Cheyenne Westphal is due to leave Sotheby's in mid-April
Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, is to leave the auction house next month. Her departure after 25 years at the company comes just one month after the resignation of her co-head, Alex Rotter, who had been at Sotheby’s since 2000.
Westphal, who joined Sotheby’s in 1990, has overseen every major contemporary art sale in Europe since 1999. Dubbed “Sotheby’s secret weapon” by Harper’s Bazaar, Westphal helped orchestrate the unprecedented 2008 Damien Hirst auction, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, which fetched £121m.
She also won over Count Duerckheim to negotiate the sale of his collection of postwar German art in 2011, which raised a record £62m. “I was the first person outside the family to see the collection. He simply said, ‘You do what you do best.’ And he was thrilled with the results,” Westphal said at the time.
Westphal and Rotter's departures are the latest in an exodus of senior staff including Henry Wyndham, the chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, and Melanie Clore, who was the worldwide co-chairman for impressionist and Modern art. The staff defections come amid a global market slowdown and on the back of poor financial results for 2015, which showed profits were down 63%, from $117.8m to $43.7m.
Staff shakeups have been accompanied by other major changes at the auction house, including the acquisition in January of the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners (AAP) for around $85m—a move that has divided opinion. The acquisition came after Tad Smith, the chief executive of Sotheby’s, offered voluntary redundancy payments to employees in November as part of a cost-cutting drive.
Westphal has not said what she will do next, according to a spokeswoman for Sotheby’s. Alex Branczik, who has led the company’s contemporary art department in London for the past three years, is being promoted to head of contemporary art in Europe. In a statement, Sotheby’s said: “Cheyenne has been a valued colleague for 25 years who contributed greatly to Sotheby’s during her tenure, and we wish her well.”