How SBE and TEFAF led me to a career in international art trade

During his studies at SBE in 2007, Mark Slaats started working as a sales assistant for Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art at the annual European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). For Slaats, who had always harboured a passion for history and art, working at TEFAF was the perfect opportunity to discover the fascinating world of international art. 

When I completed my Master’s degree in International Business – Strategy & Innovation in 2009, my interest for art led me to to start a second Master’s degree in History at Edinburgh University in Scotland.

I then began my career as a strategy consultant for a consultancy firm in London. Although my job was challenging and interesting from a business perspective, it lacked the historical connection that I so enjoyed at TEFAF whilst dealing in Asian art.

My perseverance luckily paid off and after five years of collaboration with Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art at TEFAF, I was invited to join the art advisory group and run its London gallery. With offices in New York, London and Hong Kong, Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art provides high quality acquisition and consulting services for museums as well as private collectors around the world.

TEFAF: a highlight of the art year

I am now responsible for the day-to-day activities of the gallery and manage its relationships with clients worldwide. Another important aspect of my job is to carry out research and explore buying and purchasing possibilities at different auction houses, not only in the UK and Europe but also in the rest of the world. This makes it a very diverse job that requires many different skills. I have the chance to travel and am about to pick up my studies again to learn Mandarin in order to better communicate with our Chinese clients.

TEFAF remains one of the highlights of the art year. Every year Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art strives to create an exhibition that will impress both new and existing clients. TEFAF is an opportunity to show what we can do for our clients to expand and strengthen their collections. This, in turn, strengthens our mutual relationship.

The more interesting aspect of my job is the exposure to art itself. That is, Chinese works of art which can date back to the early Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-c. 1046 BC) in ancient China to the height of Imperial China in the 18th century during the reign of the Qing Dynasty. These pieces have been executed in mediums ranging from bronze, wood and lacquer to porcelain. A sound amount of research, knowledge and historical understanding is required to select only the best pieces for our clients at this fair and throughout the year.

Grasping the complex economics of the art market

I believe that my education at Maastricht University has been instrumental in preparing me for this task. The emphasis on group work, problem solving and presentation skills has allowed me to develop the communication tools that I am now using to interact and negotiate with our international clients. It is crucial for me to fully grasp the complex economics of the art market while dealing at the same time with the cultural challenges inherent to international trade. Things are not done in the same way in China as in The Netherlands or the UK!

I particularly appreciate the diverse nature of my work and the excitement of viewing private collections and public auctions from places as far apart as Hong Kong, New York and London. Not to mention the anticipation that the next piece of Imperial splendour could be collecting dust on someone’s attic in a tiny town in The Netherlands, waiting to be discovered!

By Mark Slaats

Photo descriptions:

Photo 1: On the left, a gilt-bronze bell dated to the 54th year of the reign of the Kangxi emperor (Qing Dynasty, 1715). The vase on the right is a sacrificial blue bottle vase, Tianquping of exceptional size, Yongzheng mark and of the period (1723-1735)

Photo 2: Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art at TEFAF 2013

Photos 3 and 4: The pieces are a collection of gilt-bronze and gilt-copper Tibetan figures and a Nepalese gilt-bronze shrine (18th century),which previously belonged to a private Taiwanese collection.


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