Much to the annoyance of contemporary art dealers everywhere, in 2007 auction leviathan Christie’s acquired the suitably obscurely-named London gallery, Haunch of Venison (in answer to the inevitable question, it was so named because the building in which it first took up residence is located in the wonderfully named, ‘Haunch of Venison Yard’). The gallery was launched in 2002 under the tender ministrations of Harry Blain and Graham Southern, who was head of Christie’s contemporary art department in London until 2001, and established in the premises formerly occupied by retired über-dealer, Anthony d’Offay. Its sale to Christie’s caused no end of consternation amongst dealers, because in the then-buoyant marketplace of the mid-ish ‘naughties, there seemed to be a considerable potential for conflict of interest in a circumstance where an auction house that was aggressively promoting its contemporary art auctions also owned a large commercial contemporary art business. How would Christie’s manage to maintain a disinterested outlook if, for example, it was selling a major work by one of the artists represented by its commercial gallery?
So Haunch of Venison flourished and expanded. It now has premises in Manhattan, Zürich and Berlin, in addition to the London gallery, and represents a stable of commercially stable artists including Dan Flavin, Bill Viola and James Rosenquist, and the requisite headline-grabbing enfant-terribles, including yBa alumni Mat Collishaw, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (who, quite coincidentally, featured in my last post about his latest installation in Melbourne’s Fed Square). The current exhibition at Haunch of Venison’s Berlin campus is a collaboration between Michael Joo and Damien Hirst, featuring a couple of Hirst’s emblematic sectioned and formaldehyde-sodden beasties, a pill cabinet, a fly painting, and one of his super-sized human anatomical models.
But could Christie’s great pipe-dream be coming to an end? The Wall Street Journal has reported that, as of 31 August this year, Blain and Southern will be leaving Haunch of Venison to “pursue new projects”. Although there is much brave talk of future directions and evolution, in the world of commercial art dealers, cachet and power resides in the hands of individuals rather than institutions. Personal relationships with artists and collectors are paramount, and the simultaneous departure of Blain and Southern is sure to carve quite a chunk out of the Haunch’s client base.