Here Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie’s UK, talks to Roland Arkell about the closure and consolidation plans at King Street.
Approximately how many extra sales will be added to the King Street calendar with the merging of CSK and KS?
We had two locations within three miles of each other in London, neither of them being used to their full potential. CSK had fallen from 110 to 65 sales a year. Sales at King Street were largely ‘concertinaed’ into key weeks. If you were starting from scratch in the context of an international market I don’t think you would choose that model.
We are not aiming to have bigger sales. While the details are still to be finalised, we anticipate a 10-15% increase in the number of sales on the current calendar (around 80) plus more online events.
Some sales that were exclusive to CSK, such as the Out of the Ordinary sale, will migrate directly.
It will make for a much busier calendar at King Street, where we now have 30% more gallery space.
“ It is a shift but I don’t believe in setting price thresholds
It has been a very painful decision for all but for the long-term health of the business it is right.
How many staff members have departed (or will soon depart) as part of the restructuring process?
We have managed to secure a significant proportion staff from CSK, with many transferring directly into roles at King Street. Of those facing redundancy, around 40% have been redeployed at Christie’s. It has been enormously difficult.
The people who have been affected had done nothing but work hard for the company. But, unfortunately, having six or seven specialists in certain areas of the market is not a sustainable model.
What I can say is that some very respected regional firms have been hammering on the door to employ their expertise. That has been heartwarming.
Has Christie’s chosen to drop any departments/sale categories from the ‘live’ calendar as part of restructuring?
There has been speculation surrounding the dropping of various departments. I have a history in the decorative arts and I can say we are totally committed to a broad range of sales at a wider range of price points. We will maintain specialists in all areas. We will continue to use consultants but they won’t be instead of in-house specialists.
Are new price thresholds in place for consignors?
I don’t want to get hung up on thresholds. It is about selecting the things the market wants at whatever price level. It is about the object being a good example of its type in terms of design, provenance and condition, not its price. Collectors are not binary. They are interested at all prices.
It is a shift but I don’t believe in setting thresholds.
Are you fearful that Christie’s will lose out on the entry-level collector with the loss of CSK?
The ‘interiors’ format is a brilliant format for breaking down barriers and getting people through the door. There will be interiors-type sales but they will be more themed. Sales do need a proper narrative.
There is a lot more activity online. It is currently a small percentage of the business but it has the potential to become much larger.
Online sales are curated across a wide geographical area.
Is there vendor resistance to consigning for online sales?
That is changing. The prevailing landscape for online auctions has changed hugely in the past few years across the whole industry.
There was previously an overly optimistic view, across the art market, that any object offered online would somehow find an audience.
These sales need to be carefully selected and they need a narrative. We have seen real success in this area and our online sales grew over 100% last year.
However we need to stay on top of this rapidly changing market and continue to get that right over the next couple of years.
Orlando Rock: Curriculum Vitae
Appointed chairman of Christie’s UK in his 25th year at the company
Introduces the Exceptional Sale, a mixed-discipline event now held annually in both London and New York
Returns to London to head the newly established Private Collection and Country House Sale department
Transferred to Christie’s New York
Started at Christie’s in the French and English furniture department