Art direction Michelle Aviña. Hair and makeup Casey Clay, Shyn Salon.
Stats. Christie’s associate vice president, senior account manager Southwest Region; in the job for six years
and some change.
On why this is my dream job. The job is about people; you need to be sensitive to the intimate nature implicit in the objects clients are sharing with you, and the stories and circumstances that ineluctably come with them ... we are an arts business, to be sure. But it’s much less mercenary than one might think. I truly love working with my clients. And, say what one will about the art market and its vagaries, it can also be fascinatingly candid. In our libraries, you can review all the catalogs from Christie’s inception in the late 18th century to now. And what one finds ... is a fascinating cultural, social and geopolitical picture.
Most unforgettable result on the block. An ivory miniature portrait of a Turkish lady that a very dear client had inherited. We knew nothing about the piece, nor did our client. We were all in agreement that a decorative value of $5,000 to $7,000 auction estimate should be applied. Serendipitously, it found its way to the desks of our Old Master Paintings team in London. They recognized the object to likely be by the hand of the esteemed 18th-century artist Jean-Etienne Liotard ... then set an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. We informed all our top Turkish clients who collect in this genre ... I needed to be in Houston the date of the sale, so I called our internal line to listen in. Bidding started slowly, then built — and built into a fervor. A bidding war within the room brought the hammer down on $530,000. There have been splashy multi-million-dollar sales for which we are undeniably proud. But that was a really sweet moment, calling our client with this unexpected news. She trusted us at $5,000, which allowed for a sale at $530,000.
Upcoming and adrenalin-pumping. One particularly strong piece from a Houston collection is by the artist El Anatsui, whose shimmering sculptural installations are highly coveted at the primary-market level, so we are thrilled to be offering it at auction in our November Post War and Contemporary Day Sale in New York. This came to me from my colleague Julie Kinzelman, on behalf of one of her clients. You may recall El had a stunning show at the Rice Gallery in 2010.
Most memorable artist I’ve met. Jochen Plogsties. He had a solo show at Inman Gallery a couple of years ago. Small, gestural, largely nonfigurative paintings with this sort of Black Forest palette. I had absolutely no means to purchase a painting, but there was one piece that I knew only I could love as much as it deserved to be loved ... He agreed to sell it to me, and Kerry Inman in her infinite kindness agreed to work with me on payment terms.
On my encounter with the works of the late Forrest Bess. This past spring, Christie’s at Rockefeller Plaza was fortunate to hold the month-long private sale of the Collection of Harry Burkhart, the largest concentration of Forrest Bess works known. The Collection was a gift to MD Anderson, to be sold with proceeds going to cancer research ... To see so many of these fascinating, cryptic, deeply personal Bess works in one place ... A rad moment in art-market terms.
Indelible art experience. At age 8 or 9 or so, at The Menil Collection. The work was a bronze life-size coffin, which in retrospect must have been the piece by Rene Magritte, titled Madame Recamier ... I used to stare at it and fantasize about crawling inside and hiding there until the museum closed, and the lights were off and the guards were home, I could roam the halls and have the place and all its objects all to myself. I am aware of how morbid this sounds.
On how college in Paris shaped me. Learning the importance of politeness and the comfort that operating within distinct codes of conduct can provide. Anyone who knows me and my fondness for salty language and allergy to business attire would find a contradiction there, but bucking those codes is most satisfying when you know them most intimately. I thank Paris for that.
On when I lived in Paris. Lived there intermittently, for summers and semesters, over several years. I’ll be back in November. I expect to get a little misty on the flight back ... We once had an extended stay in the 7th on rue de Varenne. Camus briefly lived nearby on that street. Sometimes you would open the windows and hear this soprano down the block singing, the windows all around her alight with bright red flowers from their balcony planters. It was like the Parisian version of a Wiggins street scene.
A magical city.
Last artwork I acquired for my collection. A commissioned Mike Beradino interactive piece called Game of Life. Bless both he and Arturo Palacios of Art Palace Gallery for patiently enduring my trickling payments. I don’t exactly have the budget for these things, but I need them. I would love a better wardrobe. But I need this piece by Mike Beradino.
Next piece on my radar. There’s an early Kusama painting coming up in our First Open sale, from ‘61, that’s fantastic. I’ll have to settle for the catalog, I suspect. The Luis Jacob piece in the recent “It is what it is. Or is it?” show at the CAMH continues to be a preoccupation of mine. I’m fairly certain life would be absolutely more excellent if I could live with that piece.
Three living artists I’m most intrigued by. Thomas Nozkowski. I’m fascinated by the way his process seems to work in reverse. Ai Weiwei for fighting the good fight and managing to still make work so startlingly poetic. Tino Sehgal. His work is indeed very conceptual, but nonetheless refreshingly, just basically about people, confronting themselves.
I lust after the collection of … Bernard Arnault. It would be inappropriate for me to name any local collections here. But rest assured, there are Houston collections I would absolutely list.
My favorite museum in the world. The Met. Par excellence.
The treasure I would like to own. The Rubens Room at the Louvre. Living with that degree of excess would likely be my undoing, however.
Blockbuster shows I’ll be seeing this fall. The Lucian Freud “Portraits” show at the Modern in Fort Worth; hopefully catch the Boetti show before it comes down at MoMA; Bellows at the Met; Soutine at the Musée d’Orsay; Bertrand Lavier at the Centre Pompidou; Rosemarie Trockel at the New Museum. And naturally, plenty here at home: very much looking forward to the CAMH show “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art,” Anne Tucker’s final show at the MFAH on war in photography and Blaffer’s “Lynne McCabe: Room to be (Ms.) understood.” And the “Love in Africa” show at the Menil ... has the potential, to touch on just about every corner of the human condition, from longing and love, down to geopolitics and the continued post-colonial struggle for legibility. That sounds like a good conversation to me.
Your library. How many volumes? Oy, I need to count them? A lot. Lots of commercial gallery exhibition catalogs.
Are they all art books? Most are. A brief glance at my fiction selection reveals a fondness for the Anglo, male, addled, postmodern type. Lucky Jim on a light day to The Third Policeman when I need to be uncomfortable.
What are you reading now? Just started Michael Fried’s Four Honest Outlaws: Sala Ray Marioni Gordon. And Niall Ferguson’s High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg. But it’s heavy econ. After a long day I’ll pick it up, and 10 minutes later chicken out and read New York Magazine instead.
Fave book of all time? It was a children’s book my mom must have given me at 6 or 7 of medieval fairy tales illustrated most magnificently, which I would give anything to be able to hunt down, but the author’s name escapes me. The images absolutely transported me.
Movie you are most excited about coming out this fall? Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.
Do you have a powerhouse restaurant in Houston where you meet your clients or talk art biz? Depends on the client. Da Marco’s can do no wrong. Brasserie 19 is entertaining. Ouisie’s for lunch. But I’d rather be at their home with the object.
Favorite art fair in the world? Art Basel Miami, because it’s just so relaxing.
Last stamp on your passport? I just got back from Norway and managed somehow to not see a single Munch, I am saddened to admit. And the last specific art-destination trip was a failed attempt to make it to the art campus Inhotim near Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Art travel destinations happen on a regular basis, however, with work. My excuse at least.
Next art trip? Dream scenario would be South Africa and parts of Francophone, West Africa. And Inhotim, so help me! Twentynine Palms, California, for sure.
Impressions of Brazil and the Latin American scene? Terribly exciting. The gallery scene in Sao Paulo alone is thrilling. But work made on the streets is, too. The place just vibrates. And Niemeyer everywhere! I wish I could make the art fairs there this month, but alas … Lots of clients here in Houston involved with the contemporary Brazilian scene keep me clued in. And I’ve visited our Rio and SP offices. They have their hands full and are loving it.
What auction are you most excited about upcoming? September in Amsterdam, we’ll hold the sale Property of the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art, which will offer some great contemporary figurative material. And November in New York will be brilliant, for Post War and Contemporary in particular ... We have a Kandinsky study in our November Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale [November 7, at Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza] whose art historical significance in regards to the advancement of abstract art cannot be overstated.
Most fascinating trend in today’s art world? Plenty. I am endeared by the stability of the Latin American modern and contemporary market. There is little speculative about it. It’s a collecting genre occupied by people who genuinely love the work, and their market has remained largely sensible and stable because of that.
What benefit/project/fund-raiser, etc. are you involved with upcoming for 2012 - 2013 that is cool? Thrilled to continue to provide our services as auctioneer for the CAMH at their annual auction and gala. Working with Bill [Arning] is a blast, and the work offered is always exciting and reflective of their mission. And happy to say early November I’ll be bringing down one of our Post War and Contemporary specialists to auctioneer Glasstire’s forthcoming auction for their annual gala. Great selection of work, supporting a brilliant outfit. Feeling very fortunate on Christie’s behalf to help out here in Houston as best we can.
Your source for art world scoop? Artforum, Modern Painters, Art and Auction, Artinfo.
Fave newspaper, mag or blog? New Yorker, Artforum, The Week, New York Magazine.
Jessica Phifer poses with an art gift from a friend, a photograph by Minnesota artist Stuart Klipper. Dress by Tom Ford, Neiman Marcus.
Books galore: Amid stacks of art volumes are (from left) works by Darren Waterston, a sculpture by Elaine Bradford, a Nathan Green painting, a print by an unknown artist and a photograph by Ben Ruggiero.