Home' Scoop Homes and Art : SHA 30 Spring 2011 Contents 86 HOMES & ART SPRING 2011
Benedict Pownall | A rare talent
corporate collections management to ban ks
and blue chip customers.
“This was a completely new product for
Sotheby’s and it provided a great return,”
he says. Benedict proved a valuable asset
in the business of creating wealth from the
arts. Soon he was running the department
across Australia, New Zealand and Asia,
and in 2003 he was invited to London to
provide the same service in Europe.
Of the move he recalls, “I didn’t think,
I just jumped. My interest in Europe began
at age six when my parents took my five
siblings and me away for a year travelling
the Continent in a camper van.”
This experience, which included home
schooling and lots of adventure, set the
tone for a love of travel and an invincible
attitude. “My mother bought a house in the
south of France before it was fashionable.
My father used to do a lot of business in
London and my sister went to school in
Switzerland, so my family has always
had a strong association with Europe.”
In 2007, Benedict became a director at
Sotheby’s, and since then he’s weathered
the global financial crisis. Like many
sectors of the economy, the art market was
severely hit by the economic downturn.
“One segment of our customer base just
disappeared overnight,” he says. “Before
2008, we’d seen a steady rise of a new,
younger customer – the City, hedge-fund
set – who were purchasing art speculatively,
at times making huge returns.”
Fortunately, signs of recovery are
starting to show, with Sotheby’s reporting a
first-quarter revenue increase of 17 per cent.
The core clientele (“traditional scholarly
collectors”) remain as important as ever,
and the Russian client base that started
to rise in the 1990s, although still strong,
is now joined by the incredibly powerful
Chinese consumers, who are perhaps partly
responsible for this unprecedented boom.
Despite an exhausting schedule that sees
him in New York every six weeks, and on
tour with highlight exhibitions before big
sales (which includes visits to Moscow and
Qatar), he still finds time to lecture at the
Sotheby’s Institute. “The lectures help me
sharpen the tools,” says Benedict.
His appreciation for fine art has
developed significantly over time. Invited
to major art fairs and exhibition openings
across the globe, he still takes pleasure in
perusing London’s small, private galleries.
“Approximately 80 per cent of the best art
in the world is in private hands,” he adds,
“and because Sotheby’s is the conduit
between custodians of the work I get to see
important pieces every day.”
As for his personal collection, it includes
Australian and European contemporary
pieces, plus Aboriginal bark paintings, and
his new passion, 17th century old masters.
“My advice for purchasing a piece of
art is to buy what you love, buy something
typical of that artist’s work, buy as big as
you can afford.” Given his curriculum vitae,
his collection is probably very valuable.
Benedict’s love of art has grown with his job description, and he
can appreciate all types of works, from 17th century old masters
to contemporary pieces and Indigenous Australian works.
ABOVE A photograph by Perth’s Gina Rodgers of Sculpture by
the Sea, Sydney. TOP A work by Aboriginal artist Bob Bilinyarra.
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