Auctions (Sotheby's); Media; Telecommunications
Before 2019, telecommunications and media mogul Patrick Drahi was hardly a big name in the art world. “Most people don’t seem to know who he is,” dealer Brett Gorvy told the New York Times that year. But that all changed when Drahi purchased the auction house Sotheby’s through his company BidFair USA for $3.7 billion. Unlike its competitor auction house Christie’s, which is privately owned, Sotheby’s was publicly traded at the time, so the deal to take the house private signaled a larger shift taking place. Lisson Gallery’s executive director Alex Logsdail told ARTnews at the time, “Invariably, because all three of the major auction houses will now be private, it will probably mean that they will be far more competitive with guarantees and irrevocable bids in a way that they haven’t been before.”
The Sotheby’s deal was not the only big one Drahi has made in the past—his Dutch telecom company Altice had acquired cable operator Suddenlink and TV company Cablevision through its U.S. division for $17.7 billion in 2015, for one. Yet the Sotheby’s acquisition signaled a major entrée into the art world for Drahi, whose net worth, as of October 2020, stands at more than $6 billion, according to Forbes. The Switzerland-based billionaire is a private figure who has rarely given interviews, however, and that initially made it hard to know what his plans were for the house. But in April 2021, Drahi put his son Nathan, at the time only 26 years old, as the managing director of the house’s Asia operations, succeeding the longtime Asia CEO Kevin Ching Sau-hong, who retired after 15 years in the role. It remains somewhat unclear what Drahi’s plans for the house, given that, that same year, rumors flew that he may once again take Sotheby’s public.
His collection has largely been kept a secret as well, though he was well-known to Sotheby’s prior to the deal, as he was a longtime, if not reclusive, client of theirs. Artprice CEO Thierry Ehrmann offered a rare glimpse inside it when he told Agence France-Presse that the “fairly spectacular” collection was rich in works by Marc Chagall, but also includes Impressionism, work by other modern artists, and Oriental art.