Sotheby's Mari-Claudia Jiménez Looks Ahead

Jiménez, who is Sotheby's Chairman, Managing Director & Worldwide Head Business Development Global Fine Arts, connects the challenges of 2020 to the incredible art market successes of 2021.

Maneker Did you guys feel coming into 2021 that this would be as powerful of a year as it turned out to be? 

Jiménez  I think we did in the sense that we really felt that the disruption of 2020 was going to lead to even further innovation from the art market, and certainly at Sotheby's, because it created a momentum of change that was sort of like a train you couldn't stop. There was this idea that the art market is so traditional and in some ways entrenched in the “always traditional” ways of doing things. And in 2020, you had no choice but to do things differently because of the pandemic. 2021 gave us the opportunity to really build upon that and get to the next level of transformation. 

Maneker  Maybe over the last year or two with the pandemic and people relocating, or just in general, has there been a change in how Sotheby's approaches, or where you see, collectors?

Jiménez  I don't know that it's necessarily a pandemic phenomenon. In the last year or two, we have seen a democratization of the geography of where art is purchased. We are really seeing 35% US, 34% percent Europe, 35% Asia.

And I think one of the interesting things is that we're seeing a lot of Western art do incredibly well in Asia… I think that there are a lot of new collectors in Asia who are just thinking about things very differently. 

Maneker  Going forward, having had this extraordinary year, what do you guys expect to happen in 2022? 

Jiménez  I think that our focus this year is this balance between the digital and the physical spaces and experiences. We're thinking about a more fluid ability to bring our clients, either virtually or physically, into our spaces to have the experience of the artworks that they're perceiving in exhibitions or looking at a virtual catalogue. 

Maneker  It used to be, even five years ago, you needed to get a client in front of a picture. Now it seems like, if they are familiar enough with the objects, sales can take place without them having seen it. 

Jiménez  Before the pandemic, in our online sales, you would sell things online occasionally for a million dollars or so. But not that often because people really wanted to see the thing in person. [During the pandemic,] clients were trusting of the connoisseurship of the specialists that they were working with and their judgment and their taste. And we can really virtually do a lot in terms of doing virtual walkthroughs, really close 3-D high definition photography. 

Maneker Other predictions around all of this?

Jiménez  I think one of the things we're going to continue to see—and we started to see a little bit with the Constitution—was the resurgence of our collectors as trophy hunters. It's more about people who are now at the level of collecting where they transcend categories and are simply thinking about extraordinary objects and experiences. 

The other big prediction would be relating to Asia, and I think it has a lot to do with this idea that Western artworks are going to continue to be a major focus for Asian collectors. Just this year alone, I think the record for the highest price ever paid for a Western artwork in Asia has been broken three times. I think that's a notable statistic because it's just going to keep happening over and over again.

It's part of this sort of idea of the integration of art outside of its categories or silos. And I think that's something that Sotheby's has been really a pioneer of with the way we work with Latin American art. Once we incorporated Latin American art into the broader canons of Impressionism and contemporary art, and people were able to see those Latin American artists next to comparable artists who were painting at exactly the same moment in time and part of the same movements, it totally changed the market for Latin American art, and I think that's exactly what's happening in Asia. 

Maneker  There's been a broader strategy at Sotheby's to sort of expand into Sotheby's as a luxury retailer and you now sell a broader range of valuable objects. Are you involved in that part of it or is the sourcing for the major auctions strategically related to the broader strategy of luxury? 

Jiménez  Well, luxury is a separate division at Sotheby's, so it encompasses both the auction of luxury items like jewelry and all of the other categories–wine, et cetera–that we auction off. But it is also part of our retail strategy. And I think it's part of our focus now, part of our new leadership, and also part of the sort of 2021/2022 drive towards throwing out the rulebook and not thinking about what is an auction house traditionally and thinking of ourselves as a global art business, a business that is very focused on luxury experiences of all kinds. 

Maneker  You brought up the luxury experience. You had this sale in Las Vegas with the contents of the Picasso restaurant, and I know that is a bit of a unique situation. But it certainly seemed that having a sale out West was an event in and of itself was a great opportunity to do some of the things you just talked about of bringing things together and having collectors run across things. Is it something that you can only do if the right conditions apply? 

Jiménez  I think the hallmark of the new Sotheby's, if we want to call it that, is this idea of taking really calculated risks that can change and transform the market. And I think that's what we've been doing and we'll continue to be doing in 2022. 

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