For centuries, art has provided people with certain refuge from an uncertain world.
Indeed, even during the depths of war and through the rise and fall of empires, our ancestors and we have been able to escape—even briefly—by slipping into the elusive dream world of music, painting, sculpture, dance, and so much more.
Yet while the idea of art may sound magical and nice, the business of art is a very serious one, as most recently demonstrated by a series of New York auctions that boosted the 2022 sales of Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips auction houses to more than $2.5 billion.
But before those eye-popping auctions can even take place, first the public must be made aware of the art, the artist, and the possibility that a piece might be for sale. That’s the realm of the gallery, and one of the biggest global players in that space is East West Bank client Hauser & Wirth.
Started in Zurich in 1992 and with offices dotted across major art capitals, Hauser & Wirth works with some of the world’s greatest living artists, including China’s Zeng Fanzhi, who has called his work “an experience of miao wu (marvelous revelation), a restless journey of discovery.”
Still, after a period of marvelous growth, in 2019, Hauser & Wirth had the revelation that their large legacy bank lacked the personal and technological agility the gallery needed to ensure that its Chinese customers were able to access artists like Zeng or other past and present masters—no matter where the physical art or the gallery might be located.
“Even when Chinese collectors have the means to purchase artwork, they're not able to readily exchange the currency and they need help to bridge the gap,” says Lucy Yan, relationship manager at East West Bank.
But what those legacy banks couldn’t do, bridge bankers East West Bank could do, drawing on their cross-border expertise to bridge the gallery’s art-hungry customers from “on-hold” to “SOLD!”
East West worked with mobile payments provider Citcon, Inc. to help Hauser & Wirth accept Chinese bank card payments in renminbi (RMB) and exchange them into Swiss francs, euros, and dollars so that the gallery could close more deals.
“East West Bank’s team is nimble and takes the time to understand the business while acting swiftly,” says Marc Payot, Hauser & Wirth’s partner and president. “Their customer service is second to none.”
That first-class customer service came into sharper focus just a few months later when the coronavirus pandemic hit in spring 2020, sending people scurrying and businesses reeling.
In the U.S., while the federal government quickly funded programs designed to protect people, shore up businesses and save millions of jobs, hindsight reminds us that nothing was certain at the time.
“One day I got a call, and Hauser & Wirth told me that their legacy bank had processed one of the gallery’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications, but not the other,” says Yan.
So East West stepped in to once again bridge the gap.
“East West was able to get their loan funded in about a week,” Yan says, and the Bank later processed the second round of PPP loans for Hauser & Wirth’s New York and Los Angeles museum-quality galleries. “We were the bank that these important galleries could lean on.”
In 2022, in their thirtieth year in business, woman-co-owned Hauser & Wirth is leaning into the booming global art market and riding new popularity, sparked by its Los Angeles outpost being voted Time Out L.A.’s “Best Gallery in Los Angeles.”
One reason is the quality of the art. Another is the quality of the gallery’s people.
“I think when most people think about the art world, they think it's a closed circle,” Yan concludes. “But they are extremely approachable people. The gallery owners are very easy to work with, and it’s made art a personal interest of mine.
“We occupy a very important role, and, for me, it’s work and play,” she laughs.
Read about Hauser & Wirth and other clients in East West Bank’s 2021 Annual Report.
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