Francis spoke about the explosion of the contemporary art market and his “peephole” career going from artist to auction manager

You have been active as an artist and curator; you had a theoretical and artistic training Historical context. Wasn’t going to an auction house problematic? Many artists, art historians, art critics don’t like auction houses because the evaluation goes through the money. There was that old conflict between art and money, already Pliny in the 1st century complained about the degradation of art due to its connection with money. Have you not had a problem with the exchange of the symbolic value for financial value?

Obviously, this has always been a problem; it was even more true in my time; people really haven’t crossed that divide at all. For many people, I was like Judas; they felt like I had almost turned my back on the artists. But my position was relatively creative because I felt that I could make a difference. I never had a problem with the connection between art and money at all. From my point of view it seemed crazy to me that great art was being done that was not appreciated in the the artist’s life and allow him to pursue his career. I never wanted to do just a “job” in my life. I looked at him as a kind mission to try to change the perception of the auction house in various parts of the art world. When I came there as an artist and curator, I thought we could show these works better than they were being shown at that time. At that time there was absolutely no interaction between auction houses and artists; I wanted to to get artists who were unhappy with auction houses to be more in discussion with them.

Who is the first artist with whom you managed to engage with Sotheby’s?

Damien Hirst in my first evening auction. It was a heart shaped butterfly painting that Marco Pierre White was selling. Marco and Damien had had a partnership on the Quo Vadis restaurant in London, but they had fallen out with the public and Marco was selling this painting. I do not have want Damien to feel ostracized, so I suggested that we build enough time to include it in the process. I felt it was an opportunity to obtain the artist’s point of view and contribution on the presentation of his work which would encourage them to feel involved and therefore supportive to treat. For me it was a win-win situation and it worked really good. He helped us with the spreads. He gave us different points of view and the room ended up selling to Charles Saatchi. It became one of the big pieces that he promoted as part of his group Young British Art in the second wave.

Then we started to approach more and more artists. If you watch it today auction houses cater to virtually any art studio or their gallery to get their consensus on the presentation, because if you getting the wrong information is not good for you. It is part of the a legacy that I would like to think I left behind.

Damien Hirst, I love you forever (2014).


How do you explain that the majority of collectors now collect post-war and contemporary art? It wasn’t even the case 30 years ago.

It’s interesting. My father is an antique dealer; he started his antique business in the 1970s. It was a time when Europeans and English furniture was very popular; the 70s, 80s and 90s were, in a way, the golden period to establish this market. While you can still sell very special pieces very well, the general market for antique furniture has practically disappeared. The unsigned works are nowhere and are probably worth half or a third of what they were back then. I saw with my own eyes How? ‘Or’ What markets can change and fluctuate. Part of the reason why contemporary art has become so popular, I would say, is that works of art are relatively portable mirrors of your own life. As people have started to question the role and meaning of religion in their lives, art provides a different kind of philosophical context. Maybe I’m too romantic here, but I think art allows the viewer to find other forms of direction and spirit. Obviously, there are all kinds of art consumers out there, from the investor to the avid collector, and being one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other. For me, the biggest concern I have about the future of art is that it continues to interest us.

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Dela Cruz

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