Veteran auctioneer and collections specialist Gemma Sudlow has moved from Christie’s, where she worked for 17 years, to lead Chicago-based Hindman’s entry into the New York market with a full-service Manhattan showroom.
Sudlow, 41, who headed private collections and decorative arts at Christie’s and was one of the auction house’s senior auctioneers, will lead a team of specialists and director of business development as managing director, New York region, at Hindman.
With an auction house and showroom opening soon in New York, plus new spaces in Boston and Miami, Hindman will now be in 16 cities across the US. The auction house, the result of the 2019 merger of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and Cowan’s Auctions of Cincinnati, Ohio, sells a range of mid- to high-market items. Under the leadership of Jay Krehbiel, co-chairman and CEO, Hindman has grown at an “exponential rate,” Sudlow says.
“I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up – to build something in an auction business that has grown rapidly in a short time with dynamic leadership and great strategic vision,” she says. “There’s something wild and wonderful about taking over New York.”
The opportunity to join the Chicago-based house came after Sudlow, who grew up in Cambridgeshire, England, arranged a meeting with founder Leslie Hindman while exploring what to do next in her career.
“I became a mother, survived a global pandemic, turned 40, then sold $500 million worth of art in one year,” says Sudlow. “All this happened between February 2020 and November 2021. During that time I was thinking: What am I doing? Where do I go next?’
She realized that what excited her, what “got her out of bed in the morning,” was the chance to “take something and help it grow.”
Hindman told Sudlow minutes after the meeting that he needed to meet with Krehbiel, explaining that the auction house had been considering expanding into New York, “and I think you should be the guy to do it,” he recalled you’re Sudlow.
Her interest was immediately piqued because of Hindman’s ambition and growth trajectory. But also because it focused on a sector of the art and collectibles market that she says doesn’t get enough attention at major auction houses in the face of New York’s billion-dollar marquee weeks fueled by fine art.
Sudlow remembers “this chasm that got wider and wider and wider, from the top end, and $1 billion art weeks, and everything else,” she says. “And ‘everything else’ is this incredibly vibrant business space where there’s more and more room for growth.”
Seeing value in groups of decorative and fine art, furniture and other collectibles collected by an individual or family is an ability Sudlow fell into immediately as an intern at Christie’s in London. She recalls walking through a private collection on her first day at a home in South Kensington, west London, which included everything from English Regency furniture to Chinese snuff.
“It was a side of the art market that I knew nothing about,” says Sudlow, given her academic passion and focus on Impressionism.
“Suddenly there was a whole world of objects that were in a beautiful interior with a great story,” Sudlow says. “In a strange way, that first day laid the groundwork for where my career eventually went and still is, which is an experience in understanding the fabric of collecting.” Given that he worked at an auction house, it was also “how best to sell it to maximize returns,” she says.
After Sudlow was hired full-time, she worked at Christie’s South Kensington outpost on furniture as the auction house tried to replicate the retail experience through what it called the “Sunday Sale” of private collections. She eventually worked at the main headquarters on King Street in London, cataloging everything from British painting to old masters to works of today.
“Over the course of those nine years in London, I developed this ability as a general surgeon to go in and sort these projects from different angles,” Sudlow says.
When a New York specialist left Christie’s in 2012 because it was handling the sale of the vast estate of reclusive brass heiress Huguette Clarke, Sudlow was asked to replace him. Two months later, she got a position in New York.
That same year, Sudlow began participating in auctions after taking a course at Christie’s so she could better understand the auction process in her work with clients. “I didn’t expect to like it,” she says. But after practicing selling three lots at the end of the course, she didn’t want to get off the podium.
“I kind of got the hang of it,” Sudlow says. “It’s an adrenaline rush like no other to be up there and command a room.”
She eventually held several major sales at Christie’s, including the sales for the Robert Hatworth Ellsworth Collection in 2015 and the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection in 2018. She also sold the Jean-Michel Basquiat Collection Then1983, for US$93.1 million, with fees, in May 2012, and Beeple’s Human One sculpture and irreplaceable token for nearly 29 million USD in November 2021.
Sudlow plans to continue conducting auctions at Hindman in addition to expanding its presence in New York as a “one stop shop in this real estate space,” working with art advisors and trusts and estates attorneys on “total solutions.” He is currently working on securing a location in Manhattan for the trading floor.
“There is so much business in that $1 million to $5 million range of storied, brilliant private collections and estates that Hindman is uniquely positioned to handle,” she says. “Those great five and six figures, even some seven figures – those are things we can sell and sell well. We also know and understand the decorative arts market intimately.”
To those who question whether New York has room for another auction house, Sudlow replies, “The day New York isn’t ready for another competitor is the day New York dies.” Her intention, she told one art advisor, is simply to be looked at the next time a great collection comes along.
“That’s my goal — to get a seat at the table, to compete for this business,” Sudlow says. “There are many.”