Selling Marron with Confidence


Confidence is Private Art Investor’s ‘Word of the Week’. Why? Because the word – with both its meanings – links two key themes behind the sale of more than 300 artworks belonging to late financier and art collector, Don Marron. 

Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips sent proposals, confident that a private collection this size would head to auction – as they have historically done in the cases of the Rockefeller and Taubman collections. 

But in a last-minute move, three top New York galleries – Pace, Acquavella and Gagosian – swooped in last month and wooed the Marron family into selling privately. That is secretly, or in confidence. 

Although they have snubbed the Big Three, which were anticipating soaring $1bn sales through this and the Macklowe Collection this year, the decision is not entirely shocking. 

The three dealers have known the family for decades and helped build the collection. And they are understood to have offered a higher guarantee than the auctioneers, to the tune of $450m. So why wouldn’t the family go private?

But it wasn’t all about the money. Despite the thrills of the auction room, gallerists will tell you auctions are not the most transparent. Either reserve prices might not be met or hidden third-party guarantees drive the prices up unfairly for innocent bidders. Having said this, private sales are not without fault either. 

There is no way to know for sure which path is most lucrative. One can say that this is a novel swapping of roles though. In fact, this might just be a turning point for the art market. An evolution of the auction model – which already looks very different from a few years ago – into a hybrid blurring of lines between galleries and auction houses. 

It is too soon to predict whether sales in 2020 will look up from 2019’s, however, confidence in the art market (outside of auction houses) remains high. Yes, that’s both meanings of the word.