Marc Porter of Christie’s on How Political Uncertainty Challenges the Art Market

As Chairman of Christie's Americas division, Marc Porter pays a lot of attention to how civil unrest affects business.

Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie’s Americas. Christie's

Marc Porter is a Christie’s loyalist, so much so that he returned to assume the role of Chairman of the Americas division only two years after departing the auction house in 2015. In the interim, he did a brief stint at Sotheby’s that lasted less than three months. With over 25 years of experience, Porter has done everything from launching Christie's first-ever online sales to facilitating the auction of the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection.

On November 12, Porter will be one of the speakers present at Observer’s second Business of Art Observed event, where he will deliver the opening keynote on the fluctuating auction world and where it stands in 2019. Observer spoke with Porter on Thursday about Christie’s biggest political concerns when it comes to the art market, the importance of secure infrastructure and the proliferation of high-tech storage facilities in major cities.

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Observer: In terms of the overall auction landscape what have you perceived to be the biggest change in the market in the last year?
Marc Porter: A year is quite a short time frame. With respect to the last year, in particular, it’s not so much that we’ve seen—aside from Sotheby’s going private, which is very recent and probably the biggest event of the last year— I’d say that the last year has brought the question of various political and economic issues around the world to the fore in terms of thinking about what impact there might be on the art market generally.

I’ve been writing a lot about how the protests in Hong Kong have been affecting the art market. Do civil conflicts factor into your decision making?
Yes, aside from the usual tumultuousness in the world, I think in the last year, the three primary issues that have been drawing our attention have been: the unrest in Hong Kong and how that will impact the market in China; Brexit and how that might impact the art business, primary operationally, in terms of London as the European center of the art world versus another European city; and thirdly, the dramatic American politics and its daily challenges. And on the economic side of that, the various trade wars and tariffs of the current administration throw a considerable amount of concern and throw off a considerable amount of return.

Especially when it comes to tariffs, I’d assume.

Could you elucidate your operational concerns a bit more?
Sure. So that’s with respect to Brexit. London is set up as a perfect trading platform for the European community. It has a well developed infrastructure, transport, warehousing, shipping and all of the attendance and gallery spaces, both for auctions and all the art galleries that have been long been in operation in London. It is a fully mature, developed trading platform. If Brexit occurs and there are not laws enshrining London’s trading position, and it makes it difficult to move objects in and out, and if it’s more expensive or if there is more perceived risk in selling in London rather than in another European capital, then we would have to think about whether London in the future will continue to be the right hub. And it’s not just us, the whole art market would have to think about whether London is the right choice for a European trading hub. Because they have all the elements developeda fully developed and perfected system.

Down to the workers who are moving the art physically.
The workers, the infrastructure, the storage warehouses, the conservators, the customs officials who understand about works of art, the art transport companies, every element over centuries has brought London to this place.

New York has also been introducing increasingly high-tech storage facilities, and galleries like Pace have been expanding their storage holding space. I feel like I’ve been noticing more privatized, luxurious storage spaces growing overall as businesses.
Warehouses dedicated to art with appropriate security have morphed into warehouses with the proper security that also are commensurate with the lives and lifestyles of owners and traders of works of art. It’s no longer adapted industrial use, but rather a much more retail-oriented experience.

I’ve been talking to organizations lately who are thinking about the next generation of arts philanthropists. About 30 trillion is about to be inherited by this generation overall—Do you think at all about who in the future will be drawn towards the auction world?
Oh yeah. I mean, each year about a third of the buyers that come to us are new buyers to us. I would draw a distinction though: while some of our buyers are people who have inherited wealth, I would say that the vast majority of our buyers are people who have made their own money and are exploring the art world as a part of their general exploration of the world. That 30 trillion—I think that’s sort of a banking notion, or financial sector notion of how much wealth will transfer from the last generation to the next. Again, I think I feel comfortable saying that most of the people who buy, who are very active, are people who made their own money. And on that front, yes, there is more of it.

There are a lot of economies that have developed dramatically over the past ten years and that’s what has driven us to the point where the market is now so fundamentally global. The consumers are global and the digital world has made the sales around the world available to clients around the world. If you think about it, the evolution from many regional markets, some of which have always been big, some of which have grown, into one big global market linked by global communication is one of the great changes in the art market.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity. 

Marc Porter of Christie’s on How Political Uncertainty Challenges the Art Market