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Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s have invested heavily in transforming a century-old building into a state-of-the-art auction house. Their new home on Avenue Matignon was designed by Réne Sergent in 1913 for couture house Callot Sœurs in an eclectic neoclassical, Edwardian style. The building was occupied by art dealers Artcurial from 1975 to 1998.

After an 18-month transformation programme, the building’s salient features are a new, oak-lined saleroom under the courtyard with seating for 400 and a permanent stage with turntable presentation; and a carved atrium lit by a glazed dome in the form of a truncated cone. The 4500 sq m complex also contains a second, smaller saleroom; five first-floor exhibition rooms; offices; and warehouse space, with access from Rue Mermoz at the back of the building. Signage throughout mirrors the style adopted at Christie’s recently opened New York headquarters.

Meanwhile, Paris auctioneers Hervé Poulain and Rémy Le Fur inaugurated their new premises at the Palais des Congrès on December 9. The Palais is situated at Porte Maillot on the west edge of Paris, midway between the Champs-Elysées and La Défense.

The 1100 sq m premises – which Poulain dubs “strictly functional and minimalist” – are split equally over two levels, with office space in the basement and a ground-floor saleroom-cum-showroom with walls upholstered in plush Drouot red. This comprises one main room (seating capacity 180) and three smaller adjacent areas. A further 300 sq m of storage space is situated at the back of the Palais itself – a 1970s monstrosity incorporating a shopping mall and 3000-seater auditorium, along with facilities for 1000 conferences or congresses a year, which is owned by the Paris Chamber of Commerce.

Poulain-Le Fur claim the Chamber encouraged their arrival to add cultural pep to the project to modernise the Palais, which was recently given a facelift by award-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc. Poulain-Le Fur will have occasional use of the Palais auditorium for the prestige automobile sales they plan to stage jointly with Sotheby’s Europe. In all, Poulain-Le Fur aim to hold around 100 sales a year at the Palais in varying fields.

Poulain-Le Fur personnel will complete the move from the firm’s current HQ in Rue de Provence, near Drouot, on January 2. Hervé Poulain predicts that “the arrival of the Anglo-American auction houses will dramatically affect the (Paris) art market. Their clout is likely to foster the idea that auctions are the normal way to buy. The art market will evolve like other circuits of distribution, with a fall in the market share of intermediaries (dealers) and wholesalers (Drouot).”

If that controversial definition isn’t enough to lose Poulain any friends he might still have at the Hôtel Drouot, he slams Drouot for having “as many directors as members, lacking a hierarchy, homogeneity, and a common economic project – the despairing conclusion that led President Millon to ‘throw in the towel’”.

Bukowksi’s of Stockholm and Lempertz of Cologne are set to join the worldwide grouping International Auctioneers. According to French partner François Tajan, I.A. also plan to launch a joint website “inside two or three months” to pool sale and catalogue data, and enable browsers to track down whichever auction firm is soon to run sales in their preferred domain. “We’re in a hurry,” says Tajan. “Internet contacts are increasing all the time.” Tajan also told the Antiques Trade Gazette that cyber auctions with eBay appealed to some I.A. members but that Etude Tajan were “still monitoring the situation... online sales are still a bit of a mess from a technical point of view.”