Inside Bonhams
The art of success

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 58, Spring 2019

Page 15

Muys Snijders talks to Lucinda Bredin about the changes sweeping the auction world

Something has obviously switched over the past few years," says Muys Snijders, Bonhams' new Head of Americas for Post-War & Contemporary Art. In June 2017, a work by Helen Frankenthaler sold for approaching a million dollars at Bonhams. In March 2018, one of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Net paintings smashed its estimate. It is a trend Snijders has been keen to highlight since her appointment by Bonhams in December 2018. She points out how common it is now to see museums, art fairs and festivals under female leadership. Asked to name women artists who have recently entered the canon, she doesn't hesitate, putting Joan Mitchell alongside Marina Abramovic'
and Lee Krasner.

Why has it taken so long for women to take key roles in the art world? "It's how the art market functions," she says. "Of course, there have been patrons who are female, but relatively few female artists have yet to make it into the main collections of institutions such as the Met and MoMA."

She warms to her theme. "There is a growing awareness that museums have to show more diversity on their boards, which filters down through the art ecosystem. The patrons in every generation – right back to the Medici – heavily influence the canon, but even with all these female patrons, there haven't been a lot of female artists coming into the mainstream. That is what is changing now."

Snijders grew up in the south-east Netherlands, close to Maastricht and right on the border with both Belgium and Germany. "If you drive ten minutes in one direction rather than another," she explains, "you cross the border into a completely different country."

This cosmopolitan outlook was put to good use. As a child, Snijders had been persuaded by her father to visit museums with toys from the gift shop. (It is, she says, a tradition she continues with her own children.) Later these visits would turn into impromptu Classics seminars as her pharmacist father expounded on the Odyssey or Grecian urns while they walked through the galleries.

She was soon volunteering at the local Stadsgalerij Heerlen, an art gallery in Frits Peutz's modernist masterpiece, the Glaspaleis. Although she was still at school, Snijders would give tours of the gallery in four different languages. "My background really gave me a feel for the influence of different cultures and languages."

Muys studied Art History and Classical Archeology at the University of Leiden, before heading to London to study arts management. "I was so well versed in and passionate about the Classics, but I became increasingly aware of the synergy between modern art and the ancient world," she says. Her first job was part-time at Christie's in Amsterdam. "I did anything and everything there," she recalls, "from polishing the silver and cataloging the sales to bidding." After graduating, she was offered a permanent job by Christie's in the South Kensington antiquities department.

What has she found to be different at Bonhams? "Bonhams offers a bespoke service. Because we avoid squeezing large numbers of lots into every sale, we can pay much more attention to each object that is included – and to the people who consign their art to us. There is a lot of respect for artifacts here, and we spend more time bringing them to life by exploring their history."

The challenge of Snijders' new role is its scope: she oversees everything from Joan Miró to contemporary prints, from neglected surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning to contemporary artists such as Mary Corse. It is a challenge she is delighted to accept: "I want to encourage dialog between us and the creators, and between different art-world experts. I want to share expertise to help bring new people into the auctions. That's why I am looking forward to building a year-round program of exhibitions.

On the matter of how to encourage newcomers to the auction world, Snijders acknowledges that it can be an intimidating experience, "So, the first thing Bonhams does is to listen to our clients, giving them the confidence that whatever they want to do is OK. You don't have to buy something the first time you visit our saleroom."

It's a question of education, she says. "One of the things that I love to do is contextualize artists for those beginning their collections. It is important to help them to distinguish between what they like and what they think they should like. Psychology is so important: ours is a people business, and you have to love the interaction with people. I try to understand their mood, their motivation, their history."

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

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