Rooted in the heart of Monte Carlo
An interview with Sothebys Director Mark Armstong
by Kay Hare
Mark Armstong has been the Director of Sothebys Monte Carlo for over twenty years. With Monte Carlo growing and expanding in all fields I wanted to find out how the future looks for Sotheby’s in Monaco and how it keeps pace with all the changes.
Have you always been interested in art?
Yes, I have always had a passion for art, and as a child, I frequently had a pencil and paper with me drawing and painting. I was fascinated by all the pictures we had at our home, a mixture of family portraits, landscapes, still lives and I loved to look at them and imagine the painters, the people and their lives. I did not plan to work in the art world, but when I was 17 I found a painting in our house, we had just moved back from living abroad, and my father said I could research it, and, if it had any value we could sell it. I went to the Victoria and Albert did my research and then took it to Sotheby’s. I was incredibly impressed by the young specialist’s knowledge. He knew who the artist was immediately. I loved the atmosphere of Sotheby’s and walking down Bond Street, which had lots of Galleries like Agnews, Colnaghi and Tesirs the silver people.
The picture sold very well, and we had a wonderful holiday in the Dordogne. It wasn’t the fact that it made money; it was more the knowledge and enthusiasm of the people involved with the sale that impressed me. After all, I was from a country village, and it was a big thing to go up to London in those days. So.perhaps, that is where it all started.
How long have you been Director of Sothebys Fine Art in Monte Carlo? In that time have you noticed many changes in the buyer’s attitude to auctions – are people still going to the major cities to see the art and then make their purchase or are there just as many private, online sales?
I have been the director of Sotheby’s in Monaco since 1998. And I have worked here since October 1985. Previous to that I had worked in Sotheby’s London, Johannesburg, Capetown and then was representative for Cambridgeshire and East Anglia.
There have been many changes in taste and the way people buy. Nowadays, there are indeed many who buy online or over the phone, and they have not seen the work. Sometimes we act as their eyes. I always say to people to try and go and look at the piece they are interested in if they can. One gets an emotional shock sometimes that a flat image, even in a catalogue cannot give.
Of course, people go to Sales, and at certain times the rooms are crowded, it depends on the sale. But nowadays many are buy over the telephone. We have noticed a considerable increase in people bidding online in the last year or so.
Sotheby’s has a beautiful Zao Wou Ki painting for sale at the next auction on the 5th June in Paris – is Sothebys Monaco mainly concerned with pictures or are there other fields of collectors interest that dominate? For example, miniature art?
The Zao Wou-ki sold very well indeed. Go to Sotheby’s site, and you will see the results. At Sotheby’s Monaco, we are a representative office, and we are there to look after our clients. Their interests are varied, painting, contemporary, Impressionist, old masters and regional. We have a full-time jewellery specialist here, Douglas Walker. But we see all sorts of things, watches, furniture, ceramics, Design, sculpture, works of art. Our in house specialists visit regularly and we have access to them all the time.
How does Sotheby’s maintain its position as one of the leading auction houses in the world? Has it had to adapt to creating new internet and social media sites? How do you think social media represents art generally?
We adapt, and we know our markets, and we see how things are changing. We are very active in social media and communication. Our site is full of interesting information about what is going on www.sothebys.com one can find out all sorts of things, get values, contact specialists etc.
Sothebys Monaco does not hold auctions in Monte Carlo so how do you decide where to present works?
We consult with our collègues concerning the international salerooms and where to send the items such as London, Paris, Geneva, New York, Hong Kong. It all depends on the piece and sometimes on the client. But we always aim to send the artwork where it will sell best.
Monte Carlo is fairly small but do you have a regular stream of buyers and sellers that are based in the principality or are many clients also reliant on Monaco due to living on the Cote d’Azur?
We have regular buyers based in Monaco.
Would you purchase art purely as an investment or only if you liked it?
I would buy art because I liked it and because it means something to me
If you had unlimited funds, what would you be personally purchasing at the moment?
If I had unlimited funds I would be buying the abstract expressionists and colour field artists. But then if I were living I a beautiful old country house in England, I would have different tastes and try and mix the old and the new.
Mark Armstrong is Director of Sotheby’s in Monte Carlo
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