Tour De Force
Two giants in their respective fields come together to create exclusive luxury art tours
Guided tours of any kind can be tricky affairs, but art tours are especially so. Too much may be crammed into a very short period of time. Viewings may take place alongside what seems to be the entire world, all scrambling, pushing and shoving for a view of a distant objet. Worst is a tour guide who clearly is reciting from a memorised script.
In recent years, savvy tour operators have begun offering more intimate art tour experiences, shepherding smaller groups through a carefully considered itinerary that might be led by experts like the curator of the museum, and often at a time when the cultural site is closed to the public.
This past September, Christie’s auction house and luxury-travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent launched Christie’s Travel in Association with Abercrombie & Kent. The idea for the venture came about innocently enough during a conversation last year between the companies’ two chairmen, Christie’s Steven Murphy and Abercrombie & Kent’s Geoffrey Kent. It suddenly occurred to both that there was a potential for great synergy and overlap between their companies’ well-heeled client bases. The idea of creating a unique Christie’s-hosted luxury trip, with exclusive introductions through both Christie’s and Abercrombie & Kent’s gold-plated Rolodexes, they felt, would be a great new niche in the luxury travel market.
These expert-led tours are the latest salvo in the fiercely fought battle for a greater toehold in the deep-pocketed art market. Says Abercrombie & Kent’s managing director Kerry Golds, “The luxury travel market has been growing at a phenomenal rate over the past few years, with massive growth in special interest and experiential travel enquiries. We have also identified an increasing demand in the luxury sector for authenticity in travel experiences—travellers are looking for a connection between them and the people and place they are visiting. They are no longer content to just scratch the surface of a destination or experience.”
An expertise in art is not a pre-requisite. Indeed, the tours are open to, in Christie’s words, “discerning travellers who are interested in deepening their knowledge of a particular category of art and jewellery and wine collecting, and the culture that produced it. Many clients are active collectors, while some are interested in becoming collectors in a given category.”
While there are certainly other similar expert-led art tours on the market, what lifts Christie’s tours above the fray is the sheer calibre of its experts—all drawn from the ranks of Christie’s crack team of historians and specialists—and the quality of the tours and privileged access that they provide. Each trip is limited to about 15 people who are personally escorted with VIP behind-the-scenes entry to private collections, artist studios and ateliers, as well as private meetings with top collectors and experts in the field.
As Karen Stone Talwar, international managing director of Christie’s Travel, puts it, “Our aim is for our clients to see art before anybody else, to connect directly with the artist and with the culture that shaped them. We plan our trips to established centres of art and also upcoming events that we know are going to be at the forefront of the art market within the next few months.”
It goes without saying that demand for Christie’s art tours has outstripped available spaces. Just over 10 tours are being offered in 2014. The inaugural tour, Jewels of New York—which sold out almost immediately before the ink on the invitation list was dry—kicked off in late November 2013 with a group of 15 jewellery aficionados arriving in New York for a five-day immersion experience that included a cocktail reception with a private JAR jewellery collector, a private tour of the Jewels by JAR exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Christie’s jewellery expert Raymond Sancroft-Baker, and tours of the ateliers and homes of Van Cleef & Arpels, Prince Dimitri and James de Givenchy.
In the past few months, tours have been taken through India, alongside a comprehensive foray into Old Masters and contemporary art in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. In June, an Asian Art in Paris tour was conducted entirely in Chinese, while other intrepid art lovers jetted off to London for Impressionist and modern art, and Basel for Art Basel.
For Golds, the partnership between Christie’s and Abercrombie & Kent brings the two leading brands in their fields together to create an inspired new art travel proposition. “Both art and destination specialists look after clients on the ground, and both provide incredible insider access and insight for clients.”
Art Travel Guides
Sometimes, having the right guide will make all the difference between a wonderful trip and an unforgettable one. If you’re aiming for the latter option, consider the following when planning your next trip.
American Excursionist offers private, personalised tours for the United States and the Caribbean. Their range of bespoke itineraries runs the full gamut of quirky activities from film and Hispanic culture to contemporary art and Native American history.
Trawling through the British Museum or the National Art Gallery in London can be a daunting exercise, but Tina Gwynne-Evans brings alive her subjects with lively intelligence and an irresistible sense of humour, especially when leading private tours of the French pieces at the Wallace Collection and Spanish masterpieces at Apsley House. A perfect tonic for those who suffer quickly from museum fatigue.
Ph: +44 0 7725 650
Cazenove + Loyd create customised tours led by field experts, such as an ancient Roman and Greek tour of Naples and Pompeii, a cultural spin through Seville and the Feria de Caballo Festival, or a guided photography holiday in Morocco.
The Ultimate Travel Company creates specialised art tours in culturally rich locations, among them, art in Venice and Padua, Baroque Rome, and Palladian Villas in Vicenza. Its 35-year-long partnership with Art Fund, an independent charity dedicated to saving national artwork, offers spectacular private tours of the private gardens of Andalucia, and Art Deco in Saxony. www.theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk