10 questions with Cassi Young, Senior Specialist at Bonhams

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November 6, 2022
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6 min read
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Please share your art world journey. What is your role at Bonhams?

I grew up in Australia and it is there that I undertook a Bachelor of Arts with Honours and then a Double Masters in Art History and Curatorial Museum Studies. My first full time position out of university was at an auction house in Sydney, Australia. Having worked in the Australian market for about 4 years, I felt it was time to embark on a new challenge and so I made the move to London. My first role in the UK was at Christie’s in their Post-War & Contemporary Art department and I then moved to the Post-War & Contemporary Art department at Bonhams three years later in 2019. I am a Senior Specialist and my focus is to help grow business for the department and work with clients and to assist them with their collections, whether that is offering their works for sale or advising them on what to buy next.

Can you tell us a little about how auction houses are structured?

Auction houses are often quite large global businesses, certainly Bonhams is now the largest auction house in the world with more salesrooms and departments than any other international house. We have offices and salesrooms in Europe, North America, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Australia. There are many various departments and can generally be split into the Specialist departments; so those that specialise in certain areas of expertise and work with clients to buy and sell property. The beauty of auction houses is that we have such a wide range of departments - people can come to an auction house to sell or buy fine art, furniture, jewellery, motorcars and handbags all under one roof.

Then there are the important support departments such as marketing, press, finance, photography, porters, client services to name but a few, who without them, the auction house could not function.

How are sales/post sales conducted?

The auctions are conducted either as a live auction or online. The former is the more traditional platform where the auctioneer will stand on the rostrum and take the sale in front of bidders who are physically in the room. But there are also clients who are bidding online via the website or our app, and those who are on the phone bidding via Bonhams staff. When people think of auction houses, historically the image of an auctioneer up on the rostrum with a gavel in hand is the image which comes to mind. However, over the past few years auction houses have really embraced online auctions. The online platform is generally timed over a set period whereby clients can bid on their desired lots over several days and pivot from one artwork to the next. It provides a bit more flexibility for international clients and means that we can offer sales frequently with more varied price points and with a greater volume, therefore reaching a wider audience.

How would you say Bonhams’ strategy differs from other auction houses?

Bonhams strategy is to provide the best personal service as the most approachable global auction house. This is rooted in our presence with many representatives and specialists across the world who provide wonderful expertise on a local level but connect our clients to our global network. If you look at the various auction houses that Bonhams has acquired recently such Cornette de Saint Cyr in France and Belgium, Bruun Rasmussen in Denmark, Bukowski’s in Sweden and Skinner in the US, these respective houses have retained their identities and maintained their presence within their local communities. They have been trusted and respected over many decades and this new partnership with Bonhams allows access to our global community and likewise allows Bonhams to connect with new clients.

How do you set out sourcing and curating your lots?

As art specialists, we are in constant contact with collectors and we form long lasting relationships with these clients so that when the time is right to offer their work for sale, we can present a considered sale strategy that will achieve the best result. We also have a strong international network which allows us to source consignments from all over the world, connecting works from Australia to new buyers say in London or Hong Kong.

Curating a sale or an exhibition is incredibly important, as it is vital to set the rhythm and tone which creates anticipation and excitement and so that the works speak to each other in the right context. If for example we receive an early consignment of a Frank Auerbach painting, we will then aim to build a thoughtful selection around this piece and look to source other London School artists so that a theme flows through the auction or exhibition.

How do you go about choosing artists?

We look primarily to represent artists who already have an international auction market; those with a demand for their oeuvre. But we also strongly believe in championing artists who have been overlooked and undervalued. For example, Bonhams has been one of the main auction houses to promote and achieve incredible results this year for the American artist Lynne Drexler, who has long been denied the recognition she deserves as a pioneering second-generation Abstract Expressionist artist. Similarly, I am very passionate about encouraging and promoting young contemporary artists; we were the first to offer works by Flora Yukhnovich on the international secondary market back in April 2021.

Can you tell us a little but about the recent rise in emerging artists at auction?

I think collectors are hungry for works by exciting young artists who are pushing the boundaries. There has been a clear move towards figuration with bright garish colours, hyper real figures, and somewhat surreal imagery but the market is also pulled towards the pulsating abstract paintings of the likes of Lauren Quin or the deeply emotive and vivid canvases of Jadé Fadojutimi. With this present demand, it can be a little difficult for collectors to buy works on the primary market as waiting lists are often long and the supply is limited, so when works appear at auction by a desired artist, collectors jump at the opportunity.

Do you think the recent NFT Boom is at all correlated with an increase of interest in contemporary and emerging art?

I think for sure that there is a connection here. Although NFTs have been around for years and indeed Generative Art was first introduced decades ago, it was in 2021 that NFTs were really thrust to the forefront with an explosion onto the international market. Somewhat for the same reason that we discussed above with the rise in emerging artists, this has translated across to NFT artists and occurred simultaneously. Combined with the rise of cryptocurrency, this has resulted in a big push and recognition globally.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about the physiological aspect thats auctions utilise to conduct sales (any aspect)?

There is certainly an ebb and flow to an auction which comes back to the point about curating a sale and setting the right tone. One of the aspects that people enjoy about an auction is the urgency and excitement created around this singular moment, and we do think about lot placement. Setting estimates at an attractive price point is also an important factor and encourages our clients (both existing and new) to get involved.  

How is the current market? Is now a good time to buy/sell at auction and why?

The market has been incredibly buoyant for the past two years. As we have touched on, there is a real demand for contemporary art and so in many ways it is a good time to both buy and sell. It’s a great time for sellers because the demand is there, and on the flip side it’s a great time to buy because this demand is encouraging sellers to offer their works, providing more opportunities to acquire works at auction.

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