The man who bagged “the sale of the century” for Christie’s, vice-president François de Ricqlès, has been named the new president of Christie’s France. François Curiel, president of Christie’s Europe since 1999 and Christie’s France since 2000, is going to Hong Kong as the new president of Christie’s Asia to develop the booming Far Eastern market. British print expert Jonathan Rendell, Christie’s deputy U.S. chairman, who had a hand in the YSL sale’s success while working with Ricqlès and the French team, will move to Paris to reinforce the auction house’s French development and international strategy.Marc Porter has been promoted from president to chairman of Christie's Americas, where he will lead the Top Client Program in the Americas and remain president of Christie’s Japan, as well as a board member.
According to the French newspaper Liberation, which broke the story, the changes come after several months of tension between the two French protagonists. But if that’s the case, they both seem pleased with the outcome nevertheless.
Ricqlès, 51, has shown a remarkable facility in attracting boldface-name collections, first with his eponymous auction house at the Salle Drouot, where the sale of the Hubert de Goldet collection in 2001 doubled its estimate to €13.7 million, setting a then world record for tribal art at auction. Then, after selling his company to Christie’s, he directed such successful sales as those of Paris art dealer Patrice Trigano (€4.8 million); actor Claude Berris trove of photography, when a Man Ray rayogram made a record €348,000; and the former collections of the Duc de Talleyrand (€7.1 million) and the Marquis and Marquise de Ravenel (€6.8 million). “It seems natural. It’s been my métier for 30 years, since I was 21,” de Ricqlès told ARTINFO. “I sold my company to Christie’s and then joined them in 2002,” when a French law permitting foreign companies to hold sales in France was passed, he explains.
How has his tenure at Christie’s been going? “It’s worked out very well,” he says. “I realized that I could have a second career dealing with much more important collections.” Few, perhaps, predicted that this prophecy would come to pass quite so spectacularly. De Ricqls salutes Bergé for his “radical decision to sell almost everything. Most heirs want to retain a part. That staggered people.”
Does he have another YSL-scale surprise up his sleeve? “In France, there are collections worth 40, 50, 60, 90 million euros, of that I am sure. But to find another between $300 million and $400 million, I think I’ll have to wait for years.” Meanwhile, he hopes to maintain Christie’s record as Paris auction-house leader. In 2009, the company continued its run on top, even without including the YSL/Bergé total. He emphasizes, “The challenge is to be not only the first, but the best, with the most beautiful sales.”
Curiel is shouldering an even greater challenge. “After Christie’s New York, which I helped build in 1976 with Christopher Burge and Stephen Lash, then Paris in 2000 for nine years, I’m off to Hong Kong to try and develop the Asian market, our biggest market at the moment,” he says. Asia already provides 12 percent of revenues for the auction house; after New York and London, Hong Kong is its third largest salesroom. The take in Hong Kong is more than double Christie's Parisian sales in a normal year. “More important is that the region provides buyers for our sales worldwide,” Curiel points out. “In Impressionist and modern art, contemporary art, jewelry, Old Masters, and 20th-century decorative arts, our biggest buyers often come from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.”
The company is already active on the mainland, where Christie’s Forever, a joint venture with a local Chinese dealer (a legal necessity) produced two auctions last year of mainly Chinese works of art totaling in the range of $20 million. “Nothing compared to our Hong Kong sales,” he admits, “where Chinese art from the 16th to 19th century, jewelry, watches, and Chinese contemporary art are doing very well.” Emerging buyers are the targets. The two leading mainland Chinese auctioneers — China Guardian and Poly — sell between $250 million and $300 million a year, equal to Christie’s Hong Kong sales. Curiel has a team of a hundred in Hong Kong and, he says, “the means to develop the market. I don’t have the recipe yet,” he admits, “but I hope to grow the business in the same way we’ve done in America and Paris.”