XVIII. Board of Directors of Sotheby s Auction House. Chair: Liz Studlick

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1 XVIII Board of Directors of Sotheby s Auction House Chair: Liz Studlick

2 Letter from the Chair Delegates, Welcome to BUSUN 2014! My name is Liz Studlick, and I ll be your chair for Sotheby s this year. I m a junior at Brown who s concentrating in Economics and who dabbles in Literary Arts. I ve done Model UN since my freshman year of high school; this will be my third BUSUN and my second time chairing my own committee. Last year, I ran Dutch East India Company, which started as a modified crisis committee about merchants in the 17th century with updates every few hours about trade positions, and evolved into a full-on crisis, complete with staff coming in dressed as Japanese emperors. This committee will break with some of the traditions of Model UN you ll be simulating a leadership team across an organization, rather than countries in a UN assembly. You ll see your actions playing out more quickly over the course of the sessions. You ll be writing less official resolutions and using your individual powers more; any good solution to the problems posed in this committee should draw on consensus from the entire board, but will involve some maneuvering and competition. In short, if you love Model UN-style debate but are tired of everyone agreeing over the importance of access to clean water for all and arguing over sovereignty: come, join the dark side. We have expensive art. Sincerely, Liz Studlick 16 2

3 Committee Details What is this committee, exactly? In this committee, delegates will simulate the board of directors and leadership of Sotheby s. For the purpose of debate, several non-literal members of the board will be included namely, heads of curation within Sotheby s and several activist investors who, at the time of this writing, are currently lobbying for places on the board. Structure and Format of Debate Debate will begin in traditional parliamentary procedure, opening on a specific topic and beginning with a formal speakers list. The committee will quickly transition to de-facto moderated caucus, with unmoderated caucus or other styles of debate (popcorn and round robin) introduced as needed. Procedural matters will be decided by a simple majority. External events will occur more slowly than in a traditional crisis committee, with material updates coming in once every few hours. Delegates will also participate in proxy votes occurring twice over the course of the weekend, with shareholders casting votes through committee members. This will be explained at the start of committee. Expected Documents and Actions This committee will produce a variety of documents similar to ones you may have seen in previous committees, but with a slight twist. Strategy Plans: These will function similar to resolutions. Members must pass these detailed documents of plans for the company with a 2/3 majority, which are released both internally and externally. These can range from full-on business changes to single policy issues, but if larger or more controversial may be decided by a proxy vote at the discretion of the chair. Press and Shareholder Releases: Short statements to the public or shareholders reacting to recent events or announcing upcoming strategy plans. These can be passed by the body by a 2/3 majority or 3

4 can be released unilaterally by members. (Or leaked to the press, if you choose to be sneaky.) Referendums and Proxy Voting Materials: Issues can be brought before shareholders to be decided by a proxy vote. There must be a majority of the committee members as signatories in order to be included on the ballot. Members may unilaterally send out campaign materials or prefilled ballots to be mailed in to rally support for their position to shareholders, though members resources may limit the scope of action. Portfolio Powers: Committee members will have portfolio powers according to their external roles. For example, if you manage a hedge fund, you will have access to extensive funds; if you also lead another company, you will have valuable business connections; if you re a curator, you will hold power within the organization. These portfolio powers will be assigned to you privately at the beginning of session, though none should come as huge surprises to other members. Note: due to this being a modified crisis, with no back-room crisis staff, I ask that you use portfolio powers wisely and only for well thought-out actions. Notes to the chair asking to use my money to sway shareholders or use my connections to gather more information will probably not garner the kind of results you want. Conference Preparation Delegates are expected to submit one position paper prior to the conference covering all three topics, with a length of between two and six pages double-spaced. Delegates should feel free to devote as much or as little space to each topic as desired within these guidelines. Delegates without position papers will not be considered for awards. If you understand the background of the person you re representing and the basics of all three topics, you ll do just fine. If you want to do very well, please come to session with ideas on solutions and strategy. Committee Members Board Members and Executives (8) William F. Ruprecht, President and CEO of Sotheby s Bruno Vinciguerra, COO and Executive Vice President of Sotheby s Stoker Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire Domenico De Sole, President and CEO of Gucci, Chairman of Tom Ford International John Angelo, Hedge Fund Manager in Non-Traditional Investments Michael Sovern, 17th President of Columbia University Diana Taylor, Managing Director of Wolfensohn Fund Management, Mayor Michael Bloomberg s Companion Robert S. Taubman, Chairman and CEO of Taubman Centers 4

5 Heads of Curation (6) David Norman, Executive Vice President and Co-Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art Worldwide Alex Rotter, Co-Head of Contemporary Art Worldwide Evelyn Lin, Head of Contemporary Asian Art George Wachter, Chairman of Old Master Paintings David Bennet, Chairman of Europe and the Middle East, International Jewellery Nicolas Chow, Deputy Chairman, Asia, International Head, Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art Activist Investors (4) Richard Mcguire, Founder of Marcato Capital Management Olivier Reza, jewelry designer Harry J. Wilson, investor and restructuring expert Daniel Loeb, Founder of Third Point 5

6 Background History Sotheby s was originally established in 1744 in London as Baker and Leigh, an auction house for rare books. This makes it one of the very first auction houses its modern rival, Christie s, was founded in In 1804, George Leigh and John Sotheby took ownership of the company, and by 1816 the Sotheby family had secured their place at the head of the auction house. Sotheby s expanded to prints, medals, and other decorative objects. Sotheby s moved into the art world at the turn of the 20th century, gaining cachet with successful Dutch painting auctions. By the 1920s, Sotheby s came to rival Christie s, though it wasn t until the 1955 that the company expanded to the United States, buying up Parke-Bernet, a large American auction house, and moving to Madison Avenue in New York. Sotheby s went public on the UK stock market in 1977, but suffered a series of financial setbacks, moving from its Madison Avenue headquarters and selling off galleries across the country. Led by Alfred Taubman, a group of investors purchased Sotheby s in 1982, privatizing it and getting the company back on its feet. The company was finally put on the New York Stock Exchange in 1988 under the symbol BID. Today, Sotheby s has a variety of businesses with main offices on York Avenue in New York and New Bond Street in London, and dozens of offices around the world, including Hong Kong and Moscow. In 2013, its sales totaled $5.1 billion. It operates both public auctions and private sales, and provides valuations and storage for art. Sotheby s operates a finance department that provides loans for clients with works of art as collateral. Sotheby s occupies a powerful position in the art world, functioning essentially as one member of a duopoly over the market, along with Christie s, with which it continues a bitter rivalry. It has turned art auctions into society events, which largely function as theater most pieces sold already have minimum guarantees on them, and likely bidders are scouted and influenced months before the auction. Recently, Sotheby s faced a takeover attempt by Daniel Loeb and Richard Mcguire, hedge fund managers and activist investors who believe the company is mismanaged and undervalued. Loeb and 6

7 Mcguire would like to see the firm expand globally and digitally, and expand more on non-auctioning businesses. Loeb has acquired almost 9.6% of the company; Mcguire sits at 6.6%. Sotheby s board released a poison pill in October 2013, keeping Loeb from acquiring more shares. Loeb nominated three members to the board himself, Olivier Reza, and Harry J. Wilson which the board initially rejected. In late May, all three were approved and joined the board. Since then, however, the company has not turned around. Its private sales declined to $291 million in the first half of 2014, down from $561 million a year earlier, contributing to a 15% decline in earnings. Some of this likely has to do with the departure of head auctioneer Tobias Meyer. The company announced a restructuring in July, laying off a number of staff members and causing the stock price to jump. In either case, Sotheby s reputation is faltering, and in the art world, reputation is everything. 7

8 Topic 1: The Chinese Market The Chinese art market is booming. In 2013, auction revenues were up 900% over China has finally outpaced the US, selling $8.9 billion compared to an American $8.1 billion. The new upper class is buying up Chinese works en masse, whether it be traditional brushwork from masters like Qi Baishi. contemporary art mimicking the old style, or antiquities and calligraphy. Middle-class members are eager to get in on the art boom, purchasing less expensive works and gravitating towards antiques. Though the auction movement has been far-reaching in terms of class in China, with the newly rich and middle classes mingling in a casual atmosphere, the top prices have been eye-popping, with records set every week. With high-profile prices have come high-profile scandals. Artists in China produce high-quality forgeries, as many are trained in the old styles and study off the same old works being auctioned off. In 2010, a $10 million painting supposedly by Xu Beihong was exposed for being produced 30 years after his death by an art student. There are an estimated 250,000 people involved in creating and selling fakes in the country, creating an atmosphere of doubt amid a booming market. With few regulations and very young auction houses, there is little credibility in the market. This has led to serious issues of nonpayment the China Association of Auctioneers found that half of sales of artwork over $1.5 million over the past three years were not completed. The default rate in New York and London for similar works is negligible. Chinese authorities have moved to bring in reforms, including suspending auction houses for forgery, requiring disclosures of non-payments, and requiring deposits from bidders. A concerning detail about the Chinese art market is the practice of elegant bribery. Also known as Yahui, elegant bribery is an umbrella term that refers to two different phenomena: one that involves businessmen or government officials giving works of art in lieu of a cash bribe, and one that involves auction said work of art so that the original giver can purchase it for an inflated sum. The first method keeps bribery off the books; the second method allows the bribe to be accounted for in a seemingly legitimate way. In a market filled with forgeries, those caught with the gifts can claim that the work is fake, lowering its value as a bribe, or real, legitimating the purchase. Either way, this form of bribery is discreet and difficult to prosecute. Elegant bribery has been a practice earliest recorded in China in the 16th century, but the modern art market has allowed it to flourish once more. The extent to which this is practiced is unknown, though many believe it to be largely in smaller auction houses and with less high-profile works think furniture and scrolls, not famous pieces. However, if Sotheby s chooses to further 8

9 involve itself in the Chinese market, or pursue the selling of cultural relics, this must be something Sotheby s is aware of to avoid tainting its image. The market for Chinese art first arose in the early 20th century, as civil strife led to the Chinese selling off prized family heirlooms and antiques en masse. Before, the Western world was primarily interested in Qing ceramics. Art dealers like C.T. Loo made it their mission to educate Western collectors about the value of Chinese works, including earlier pottery, jade carvings, and calligraphy. Though this created a global audience for Chinese work, it also deprived the country of many of its most valuable pieces. In 1949, Chinese exports of art stopped abruptly with the rise of communism. The internal art market has only picked up again in the past decade. The Chinese art market has been largely sheltered from the Western world since its new rise. None of the major London auction houses were given access to the mainland for years. Notably, Christie s was given a license to operate in China and began holding its first auctions in fall of Sotheby s entered a joint venture in 2012 with state-owned Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group. However, both companies are only able to sell watches, wine, jewelry and contemporary art; relics and traditional Chinese art are off-limits for foreign auction houses due to laws protecting cultural heritage. Sotheby s still can sell these items through Hong Kong, where wealthy Chinese mainlanders make up half of the clientele, but are shut out of this lucrative business in Beijing. Approximately 70% of work over $1 million is sold in Hong Kong, but large amounts of lower-priced works are sold in the mainland. Beijing Poly International Auction, part of a state-run conglomerate, has become the thirdlargest auction house in the world, with sale totaling $1 billion in Spun off from a military company founded by several high-profile Communist Party members, the company is largely protected from government regulation, though there have been recent attacks on it given issues of non-payment and exaggerations of profits. The company s presence has exploded in the past decade, recently eclipsing China Guardian, the oldest major auctioneer on the Chinese mainland, regarded as the more cautious, well-established auction house. Beijing Hanhai Auction Co. is also a large competitor. In lieu of selling older art and antiques, Sotheby s has been aggressively pursuing contemporary Chinese art, selling $37 million worth in its first auction in Beijing, and targeting younger clientele. This strategy has largely been successful, with the highest price for a Chinese work globally in 2013 set by Sotheby s with a gilt-bronze Shakyamuni Buddha figure at $30 million. However, the fact that Sotheby s is shut out of a large sector antiques and traditional art in mainland China hinders it from truly dominating the Chinese art market. Questions for consideration: Should Sotheby s continue its joint venture or attempt to gain an independent license like Christie s? Should Sotheby s expand its presence in Beijing? In Hong Kong? Should Sotheby s try to expand in a particular area (e.g., contemporary art, jewelry)? Should it lobby to sell more traditional works? How can Sotheby s brand and reputation work for it in the Chinese market? 9

10 Topic 2: Combatting Forgery Art forgery has been part of art for centuries. Romans copied Greek sculptures and ceramics; Renaissance painters sold their students work under their own names. Signatures on paintings only arose from the commoditization of art and the high demand for verified works, and with this came the potential of signature forgery. Even Michelangelo participated in forgery, burying his own sculpted cupid in acidic earth to age it and sell it to a Cardinal. Modern forgery has two major actors: the creators of the piece and those who sell it as something it is not. Forgers typically target deceased artists, and will often copy well-known works with a few different details to pass it off as an earlier version of the work or simply work in a similar style. Dealer and auction houses may be unwitting accomplices, or may know about a work s true origins and go as far as to create false documentation. Though forgery is an old tradition, recent claims and paranoia about it have skyrocketed. Due to the booming art market, some claim that dealers and institutions have more of an incentive to pass off fake works, and buyers may not look as carefully in this fast-paced market. Thomas Hoving, late director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, estimated that 40% of works on the market in the late 1990s were forgeries. Sotheby s is not powerless in the fight against forgery. It keeps a large department of art specialists and archivists. Many forgeries are easily caught through examination it is difficult for forgers to mimic exact techniques, and many have difficulty finding materials from the correct time period. Commonly, artists will use pigments or materials that hadn t yet been in use. Carbon dating and x-ray examinations can also be used to detect fraud. New digital methods using wavelet compression have had initial success. Despite this fact, Sotheby s, given its place in the market, has still seen its share of forgeries. In 2000, Sotheby s and Christie s offered the same Gauguin painting, Vase de Fleurs, for auction. Christie s discovered that their copy was a forgery, which led to the arrest of Ely Sakhai, an art dealer who had sold many paintings to Sotheby s in the past. More recently, in 2012, Diamantis Diamantides, a Greek shipping magnate, filed a lawsuit against Sotheby s for selling him two Parthenis forgeries in The court ruled that it was indeed a forgery, and the reputation of Sotheby s suffered, with its European 10

11 Paintings sale running at the same time failing to sell most of its Greek artwork. Despite Sotheby s high standards and clean reputation, the art market can be skittish, and single forgery can ruin a season of selling. Concerningly, in late 2013, Gong Fu Tie, a Chinese calligraphy piece purchased from Sotheby s by a Chinese businessman for $8.2 million, was declared a forgery by experts from the Shanghai Museum. Sotheby s and the staff of the purchaser s private museum published their own results within months confirming its authenticity, which has not been rebutted. Although Sotheby s is armed with both experienced staff and a credible brand image, it faces increasing claims on its authority. In a skeptical marketplace, the need to verify Sotheby s work is more important than ever. The line between forgery and original work has grown more blurred than ever with the dawn of postmodernism. For example, Richard Prince began rephotographing old advertisements and selling them at auction. Untitled (Cowboy), a picture of a Marlboro advertisement, fetched over $1 million at Christie s in Although the risk of forgery is quite different, as many appropriative artists are upfront about the nature of their work, the question of authenticity could prove a challenge for Sotheby s contemporary showings. Questions for consideration: How can Sotheby s combat forgery? How can Sotheby s defend its work from accusations? 11

12 Topic 3: Digital Sales and Presence As we enter an increasingly digital and international age, where bidders are not only the upper crust of New York or London but new investors from far-flung locales, Sotheby s is tasked with the creation of an online strategy. Sotheby s current auction model, while lucrative, relies largely on old-fashioned networking. Much of the auctioned work has been guaranteed before auction at a minimum price by established collectors; most of the bidders are known weeks before the bidding commences, with intel coming from cold calls and overheard cocktail conversation. Highly skilled auctioneers memorize faces and play the crowd. This model, though charming, will become outmoded in the years to come. As evidenced by the explosion of the Chinese market, art buyers will increasingly not be buying in-person in New York. Though Sotheby s does maintain active phone lines during auction and many are sold to those not in the room, much of those calls are placed only to pre-identified interested bidders. There will always be a need for high-society in-person auctions, but by not focusing on a web-based solution, Sotheby s is missing out on a large class of interested customers. Sotheby s past forays into the digital auctions include a partnership with Amazon, branded as Sothebys.com and Sothebys.amazon.com. Launched in 1999, the Sotheby s-amazon site offered auctions of lower-priced memorabilia and collectibles from licensed dealers; Sotheby s own site covered mid-range online-only art auctions. Amazon invested $35 million in Sotheby s as part of the deal. After eighteen months, the two sites were consolidated, with Sothebys.com being advertised on Amazon s homepage. In 2002, Sotheby s entered a partnership with ebay, powering their own site with ebay s technology. The partnership never turned a profit; the company was forced to shutter the online-only auctions in 2003, focusing on integrating real world and online auctions. Since then, Sotheby s has offered streaming for its live auctions and has accepted bids through its site, but has no separate online marketplace. In recent years, online-only auctions have been growing. Auction sites like Paddle8 and Artnet have been rapidly expanding; Amazon has launched Amazon Art, which sells art rather than auctions it. Notably, Christie s began offering exclusive digital auctions in 2012, which it has steadily expanded every year. Despite this growth, only 2% of art sales in 2012 came from the Internet. Most online auctions, even those of Christie s, focus on less expensive art and try to appeal to collectors new to the art world 12

13 or looking to invest at lower price points. In July 2014, Sotheby s announced a new partnership with ebay, targeting the midrange art market, with works ideally ranging between $5,000 and $100,000, which make up about half of Sotheby s sold lots. The partnership kicked off with a live auction in New York as well as a newly designed art portal within ebay that will launch later this year. Stock fell to $38 a share from $40 following the announcement and attracted heavy skepticism, though the potential market share could be huge. Sotheby s also has another potential entry point into the online auction world: wine. Season after season, the company continues to close successful auctions of rare wine, with cases going for as much as $167,508 in the past year. Christie s is also very competitive in the field, setting similar high prices. However, Christie s also offers online-only auctions for high-end wine, allowing itself to reach different levels of collectors. The are plenty of sites that reach the legions of low- to mid-range collectors, with WineBid.com ( fine wine for the privileged many ) being the largest and dominating the higher-end segment of the market. On Sotheby s site itself, there seems to be no comprehensive online sales strategy. Although it has offered online auctions, they are never standalone, and broadcasted in tandem with the live auction. The work being offered is the same as offered in person, which mostly appeals to Sotheby s root clientele searching for more expensive work. Although these online auctions are useful tool for our most valued customers, Sotheby s Internet presence should reach out to a larger marketplace. Online bidders only competed for 17% of Sotheby s auctions in Online-only auctions could be a way to find new audiences, who could later move up to more expensive artwork. In addition, Sotheby s online image is lacking. Though the site has recently been redone, it has not had major ad campaigns in quite some time. Christie s, by comparison, has a much stronger web presence, which may go hand-in-hand with its more accessible digital auctions. Despite being one of the two largest auction houses and one of the most important players in the art market, Sotheby s is suffering from a lack of attention beyond the typical art press. Currently, Sotheby s maintains a Twitter account with around 42,000 followers, as well as a Facebook fan page with 97,800 likes. It has recently attempted to woo young collectors with digital media, especially video 300 short films in 2013 alone. However, its prestige and brand name could be further leveraged, and its digital identity could grow. On the other hand, part of Sotheby s appeal is its exclusivity. Some detractors have claimed that the company s previous attempts at online-only or low cost auctions failed in part because of Sotheby s brand, which is high-end, matching poorly with its partners. Questions for Consideration: How should Sotheby s manage its partnership with ebay? Should Sotheby s expand its online component of real-life auctions? How should Sotheby s market its brand and compete with Christie s? What can be done about its digital presence? How can Sotheby s balance sophistication and exclusivity with accessibility? 13

14 Works Cited Agovino, Theresa. Christie s Ventures into E-world. Crain s New York Business. Crain s New York Busi ness, 7 Aug Web. 15 Sept <http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/ /tech NOLOGY/ /christies-ventures-into-e-world>. Authenticity of Gong Fu Tie calligraphy confirmed: museum. Global Times, People s Daily, 18 Feb Web. 15 Sept <http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/ shtml>. Barboza, David, Graham Bowley, and Amanda Cox. Forging an Art Market in China. Nytimes.com. The New York Times, n.d. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/china-art-fraud/>. Boroff, Philip. What Sotheby s Isn t Advertising About Its Private Sales. Artnet news, artnet, 12 Aug Web. 15 Sept <http://news.artnet.com/market/what-sothebys-isnt-advertising-about-itsprivate-sales-76590>. Bowley, Graham, and David Barboza. An Art Power Rises in China, Posing Issue for Reform. Nytimes. com. New York Times, n.d. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/china-poly-auction/>. Halperin, Julia. Greek Drama: Court Rules Sotheby s Sold Forged Painting to Shipping Tycoon. Blouin Art Info, Louise Blouin Media, 14 June Web. 18 Sept <http://www.blouinartinfo.com/ news/story/808624/greek-drama-court-rules-sothebys-sold-forged-painting-to>. Kazakina, Katya. Billionaire Loeb Confirmed as Sotheby s New Board Member. Bloomberg.com. Bloomb erg, 29 May Web. 15 Sept < Kinsella, Eileen. Picassos and Pez Dispensers? Sotheby s and ebay Team Up (Again). Artnet news, artnet, 14 July Web. 15 Sept <http://news.artnet.com/market/picassos-and-pez-dispenserssothebys-and-ebay-team-up-again-60528>. McAndrew, Clare. Chinese Art Market Rebounds to $8.5 Billion in Artnet news, artnet, 17 Sept Web. 18 Sept <http://news.artnet.com/market/chinese-art-market-rebounds-to-85-billion-in >. Sotheby s K Filing. Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg, 17 Feb Web. 15 Sept <http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/financials/drawfiling.asp?dockey= r1avopafvls5i2vtm53n0rqe0&docformat=htm&formtype=10k>. 14

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