “There is no one I’ve worked with that talented,” Cappellazzo said, “whose art historical range is that nimble.”
The three partners’ different skill sets, Chinn said, “take you from soup to nuts on any transaction.”
As to whether they would collectively eat into the business of art advisers, auction houses or art dealers, the team said their business was additive. “We’re making the pie bigger,” Chinn said. “There is so much opportunity left in the market.”