FRANCE: François Curiel has regained his post as head of Christie’s France after the abrupt departure of Dominique-Henri Freiche.
In a terse press statement dated August 29, Christie’s refused to discuss the reasons for the change. Jewellery specialist Curiel, 53, was head of Christie’s France from June to December 2001, before being replaced by Freiche, former head of international development within the Pinault-Printemps-La Redoute group headed by Christie’s French owner François Pinault.
Freiche’s arrival was widely seen as reflecting Pinault’s wish to have his “own man” in charge of Christie’s, but his lack of auction experience appears to have proved an insuperable handicap. The largely honorific rôle of Chairman of the Conseil de Surveillance of Christie’s France, which Curiel occupied during Freiche’s tenure, has now been assigned to Christie’s CEO Ed Dolman. “That means two old pros are at the helm to calm things down,” Curiel told the Gazette.
After the sudden departure of Hugues Joffre in May 2001, Curiel becomes the fourth appointment as head of Christie’s France within 16 months, a rate of turnover apt to fuel speculation that Christie’s are concerned about the profitability of their French operations. “Under pressure? No!” says Curiel. “Vigilant, yes!” He says he is looking to ensure a period of stability for Christie’s 70-strong Paris office, vowing “I’m here to stay!” and adding: “Contrary to rumour, Pinault is not looking to sell (Christie’s).”
Christie’s France posted sales of €36.4m (£23.5m) during the first six months of 2002, nearly 20 per cent ahead of Sotheby’s (€30.5m/£19.7m) but just adrift of Tajan, who remained France’s market leader with sales of €38.3m (£24.7m). Curiel says that Christie’s results were “in line with expectations” and forecasts total Paris sales of €55-60m for 2002.
Curiel will retain his rôle as President of Christie’s Europe. “The European market is extremely solid and strong,” he claims, denying rumours of internal rivalry between the firm’s operations in Paris and London. “There is total osmosis between Paris, London and New York!”
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