Earlier this year, many eyebrows were raised when Bonhams acquired Nordic and American auction houses – Bukowskis, Bruun Rasmussen and Skinner.
A figure who saw this expansion was Bruno Vinciguerra, Global CEO. In 2018, he was appointed as Executive Chairman when the UK-based private equity company, Epiris, acquired the international auction house.
Before joining Bonhams, he had a wide range of roles in the consumer, luxury and technology industries – where he took senior positions at Dell, Bain & Company and Disney. Vinciguerra also served as COO at Sotheby’s, where he played a major role in Sotheby’s expansion into Beijing – the first international fine art auction house in mainland China, and in the development of the house’s digital initiatives.
The Value talked to Vinciguerra about his role, as well as Bonhams’ presence in the Asian and Western markets.
Vinciguerra and Jesper Bruun Rasmussen (former owner of Bruun Rasmussen auction house) during Bonhams' acquisition in March 2022
Why did you choose the auction industry?
What is not to like about the auction business? This is an incredibly global business that constantly throws up new challenges – such as the pandemic and, most importantly, how to stay relevant to our clients in an increasingly digital world.
On top of this excitement, I work alongside extraordinary, passionate people – many of whom are world experts in their fields – who show me wonderful objects that represent the most imaginative, interesting and important things that human minds created. This must be one of the most exciting and stimulating business environments in the world and I feel privileged to be part of it.
What type of art do you like and what do you collect?
Contemporary art and design – largely Post War.
As Bonhams Global CEO, can you tell us about your daily routine?
No two days are alike. But I would say the essence of my role is connecting people – and this runs through everything I do. That is the business we are in. I spend a lot of time with clients, as well as linking people from different departments and functions in Bonhams around globe to make sure the organisation keeps ticking.
Keith Haring's Untitled (The Church of the Ascension Grace House Mural), circa 1983/1984 | Bonhams New York, 2019 | Sold: US$3,860,075
A print of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) was the most expensive lot at Modern & Contemporary Prints and Multiples Sale | Bonhams New York, 2022 | Sold: US$353,175
What are some unique characteristics that sets Bonhams apart from other international auction houses?
I would say three things: the diversity of what we do – we have sales in more than 60 different categories – our price points and our ability to be global and hyperlocal at the same time. This is the niche we are carving out.
Bonhams’ long-term strategy is to achieve leadership in the core market – for example, a price range of between £2,000 and 1 million pounds (around US$2,500 to 1.2 million dollars). We regularly sell pieces for more than £1 million pounds – but the day-to-day focus of the business is on the core. Currently, for example, our Prints and Multiples Sales – which occupy the centre ground in terms of price – are doing phenomenally well everywhere. At the same time, we are selling pieces – such as the gun that killed Billy the Kid for $6 million dollars.
Our international reach enables us to present Bonhams with confidence to buyers and sellers alike as the world’s local auction house. Anybody who consigns to Bonhams has 11 auction venues around the world, where we can offer their pieces for sale and to which we can tour major objects and put them in front of potential buyers. In August 2022, for example, we will be exhibiting highlights from the outstanding Rousset Collection of Asian Art in Hong Kong. The sale itself will take place in Paris, but a lot of potential buyers are in Asia – and we will give them the chance to see the objects in person.
The gun Sheriff Pat Garrett used to kill Billy the Kid in 1881 set a world auction record for any firearm | Bonhams Los Angeles, 2021 | Sold: US$6,030,313
Billy the Kid was a notorious American outlaw during the 19th century
Considering Bonhams’ recent expansion in the Nordic region and the US, why does Bonhams expand in both areas? Is it to build a big auction corporate umbrella?
The determination to extend our global reach was firmly behind the acquisitions we have made this year. Bukowskis, Bruun Rasmussen and Skinner are all great auction houses – much loved by their loyal and passionate clients. The three are in the Bonhams’ mould and a natural extension of our world’s local auction house approach. The benefits are mutual – Bonhams gains access to a whole new data base of clients; our new auction houses get access to our international network.
Nordic auction house, Bukowskis, was acquired by Bonhams in January 2022
American auction house, Skinner, was acquired by Bonhams in March 2022
With this expansion in the West, art collectors can feel as if Bonhams is not paying attention to the Asian market. How do you respond to this?
These acquisitions are in addition to not a substitute for growing our own markets. Asia is a key region for us – Asian buyers account for 33 per cent of our sales worldwide – and we are pouring huge energy and resource into the Asian market. In March 2022, for example, we appointed Julia Hu as Managing Director, Asia. She has vast strategic experience and, as a priority, will be concentrating on analysing the nature and pace of change in the Asian market Asia and getting us into the right place to respond.
What are some advantages and difficulties for international auction house to gain foothold in mainland China?
It is not simply about our physical presence as auctioneers in Hong Kong – as important as that is. As far as mainland China is concerned, it is also about the contacts we build by being on the ground. That has a tremendous effect on sales around the world, as clients then look to bid in London and New York.