Having launched Christie’s Interiors sales and Bonhams’ Important Design series, Mark Wilkinson is now set to work his magic at Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchet.
A man who moves with the times, Mark joins Sworders to launch a new sales format, where he will be specialist in charge of Out of the Ordinary, an eclectic mix of art, antiques, design and collectables with a wow factor.
Wilkinson’s track record is second to none when it comes to updating the auction format to attract new buyers, especially those who would never have considered salerooms as the place to acquire all the furnishings and statement pieces they want for their homes.
After more than 30 years at Christie’s, in 2010 he took over the ground-breaking Interiors sales programme at Christie’s South Kensington, which he had helped to build from 2005, effectively inventing a new approach to the auction process and tripling their turnover from £7.5m to £24m during the following five years as City types, younger buyers and families ventured into the Old Brompton Road rooms for the first time to rub shoulders with the dealers and collectors.
“I had the job of building on the transformation of a collector-based approach to a decorative/design/furnishing approach, and that meant cutting across traditional ways of cataloguing to present sales in a different way that had the potential to seriously upset specialists,” says Wilkinson.
“So instead of having a dedicated silver section, followed by one on furniture and then another on glass, we would blend in beautiful 19th century furniture with 1960s designs to create an overall look that had to be attractive, and appeal to the furnishing eye of buyers.”
What it also meant, though, was cutting back on lengthy catalogue descriptions, footnotes and the more academic approach to buying and selling – not necessarily a popular move with specialist departments. However, by putting traditional collecting disciplines in this new context, he was able to show how they remain relevant to today’s buyers.
Having also delivered sales with themes like 'Creatures' and ‘Fire & Light', Wilkinson moved to Bonhams in 2015 as European Head of Decorative Arts with a view to doing for them what he had done for Christie’s.
The challenge was as great as before.
“Specialists don’t always thank you when you bring departments’ sales together. We had to turn 26 catalogues into 12 sales to run Homes & Interiors auctions out of Knightsbridge.”
But that success led to him being asked to put together his Important Design sale, covering the past 500 years of furnishing and design. Early furniture appeared in the catalogue alongside Lucy Rie pottery and even a version of the famous Lord Leighton bronze of an athlete wrestling a python, which went for a premium-inclusive £106,250 against a £50,000-80,000 estimate.
A passionately keen photographer, he is an expert on visual impact. “When you set out to reshape a market, how you present yourself is crucial to success,” he says. “That is why producing quality catalogues and websites is so vital. If you make the whole package accessible to non-specialist eyes and people can understand what you’re doing, as long as it’s a good product, they will keep coming back.”
Having moved on from cataloguing everything from ephemera and toys to posters and motoring art in the early 1980s, Wilkinson specialised in 20th century decorative arts, and was head of department at South Kensington from 1990 to 2000, as well as director of 20th century pictures.
His business-getting experience and leading role in devising new sales strategies from thereon in has already stood him in good stead at both Christie’s and Bonhams, but now he is enjoying the taste of fresh Essex air as he builds a new vision at Sworders.
“I cover 20th century decorative arts, bronzes, glass, ceramics, objects, posters, prints, drawings, modern design, motoring art, pop and film culture, photographs and sporting art, and I will be looking for things outside the norm that make people stop and stare,” he explains.
“The regional auction rooms are in a better position than ever to compete on the national and international stage for both consignments and buyers, and I intend to bring the experience and success I have had at Christie’s and Bonhams to bear here, in Stansted Mountfitchet, where I will be working closely with John Black, the director of 20th century art and design.”
The first Out of the Ordinary sale will take place early in 2018, to be closely followed by an Animals in Art auction.