High-profile divorce stuns art world

Backbiting and turf wars have soured the deal between revered auction house and UK's most influential gallery.

Art for art's sake be damned: with millions at stake, territorial rows and tempers are flaring in the moneyed world of the art market and particularly behind the scenes at Christie's auction house.

This time, the falling-out – a very high-profile divorce between Christie's and one of the most influential figures in British art – has created a certain amount of malevolent glee.

Christie's – which this month will help to sell hundreds of millions of pounds worth of art in what is expected to be the most lucrative season of auctions London has ever seen – is nursing its bruises after a falling-out with the founders of a small but highly influential art gallery.

Other galleries are said to be beside themselves with joy at the argument between the auction house and the small Haunch of Venison gallery in London.

Haunch of Venison sells new work straight from the studios of internationally acclaimed artists such as the sculptor Rachel Howard, the video artist Bill Viola and the film director and photographer Wim Wenders. Christie's, on the other hand, is effectively a dealer in second-hand art.

So, when the auction house bought Haunch of Venison in 2007, other gallery owners feared that its intervention was not only bad for art, but also could put them all out of business. A gallery, the argument goes, can nurture an emerging artist's career and place his or her work with certain collectors; an auction house is interested only in maximising profit.

The difference can be seen in the balance sheets. Haunch earned £1.6m from a £66m turnover in 2007. By contrast Christie's turned over £244m in contemporary art sales alone last year – a figure down by more than half on the previous year because of the credit crunch.

If Christie's sold new art successfully then there would be no need for any more galleries: hence glee that the partnership has gone sour.

Haunch of Venison was founded in 2002 by a former stockbroker called Harry Blain and a former Christie's expert called Graham Southern. Such was its success that in 2009 Mr Blain was dubbed the most powerful man in British art.

Now he and Mr Southern have announced they are to leave the gallery they founded.

Christie's and Haunch claim the split is amicable; merely the result of "different visions". But insiders say it is the culmination of months of back-biting, turf wars and arguments over who gets to sell the extraordinarily valuable works of contemporary art that come on the market.

One source, connected closely with Christie's, told The Independent on Sunday that the rows were over clients and sales. Part of the deal to buy Haunch meant that Christie's private sales of post-war and contemporary sales would go over to the gallery, leaving the staff of that department with their noses out of joint.

"There was a lot of acrimony between the different players behind Haunch of Venison and Christie's," the source said. "Everyone wants to protect their own clients for themselves, so they don't want to share their information. The deal was that Haunch wouldn't just look after the primary market for Christie's but also be the site for all of Christie's private sales as well. But if you're a specialist in Christie's contemporary department you want those sales to go into your books; you want the commission, the rewards. Then you get fights over clients happening. As a business model it is totally flawed."

The Economist, which broke the story, said the row was over "corporate politics, turf wars and information withholding".

Even the artist Damien Hirst has been pulled into the dispute. "Auction houses have been around for a long time, but it seems like they are struggling to know exactly what their role should be," he said. "(Christie's and Haunch of Venison) seemed to get on each other's nerves."

Sarah Thornton, a writer on contemporary art who wrote The Economist story, added that news of the break-up would please gallery owners who feared three years ago that they were about to be cut out of their business by the juggernauts of Christie's and Sotheby's, the latter firm handling the straight-to-auction sale of new work by Damien Hirst.

"A lot of gallerists will be joyful," she said. "I think a lot of people were worried when Christie's bought Haunch. They didn't like the extra competition and are now probably relieved.

Christie's and Harry Blain sought to put a different gloss on the divorce this weekend. "It's an amicable departure," Mr Blain said. "We are leaving to establish a new gallery in the West End, which will deal on the primary and secondary markets; we should be opening early next year. I'm looking forward to getting back to working more closely with the artists. A large organisation sometimes pulls you away from that."

Christie's added: "We wish Harry and Graham every success in their future endeavours and are confident that the team at Haunch will continue and extend the vibrant role it plays in the contemporary art market."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style