Despite being the Etonian chairman of one of the world’s oldest auction houses and married to one of England’s oldest landowning families, Christie’s Orlando Rock has always downplayed his elegance. That’s partly because Rock, 53, who was named chairman in 2015 after starting his career at the Christie’s counter in 1990, is keen to make the art world more accessible.
Emerging from behind his enormous desk wearing an Hermes tie, Rock – who rarely gives interviews – is gearing up for the launch next week of London Now, a summer season of accessible exhibitions, events and auctions. “It’s important that we get people through the door and that we don’t talk about money all the time,” says Rock, who is also working on Christie’s upcoming advertising campaign on the side of London buses.
He challenges the idea that you have to be very wealthy to collect art, insisting that “you can buy beautiful things inexpensively at your local auction houses”. An ‘unruly’ collector himself, he ‘always goes to our local antique center in Stamford’, where Rock lives with his wife Miranda (granddaughter of the sixth Marquess of Exeter) at his 16th century ancestral home, Burghley House. “I’ll see something nice and it’ll be for £28.”
But Christie’s average spell is out of reach for the majority. It is true, he says, that “Christie’s has focused on the most expensive segment of the market, but most of the products we sell are not high end”. The recent Swaythling collection is a good example, with “things that are [estimated at] £500 and £1,000 – it’s not all in millions of pounds.
With good humour, he accepts that the art world, and Christie’s with it, has a long way to go in combating the idea that it’s all for the poshos. “This traditional image of Christie’s is no longer very precise today. This is not just an English post-colonial view of the world. Christie’s partnership with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair has been “brilliant, a real learning curve for us,” he says, citing the Bold, Black and Beautiful exhibition curated by Aindrea Emelife last year, which celebrated black art. “We need to break that intimidating reputation and show that we are a modern company because we are – we have to be.”