Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but it appears that Christie’s grand venture into the wonderful world of retail contemporary art via its 2007 acquisition of Haunch of Venison has gone a wee bit sour. According to The Art Newspaper, the gallery is closing its Berlin branch which opened with much fanfare in 2007. Director Matt Carey-Williams attempts to turn the frown upside down, and constructs a marvellous example of art-world spin, saying “Berlin is one of the most energetic and exciting art cities, but it doesn’t have that community of collecting.” For that, read: “it’s not me, it’s you”; or: “Ich bin Berliner”, if by that you mean: “I like to look. Buy? Not so much”.
I attribute less credit for the contraction to Berlin’s reluctance to acquire Haunch’s pricey offerings than I do to Christie’s sudden and, in the light of the GFC, ill-timed proliferation of Haunches across the globe. But the principal cause is sure to be the defection of founding directors, Harry Blain and Graham Southern, who established the gallery and then sold it to Christie’s and remained in the business until June this year. It was almost inevitable that their move would gut the business, and that many of the gallery’s artists would leave with them. Following in their wake would be the moneyed collectors who form interdependent relationships with their favoured dealers. Sure enough, according to The Evening Standard, up to eleven of Haunch’s superstars have hitched their wagons to Blain and Southern’s gravy train, including Bill Viola, Rachel Howard and Anton Henning. Haunch has been working to fill the void with new recruits, amongst them Patricia Piccinini, who currently has a show running at the New York campus.
As for Blain and Southern, it appears that all is rosy in their particular corner of the art world. The dealers launched an eponymous gallery, Blain Southern, in London in October with an exhibition featuring new work by yBa alumni, Mat Collishaw, who also followed the dealers from Haunch when they jumped ship. The dealers also don’t appear to share Carey-Williams’ opinion about German art collectors’ frugality – they’ve announced plans to open a branch in Berlin in the near future. Blain is also keeping himself busy on the other side of the Atlantic, forming a partnership with former Sotheby’s vice chairman, Emmanuel Di Donna. Their gallery, Blain Di Donna, is going to begin trading in uptown New York in mid-November… Blains popping up all over. The Manhattan gallery will concentrate on selling Impressionist, Modern and second-hand contemporary works sourced in the secondary market. Blain Southern will focus on representing living artists. Interesting that the very savvy Blain has chosen to base his secondary market dealership in New York. Could that have anything to do with the fact that London charges sellers of second-hand artworks a resale royalty, whereas New York has yet to bring in this charge, making New York up to 4% more attractive as a place to sell secondary-market works of art?