At a recent Sotheby’s auction, Banksy’s highly coveted “Girl With Balloon” fell halfway through its ornate Victorian-style frame, tore into shreds and transformed into a new work of art called “Love Is in the Bin,” just as a European collector placed her winning bid of $1.4 million. She bought it anyway. The stunt is a testament to the effect that art has on its viewers and the role that not only the artists themselves play in the interchange of their work, but also how vital the experts are to the process. Whether it’s been the rise in the number of guarantees at auction that have helped secure major consignments or the record-breaking shift in the market toward female artists or the celebration of African-American artists, “there is an insatiable demand to see art, buy art and learn about art,” says Sotheby’s executive David Rothschild. And to prove it, he notes the growing number of art fairs around the world. “These art fairs have been a democratizing, positive addition to the art business.” We sat down with Rothschild and two other specialists, Xiomi Murray Penn and Kate Waterhouse, for a peek at the world of art dealing. 350 Royal Palm Way, Ste. 405, sothebys.com
THE ART OF THE DEAL
XIOMI MURRAY PENN
For Palm Beach-based Xiomi Murray Penn, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As the daughter of an art historian and museum director who had a 30-year career at the Smithsonian and a stint in between at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Penn grew up in the halls of museums with beautiful works of art surrounding her at all times. So it’s no surprise that she’d grow up to become a curatorial collections specialist for a private art collector. Her years living abroad in London, studying Renaissance and baroque art at The Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston helped solidify her career path. “Each city I’ve worked in represents a different vibe, and Palm Beach has surprised me the most,” Penn says. “Of course, the Worth Avenue galleries and the Norton Museum of Art have always been highly regarded, but the recent additions of galleries, artist collectives and art fairs have added much to the art scene. The range and caliber of art and artists available in this area is quite impressive.” As art is a subjective experience, Penn notes that she’s learned the collecting habits and personal taste of the private collector she works for very well.
She is constantly on the lookout and reads up on trends in the art market daily. “One of the recent approaches I like best is auction houses thinking outside the box and combining multiple styles and movements in one sale,” she says. “For example, I enjoyed seeing the Leonardo da Vinci “Salvator Mundi” next to Andy Warhol’s massive “Sixty Last Suppers” painting at Christie’s.” She’s also looking forward to the busy season of programming at The Society of the Four Arts and the reopening of the Norton. And budding collectors, she notes, can discover interesting pieces at estate auctions and upcoming art fairs. “Keep in mind that collections are reflective of the collector; they grow and develop as the collector refines his or her objectives,” she says. “Pieces you buy today may be sold at a later date to make room for that new artist or work that excites you.”
Kate Waterhouse’s first love was gems and jewels, and she spent a good stretch of time working with fine jewelry at Freeman’s and then at important estates as assistant vice president for Sotheby’s Palm Beach. Between these posts, and honing her skills at institutions and galleries, she says she “fell in love immediately with the pace, property, excitement and drama of the auction industry,” and today, she’s serving as vice president of the Southeast region for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “In my current capacity, I most enjoy my clients who have a highly specific collecting style or category, having dedicated their collecting life to a single area such as contemporary art or jewels,” she says, “or the estates that allow me to learn about a client’s entire collecting history. Being able to follow a collection from inception to completion is fascinating.” Based in Palm Beach, Waterhouse indeed works closely with jewelry and contemporary art, but also with American, European and Continental furniture and decorative arts. Of course, timing is everything, and whether it’s in furniture or art or watches or even wine, trends can change within a six-month period from one auction cycle to the next. “My best advice to the consignor is to arm oneself with knowledge or reach out to those who can arm you with it,” Waterhouse says, noting that what was up in one fall auction cycle might be down during the spring sales. To the collector, she implores this: “First, please buy what you love and what speaks to you. Seek out a specialist during an exhibition, and ask us questions about works you like so we can discuss with you prior to bidding.”
David Rothschild always knew Sotheby’s would be his home. Growing up in New York City, he was exposed to world-class museums at a young age and studied art history in high school and college, even writing his thesis on the technique and influence of pointillism on art from the late 19th century through today. An administrative/clerical internship with Sotheby’s while attending the University of Miami eventually led to collection visits of top clients, where Rothschild began seeing museum-quality pieces inside residences—and he was hooked. Today, he serves as vice president and sales director for contemporary art private sales for Sotheby’s in the very city in which he grew up. In this capacity, Rothschild has made a concerted effort to bring art to the collector. He’s orchestrated several selling exhibits for Sotheby’s on a local and regional level, including a show in Palm Beach titled Wall Flowers, featuring flower-focused works by iconic artists such as Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, as well as younger artists like Jonas Wood, Michael Hunter, Enoc Perez and Ben Noam. Next came the show he co-curated at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, showing art by Joel Mesler, and another he curated featuring Andrew Brischler at Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack; they both attracted young, hip crowds and opened up Sotheby’s to new demographics. But if you’re thinking of attending an auction, Rothschild gives this advice: “Check out the scene and who the players are,” he says. “The audience is filled with important dealers, advisers and private collectors who help drive our business. It is always fascinating when someone new comes into the fold or when a well-known collector decides to bid on something a bit out of the ordinary.” His tip for what not to do? “Don’t wave hello to your friend across the room during the bidding action,” he says. “It could prove to be very expensive!”