Veteran auctioneer and collections specialist Gemma Sudlow has moved on 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 saleroom in Manhattan.
Sudlow, 41, who headed private collections and decorative arts at Christie’s and was one of the auction house’s high-profile auctioneers—will lead a team of specialists and a business development director as managing director, New York region, at Hindman.
With an auction room and exhibition space soon to open in New York, plus new spaces in Boston and Miami, Hindman will now be in 16 cities across the U.S. The auction house, a result of the 2019 merger of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and Cowan’s Auctions of Cincinnati, Ohio, sells a range of middle-to-high market material. Under the leadership of Jay Krehbiel, co-chairman and CEO, Hindman has grown at an “exponential rate,” Sudlow says.
“I felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t walk away from—to build something out at an auction business that has expanded rapidly in a short space of time with dynamic leadership and great strategic vision,” she says. “There’s something wild and wonderful about the idea of taking on New York City.”
The opportunity to join the Chicago-based house came after Sudlow, who grew up in the county of Cambridgeshire, England, arranged a meeting with founder Leslie Hindman as she was exploring what she should do next in her career.
“I became a mom, survived a global pandemic, I turned 40, then I sold $500 million worth of art in a year,” Sudlow says. “All that happened in the space between February 2020 and November 2021. During that time I thought: What am I doing? Where am I going 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 within minutes of meeting that she should meet Krehbiel, explaining that the auction house had been thinking about expanding to New York, “‘and I think you should be the person to do it,’” Sudlow recalls.
Her interest was immediately piqued because of Hindman’s ambition and trajectory of growth. But also because it was focusing on a sector of the art and collectibles market that she saw not getting sufficient attention at the major auction houses in the face of billion-dollar marquee weeks in New York fueled by fine art.
Sudlow recalls “this chasm growing wider and wider and wider, from the top end, and US$1 billion art weeks, and everything else,” she says. “And ‘everything else’ is this incredibly vibrant business space where there is more and more room to grow.”
Seeing value in groupings of decorative and fine art, furniture, and other collectibles, brought together by an individual or family, is an aptitude Sudlow fell into immediately as an intern at Christie’s in London. She recalls walking through a private collection at a South Kensington home west of London on her first day that had everything from English Regency furniture to Chinese snuff bottles.
“It was a side of the art market I knew nothing about,” Sudlow says, given her academic passion and focus was on impressionism.
“There was suddenly this whole world of objects that were in a beautiful interior with a great story,” Sudlow says. “In a weird way that first day laid the groundwork for where my career ended up going and still is, which is having an expertise in understanding the fabric of collection.” Considering she was working at an auction house, it was also “how best to sell it to maximize return,” she says.
After Sudlow was hired full time, she worked at Christie’s South Kensington outpost on furniture as the auction house was seeking to replicate a retail experience through what it called “The Sunday Sale” of private collections. Eventually she was working at the main King Street headquarters in London, cataloging everything from British painting to Old Masters to present day works.
“Over the course of those nine years in London, I developed this ability as a general surgeon, to come in and triage these projects from a variety of different angles,” Sudlow says.
When a New York specialist left Christie’s as it was handling the sale of the reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark’s massive estate in 2014, Sudlow was asked to fill in. Two months later she was given a position in New York.
Two years earlier, in 2012, Sudlow began auctioneering after taking a course at Christie’s so she could better understand the auction process in her work with clients. “I didn’t have any anticipation that I would like it,” she says. But after practicing the sale of three lots at the end of the course she didn’t want to get down from the podium.
“I kind of got the bug,” Sudlow says. “It’s an adrenaline rush like no other to be up there and command a room.”
Eventually she conducted several major sales at Christie’s, including the sales for the Robert Hatworth Ellsworth collection in 2015 and for the Peggy and
collection in 2018. She also sold Jean-Michel Basquiat’s In This Case, 1983, for US$93.1 million, with fees, in May 2021, and Beeple’s Human One sculpture and non-fungible token for nearly US$29 million in November 2021.
Sudlow plans to keep auctioneering at Hindman in addition to expanding its presence in New York as “one stop in that estate space,” working with art advisors and trust and estate attorneys on “end-to-end solutions.” She’s currently working on securing a space in Manhattan for the saleroom.
“There is so much business out there in that US$1 million to US$5 million range of storied, brilliant private collections and estates that Hindman is uniquely positioned to handle,” she says. “Those great five- and six-figure pieces, even some seven-figure—those are things we can sell and sell well. We also know and understand intimately the decorative arts market.”
To those who question whether New York has room for another auction house, Sudlow responds, “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 considered the next time a great collection comes up.
“That’s my goal—to get a seat at the table, to compete for this business,” Sudlow says. “There’s plenty of it.”