Dealer Tries to Liberate Art from the Elite

Posted filed underArt Dealers, Art Market, Internet.

German art dealer Hans Neuendorf has been a pioneering maverick in his field since the 1950s. For the last 20 years, he has been trying to use the Internet to liberate the art trade from the cult of connoisseurship surrounding dealers, gallery owners and auction houses. It’s been a rough road, but he refuses to be deterred.

Spiegel: “Hans Neuendorf, wearing a white, open-collared shirt and dark suspenders, is standing at the window of his New York office, 23 floors above the construction site at Ground Zero. Neuendorf was there when everything collapsed, and he’s there once again as everything is being rebuilt.

Neuendorf bites into a slice of quiche, his lunch. He is using white plastic utensils. He talks about that September day, 11 years ago.

He had come to the office early that day, in a building just a few minutes’ walk from the Twin Towers. Everyone was told to clear the building, and people were shouting: “The towers are collapsing.” But Neuendorf refused to leave his glass table. “No, the World Trade Center won’t fall this far,” he said.

It wasn’t until the towers had collapsed, it became dark outside and the dust began coming in through the slanted windows that Neuendorf stood up — to close the windows.

He ignored the announcement on the public-address system urging anyone left in the building to “get out now.” Instead, he wrote in emails: “We haven’t been affected.”

At the time, he says today, he thought it would be safer on the 23rd floor than down below, where everyone was panicking. He doesn’t say that it was hell, nor does he mention the poor people who were buried in the rubble. He also doesn’t say that it was the day the world changed.

The way Neuendorf tells the story, it was just another day at the office, a day when he kept his cool.

No one but Neuendorf knows whether this is true, because no one else remained with him on the 23rd floor. But it’s also safe to assume that Neuendorf wants to be perceived as something of a Bruce Willis of the art world, cool, fearless, perceptive and courageous — in other words, as someone who merely gets up to close the windows when the world around him is falling apart.

Bringing Art Auctions Online

Neuendorf, 74, has been involved in the modern art business since the 1950s. He has had a lot of experiences and has made a lot of money, and he could easily have retired to his modern villa on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, which was designed by an architect who has worked for Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. But he isn’t interested in retiring. Instead, he sits in a New York office tower and has only one goal: to thoroughly reform the art trade that has made him rich.

“If I want to sell a car, I look in the Blue Book to see how much it’s worth,” says Neuendorf, referring to a popular US guide to used-car values, “and I’m rid of the thing in a week.”

If Neuendorf has his way, paintings by the likes of Chagall, Picasso and Lichtenstein will be marketed like used cars, each provided with a list price that everyone can see and sold online to the highest bidder. His company, Artnet, has been in business for 20 years. “When it comes to art, Artnet has the most comprehensive global database,” Neuendorf says, “and now it will also become the world’s biggest auction house.” He envisions it being larger and more powerful that Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined. Selling through Artnet is faster, more transparent and, most of all, more affordable, Neuendorf says.

Last year, Artnet hosted its first auction in which a Warhol work was sold. It was a green painting with blue flowers. The minimum bid was $800,000 (€640,000). An image of the painting was posted online for six days. The bids started going up near the end of the auction. When Neuendorf went to lunch, the highest bid was still $800,000. By the time he had eaten his sandwich, the Warhol had been sold to the highest bidder — for $1.3 million.”

Read the whole story at Spiegel International.