Sotheby's vs hedge fund hawk

Sotheby's vs hedge fund hawk

The Guardian reports on a backroom drama pitting Sotheby's against one of New York's most aggressive investment managers – a drama, it says, that sheds light on the increasingly competitive battle to sell art that threatens to upset the traditional balance between galleries that discover and develop the careers of artists and auction houses that sell works by artists with a proven value.

Dan Loeb, art collector and chief executive of Third Point, a hedge fund manager with $14b under management is campaigning to unseat Sotheby's chairman, president and chief executive William Ruprecht. Loeb who has a 9.3% stake in in Sotheby's claims it has failed to “grasp the fundamental importance of contemporary and modern art to the company's growth.” It has also failed, he says, to take advantage of new markets in Asia and the Middle East.

The jury is out about whether to take Loeb's actions seriously. Many suspect he wants to turn the auction house into an aggressive cash-and-carry for contemporary art and force up the value of Sotheby's shares before cashing out. Art critic Dave Hickey says handing the business over to hedge fund managers is not a good solution. “The idea of turning Sotheby's into Lehman Brothers is ridiculous, because contemporary art has no intrinsic value,” he says. “I don't think a bunch of busineess school graduates are going to be able to offer and environment in which art can flourish.”

The downside of auction houses muscling in on galleries' turf was vividly illustrated last week at Christie's when collector-dealer Charles Saatchi dumped 50 large sculptures, several by artists with little or no auction history, on the market – an approach described by The Times as taking “a sledgehammer to prevailing notions of how to sell work by emerging artists.”
Image: Edvard Munch's painting The Scream at Sotheby's