In Pursuit of Art

Art | Jan 2017 | BY Kat Herriman

“Now that Art Agency, Partners has been acquired by Sotheby’s, I always joke that I am one of the very few—certainly the youngest—to have done all three major auction houses,” laughs Ed Tang. Brought into the fold by co-founder Amy Cappellazzo, his former boss at Christie’s, the sharply dressed advisor joined the Art Agency, Partners team in June 2015, and then followed his bosses to Sotheby’s in January 2016. Tang landed his first auction job at Phillips in London thanks to close family friend Simon de Pury. Less than a year later, the beloved auctioneer did not flinch when Tang transferred to Christie’s. “He totally understood and was happy for me,” says Tang. “The art world is so small. People are used to movement.” When speaking about his eventual transition from Christie’s London headquarters to New York, Tang smiles: “Ultimately, I knew I had to be in New York, because how could you not be in New York and be in the art world?”

The son of luxury scion David Tang of Shanghai Tang, Tang frequently traveled with his parents but discovered contemporary art on his own: “From an early age, I always knew I liked art. My parents were very atypical Chinese parents. They didn’t really care for academia. They didn’t push me to do math, science and all of that, so it was a great environment to grow up in. We were free to pursue what we wanted.” He followed his intuition, and before turning 18, had already lived in Hong Kong, Tokyo and London—a critical time for forming his unique global perspective. Bridging both Eastern and Western markets, Tang had an edge on many of his peers and quickly rose through the auction house ranks, eventually becoming a specialist and head of First Open at Christie’s New York.

At Christie’s, Tang cut his teeth coordinating special projects and one-off sales. A personal favorite is Thinking Big from 2013, a Saatchi single-owner sale, which included works by heavy hitters like David Altmejd, Sterling Ruby and Liu Wei. “We got this temporary, 60,000-square-foot space that we had to install during Frieze,” Tang recalls. “You know these are all huge sculptures—one of them had 30,000 individual components or something ridiculous. All of that really helped me understand different aspects of the business.”

Ed Tang

Ed Tang with photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans.

These days, Tang focuses on managing private clients, just as he did in his first days at Art Agency, Partners. “It was a very intimate setting, but transacting at the highest level for clients and building collections,” Tang explains. “It was almost a complete role reversal, because prior to that I was a salesman. Your chief responsibility lies with the auction house. With AAP, it was really about putting the needs of the collector first.” In demystifying his role in the art ecosystem, Tang says, “Our collectors are offered a lot of things regularly, so we are eyes, ears and mouths.” Aiding their clients on everything from responsible selling and conservation to tracking down the ideal graduation present, Tang depicts AAP as a white glove service in an increasingly blurred industry.

Operating now under the Sotheby’s umbrella, Tang has first access to incoming inventory and new avenues to serve his clients. Part of his role now includes helping with special projects. In October, he worked on #TTOP, a Hong Kong-based evening sale guest-curated by South Korean pop star T.O.P. “I helped him source a few of the works for the auction,” Tang says. “There were pieces by his favorite artists like Murakami, Stingel, Basquiat, Sigmar Polke, Jonas Wood. It really aimed to bring a younger Asian audience to contemporary art.”

When speaking about the future, Tang returns to the influence of Cappellazzo and Allan Schwartzman. “It’s the daily observation of them working that inspires me most,” Tang explains. “Both of them have this incredible ability to wear multiple hats simultaneously: dealmaker, tastemaker, innovator, advisor, curator, mentor, leader, friend. I love that they value the long term as well as the short, the high and low of the arts. They are both game changers and I strive to be more like them.”

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