Interview from KUNST UND AUKTIONEN [Art and Auctions],
Magazine for the International Market, October 2, 2014
DR. STEFAN BRENSKE
Dr. Stefan Brenske left management consulting to take over the family icon business. He holds a doctorate in
art history and is the first in his family to take up the auctioneer’s gavel.
Dr. Brenske, how did you come to open an auction house?
We’re not an auction house in the traditional sense; we started doing special auctions of icons last year. A large collection that belonged to a deceased art dealer colleague was consigned to us through the Bavarian National Museum, and this seemed a fitting starting point. I grew up with icons, of course, and we’ve been dealing in icons for two generations now—and there are always serious collectors and their heirs who are looking for a professional and reliable platform through which their icons can change hands.
What qualities are needed in your profession?
Icons are a highly specialized subject. You need to know who has what and who’s looking for what. I myself am an art historian and icons have been a part of my life since I was a child. The necessary business expertise was something I acquired during my studies (in business administration) and in my past professional life in banking and management consulting.
How many lots will you offer per year?
We had around 300 lots in our first auction. For our next one we’ll have roughly 370. We could include a great deal more, but because we carefully examine every single piece there are also quite a few we have to return.
What was your most spectacular hammer price?
A pair of circa 1900 Russian wedding icons from our first auction set a new world record: €322,000. The Bavarian National Museum, the recipient of the net proceeds, had good reason to celebrate.
What would you never agree to auction?
Icons we believe to be of doubtful authenticity or icons where there is uncertainty regarding ownership.
In terms of collecting, what area do you think is underestimated?
Icons in general are still undervalued and the prices of top-quality icons in particular remain far too low. In certain segments this is changing, ever since the Russians started showing a stronger commitment to icons again.
What do you collect for yourself?
Occasionally I hold on to a work for my family. Much the way people keep wine in the cellar for the next generation.
Your dream icon? The one you yourself would like to bid for?
There are a few: the Angel with Golden Hair from the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, or the fourth-century Christ from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai—but such a work will never come under the hammer again, of course, which is a good thing.
And aside from art: Where else do you see opportunity?
I’d like to collect premium real estate, because, like premium art, it’s of lasting value. But, firstly, I don’t have the resources; secondly, if I did, I’d rather invest in our business; and thirdly, I’d have even less time to track down high-end icons for our clients.