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Bidding for Art Talent in Asia

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Demand Paradigm Shift for Art Professionals in Asia

Evolving business and operation models have transformed the art world, and created a new paradigm shift for art professionals in Asia. Apart from the conventional art and antiquity sales, new art businesses such as online auctions, art brokerages, art financing, art funds, indexes and derivatives, art insurance, storage and logistics are enhancing the sophistication and depth of the art world and fuelling demand for art professionals across the board.

Over the past 3 years, Hong Kong has quickly established itself as the world’s third major centre for fine art and antiques. Leading international and Chinese auction houses and galleries have established bases in Hong Kong, while art fairs of varying breadth – as well as a growing support base of museums and galleries – continue to draw regional interest in the art scene.

Vicky Wong, Founder and Managing Consultant of EPC Art Search (a recruitment specialist catering to the regional art industry) has witnessed first-hand the hiring challenges presented by

this booming market. According to Wong, “Asia’s scramble for art professionals is severe, and has been compounded by fierce competition from deep-coffered Chinese art auction houses, private and public museums, galleries, and art institutions, as well as Singapore’s government-backed aspirations to become an Asian art center. There are simply not eno

ugh experienced art professionals in Hong Kong to meet demand.”

The Aura of World-Class Art Professionals

While client-facing roles are most in demand due to their unique position as ‘value contributors’, candidates in all streams of the art business are highly sought after. However, visionary business leaders with in-depth art specialty knowledge, business achievements, and the ability to inspire and influence are relatively uncommon in the art market. “They are a rare species,” explains Wong. “Those who are passionate, yet able to channel their passion into business revenue and profit, without losing their vision and creativity for the commercial front.”

In this blossoming industry, specialty knowledge is as important as the ability to engage clients and business partners throughout the region. Wong likens these rare individuals to the works of art they deal with on a daily basis: “Outstanding art executives are like a Ming Dynasty Cheng-hua chicken cup, a rare fine Sanyu or Picasso, or an exceptional Barbara Hutton jadeite necklace. They embody subtle beauty and charisma, and are there to shine.”

What Makes Art Executives Tick?

Art executives are a rare and sometimes eccentric species. Driven by passion, vision, and unique life aspirations, their motivators may not be monetary reward, glory or fame. The question then becomes how to motivate top achievers and performers to work under a business structure and platform to meet collective goals and corporate objectives.

In a business with a scarce talent pool, a well-structured talent attraction and retention strategy becomes paramount. Demonstrated achievers tend to move freely in the market, and employer branding is essential to attracting top talent.

Wong explains, “It is crucial to understand the passion and aspiration of an art executive – this is what motivates their performance and their job movements. In the art business, charismatic leadership, compassionate management style, strong vision, and art excitement are crucial to retaining the hearts, minds and ideas of their executives. Compassionate understanding and communication in their own frames of reference allow these achievers to shine.”

“The industry’s changing needs are driving new growth and new talent into the industry,” Wong remarked. “Conventional art professionals are still in demand for the core art business. However there is new demand for management and financial talent – with the vision and transferable skill-sets to evolve the art market. A creative vision, open mind, and broad comfort zone, are crucial to absorb and integrate new talent to bring in new dynamism into more and more sophisticated and competitive market.”

Recent appointments confirm this trend, such as that of Steven Murphy, CEO of Christie’s, who came from the media industry as ex-President of Rodale and ex-Managing Director of Disney Publishing Worldwide. Other interesting executive appointments have been coming from consultancy firms, luxury business, and private banking sector - such as Rebecca Wei, President of Christie’s Asia (ex-Mckinsey& Co.), and Larry Zhu, Chief Operations Officer of Sotheby’s China, who came from Bain & Company.

The Eyes, Intuition, and Courage of Art Recruiters

Due to the specialised nature of the art industry, recruiters must exhibit similar traits as the candidates they seek: in-depth industry knowledge, a well-established track record, professionalism and passion – along with the finely honed sense, eyes and touch to find the right person in an already scarce field, and a vision of artistic and commercial excitement to bring to the art world.

With over 20 years in the executive recruitment field and prior working experience with a major art auction house, Wong and EPC Art Search are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges presented by the industry’s rapid development in Asia. Wong concludes, “It’s important that a recruitment partner is sensitive to the unique norms and practices of the art world, and has the creativity and courage to break through framed conventions to reach new heights.”

As more opportunities become available in new sectors and geographic markets – especially Mainland China and Singapore, these are exciting times for Asia’s art scene. In the face of fierce competition for experienced, qualified talent, finding a specialized search partner with strong art network, search expertise, and passion for the industry is more important than ever.

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