Christies consumes Haunch of Venison. Why?

Last night at the tony Upper East Side opening of the Art Dealers Association of America fair, the hottest gossip surrounded Judd Tully’s scoop for Art Info: “Christie’s to Buy Haunch of Venison” which he described as:

a deal that further blurs the already fuzzy line between auction and gallery business domains…[sure] to prompt its arch-rival Sotheby’s to enter that battlefield.

Several sources point to Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and a major figure in the contemporary art world, as the contributing factor to the acquisition. “There’s no doubt this is the influence of Mr. Pinault,” said the previously quoted London dealer, “who has a very, very strong interest in the contemporary market.”

I wonder about the business logic here. Given the pitched battle between galleries and auction houses for great secondary-market works, it’s unlikely Haunch of Venison will be admitted to any major fairs moving forward. (Tully cites the inclusion of Christies in TEFAF Maastricht as precedent for auction houses showing at fairs, but I’d say it was a bizarre one-off.)

So it seems that what Pinault has bought most of all is a second private-treaty-sale department. Because in its relatively brief life as a gallery, Haunch of Venison has distinguished itself more as tremendous churner of secondary-market material than as primary market gallery – its program there has been all over the map.

Also, many premiere artists will think twice about working with an auction-house-owned gallery. Or maybe – in the post-“Pharmacy Sale” age – I’m just being reactionary. Thoughts?

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