1 600 lots, some four years of valuation, 7 destinations for the travelling exhibition…The exceptional sale of the Rockefeller collection required almost equally exceptional planning.

It came here, it went there… After an intensive marketing campaign, the Rockefeller collection went on show in Paris on the 16th of March before heading off for Christie’s New York in May. This potential new “sale of the century” as it was heralded could possibly attain 500 million dollars and thus dethrone the Bergé - Saint Laurent collection. For an exceptional sale, an exceptional organisation.

 “The first difficulty we encountered was with the inventory and valuation of the some 1 600 lots which began four years earlier when Christie’s was awarded the contract”, explains Jonathan Rendell, vice-president of Christie's Americas and charged with contact with the Rockefeller estate. For both tax reasons and more simply because part of the collection hung on David Rockefeller’s residence’s walls, much could not be done before the patriarch passed away last March.

"The second difficulty was the organisation of taking part of the collection across the globe” the specialist continues. Never before had there been a travelling exhibition of works to be auctioned on this scale: Hong Kong, then London, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, and finally New York. The Bergé -Saint Laurent collections (Christie's) and Alfred Taubman collection (Sotheby's) marked just three stops. 

"When talking about exhibitions, we can talk about variable geometry”, says Jonathan Rendell. “We select works depending on the local market. In Paris we exhibited Picasso’s Young Girl with a Flower Basket, once acquired by Gertrude Stein, while in Hong Kong we exhibited impressionist and post-impressionist works". Partnerships were another key point of the sale. Global aviation business company Vistajet sponsored transport of exhibits, and organised a number of events as well as a tour of the different destinations for its best clients. Real estate agencies Strutt & Parker in London, and Paris’s Daniel Féau and Belles demeures de France were also partners.

With selected charities benefiting from the sale, does Christie’s intend to receive significantly reduces fees as is common practice? “This is under discussion” replies Jonathan Rendell. The specialist is no more talkative when asked about reserve prices, often reduced in this kind of event. "These shall be considered on a case-by-case basis", he indicates.

Supported by a meticulous communication strategy, with promotion videos, press campaigns and social media maintaining and feeding the suspense, the sale was held at New York’s Rockefeller Center where the entire building was dedicated to the occasion.  The two evenings and three days of sales retransmitted by Facebook Live mobilised 400 people, with each telephone intermediary charged with his or her own client or clients. An exceptional showcase for the auction house.

Translate by Simon Goodman.

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