CULTURE

Christie’s bids farewell to Athens

After seven years of operation, the Athens branch of Christie’s auction house will close by the end of the month, announced its managing director, Elisavet Lyra. The decision comes as a surprise, especially considering what Athens-branch officials say was a most profitable operation. Indeed, during its seven-year life span in Athens, Christie’s auctions became known for record price sales: The 185 million drachmas paid for Nikolaos Gyzis’s To Kryfo Scholeio was a major success at Christie’s first auction here. The Grandmother’s Tale also by Gyzis was auctioned for the same amount six years later, the same year that a seascape by Volanakis was sold for 160 million. Apart from these unusually high bids, Christie’s auctions in Athens were, according to the branch representatives, successful operations on the whole, with no more than 15 percent of the works consigned left unsold at each auction. The Greek Sale, as the Greek auctions were coined, was held twice annually – once each in Athens and Thessaloniki, and totaling 12 in the course of seven years. They consisted almost exclusively of Greek art, mostly from the 19th century which was highest in demand. Two years ago, an additional auction of contemporary Greek artwork was also established which enjoyed the same success, according to representatives. Another of the branch’s activities was the offering of art history courses from 1996. Unequivocally stating the Athens branch to be a profitable venture, Christie’s representatives say that the reasons behind the branch’s closing are due to a broader company policy that wishes to confine Christie’s auctions to houses in London, New York, and as of the spring, Paris. (Reorganization of the French art market has now opened up auctions held in France to competition from commercial auction companies such as Phillips which was bought by Bernard Arnault, Chairman of Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy. Christie’s will also enter the competition. Francois Pinault, owner of the Pinault-Printemps-Redoute luxury goods company and the major shareholder in Christie’s since 1998, is one of Arnault’s rivals.) Other than jewelry auctions held in Switzerland and an annual sale in Australia, the firm wishes to avoid expansion. Even though there will be no future for Christie’s in Athens, representatives here stress the importance of what has already been done during the auction house’s time here. The Greek art market reaped important benefits from Christie’s through their setting a basis for fixing the prices of Greek fine art, bringing important works of Greek art into the hands of Greek collectors and drawing the attention of an international audience to Greek art largely through the record sale prices.