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Haunch of Venison to leave primary market and close NY gallery

Christie’s folding business into its private sales division but keeping London space for exhibitions; stalwart London old master dealer Agnews also shutters

Haunch of Venison New York. Photo: © Selldorf Architects 2011

Christie’s is closing Haunch of Venison, the gallery that it acquired somewhat controversially in 2007. The auction house has confirmed that it will retain only the gallery’s secondary market business (which it will combine with its own private sales stream), meaning that it will no longer represent the 40 artists currently in Haunch of Venison’s stable. These include Ged Quinn, Jitish Kallat and Joana Vasconcelos, who will be representing Portugal at this year’s Venice Biennale. Matthew Paton, a spokesman for Christie’s, says that helping to find galleries for the artists is paramount. Some already have representation elsewhere (Quinn is with Stephen Friedman gallery in London; Kallat with the Berlin-based Arndt gallery; Vasconcelos with Nathalie Obadia in Paris and Brussels).

Haunch of Venison’s website lists 14 staff members in London and 7 in its New York space. The plan is for the New York gallery, which opened in Chelsea in 2011, to close in March, while the process for the London gallery is still officially in a consultation period, in accordance with UK employment law. Paton says that Christie’s is also working towards finding “suitable” work for the Haunch of Venison staff, including within the auction house, although he would not comment on specific employees. The London gallery’s final show is of work by the Cuban-American artist José Parlá, which opens this Thursday (7 February-28 March; Parlá, is also represented by Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris and the Ohwow gallery in Los Angeles). Haunch of Venison will no longer be exhibiting at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, as originally planned. In a statement released today, the gallery thanked “all the incredible artists, staff, colleagues and friends with whom we have worked in the primary market”.

The Haunch of Venison gallery was founded by Harry Blain and Graham Southern in 2002 and was bought by Christie’s five years later. Dealers reacted negatively at the time, as many believed the purchase muddied the distinction between auctioneers and dealers. It was difficult for the gallery to compete on a level-playing field in the primary market as it was excluded from certain art fairs (including those in the Art Basel franchise). Further, in 2010, Blain and Southern left to open their own gallery in London, taking some big name artists with them (Bill Viola, Rachel Howard and Mat Collishaw). Meanwhile, in the secondary market, the auction houses have been growing their private sales business steadily over the past few years so they have little need for a separate outpost (Christie’s made £631.3m in this business in 2012, including sales from Haunch of Venison, a year-on-year growth of 26%). Christie’s plan, for now, is to keep the gallery’s recently revamped space on New Bond Street for exhibitions.

Meanwhile, just round the corner in Mayfair’s Albemarle Street, the owners of Agnew’s gallery—which was founded in 1817 and has specialised in Old Masters since the late 19th-century—are shutting up shop. Chairman Julian Agnew says he will continue operating at his own pace, privately: “I’m 70 this year. I plan to do as much or as little as I like!” He says he welcomes the opportunity to be free from the “business of running an expensive art gallery”. “You have to sit down and realise that for most dealers who are not in the contemporary art world, you don’t need a gallery any more,” he says, citing the internet and e-mail as important game-changers. Seven generations of Agnews have run the gallery and, he says, the family name will continue “in a certain way” as his daughter Gina Agnew opened an eponymous contemporary art gallery last year.

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