Power Punk: Alicia Bona

Christie’s sunny expert hauls in $62 million, cultivates Gagosians of tomorrow

Seven years ago, Alicia Bona was an intern at the Marian Goodman Gallery, one of the self-replenishing army of polished private-school girls who answer phones at galleries and auction houses, then land wealthy husbands and begin a life of buying what they once cataloged.

But instead of taking long “lunch breaks” at Frédéric Fekkai, Ms. Bona was making herself into an expert on the red-hot market for 20th-century art. Now, when art dealers like Larry Gagosian and William Acquavella or collectors like Charles Saatchi and Leonard Riggio check out the Christie’s catalog before they head to an auction, they’re reading the 31-year-old’s essays and descriptions-and when they buy, they’re paying the prices she and her team have set.

This past Nov. 11, Ms. Bona, associate specialist of postwar and contemporary art, watched as almost all of the 67 works she had priced sold at or above her estimates at Christie’s annual evening sale in her area. Alexander Calder’s 1968 Untitled , a metal outdoor stabile, broke the record for a Calder: $5,831,500. Ten other high-profile contemporary artists, from Takashi Murakami to Clyfford Still to Joan Mitchell, pulled in their best prices ever that night as Christie’s haul came in at over $62 million, making last year’s auction slump a pleasantly distant memory. “She’s such a star,” said Ms. Bona’s boss, Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head for postwar and contemporary art.

“I love getting so much contact with the artists,” said Ms. Bona. She may be at a tony Upper East Side institution, but she doesn’t shy away from controversy: Her first high-profile sale was the 2001 auction for Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture La Nona Ora , which represents the Pope felled by a meteorite crashing through a skylight. “I knew the artist, and I got him to help us install it. That was the first time it had been shown anywhere,” she said.

Ms. Bona grew up in Toronto and now lives on the Upper East Side with her husband. She oversees more than 300 works of art a season. Her strategy is to cultivate the younger generation of collectors, the Larry Gagosians of tomorrow. “It’s very wise of her,” said Ms. Cappellazzo. “She really follows what they’re collecting very closely and has become sort of a confidante for them.”

Ms. Bona’s incredibly sunny personality, as well as her deep reservoir of knowledge, reels them in. “Alicia stands out,” said Philippe Segalot, Ms. Bona’s former boss at Christie’s. “She’s the perfect cocktail of expertise and smile. Important collectors happen to like her very much; she’s both enthusiastic and discreet.”

-Alexandra Wolfe