Sotheby’s Loses Meyer as Contemporary Art Head Amid Push

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art and an auctioneer for more than 20 years, has left the company being pressured for change by activist investors.

“Tobias Meyer is a respected figure and has been at the center of signature moments in Sotheby’s history for more than 20 years and we are grateful for all of his contributions,” Bill Ruprecht, chairman and chief executive officer, said today in a statement disclosing the departure. “With Tobias’ contract soon expiring, we all agreed it was time to part ways.”

Sotheby’s is being pushed for new leadership and more efficient operations by Daniel Loeb’s Third Point LLC, whose 9.24 percent stake as of Oct. 1 makes it the largest shareholder in the New York-based auction house. Loeb last month called for Ruprecht to step down and criticized Sotheby’s executive compensation, international business and “deteriorating” competitive position. Activist investor Marcato Capital Management LLC has built a 6.6 percent stake.

Meyer’s departure may signal a broader shakeup in the company’s executive ranks, said Sergey Skaterschikov, founder of Skate’s Art Market Research in New York.

“It’s not a surprise at all,” Skaterschikov said. “There is a clear understanding that it would be difficult for Ruprecht to retain his key executives. There is a question about leadership at Sotheby’s. I don’t think it’s going to be an isolated incident.”

Auction Record

Meyer, 50, joined Sotheby’s in 1992 as head of the contemporary art department in London, according to today’s statement. Five years later, he was chosen to lead the worldwide contemporary department in New York.

“I will always cherish my time at Sotheby’s and look forward to the next chapter in my career,” Meyer said in the statement.

Sotheby’s said it has no plans to fill the role of worldwide head of contemporary art. Alex Rotter will continue as the head of contemporary art in the Americas and Cheyenne Westphal as the head of contemporary art in Europe.

Meyer led a $380.6 million auction of postwar and contemporary art last week in which Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” fetched $105.4 million. The auction also included at least $77 million of art from the collection of hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen.

The tally, while falling short of rival Christie’s record $691.6 million auction the night before, was the biggest in Sotheby’s history.

‘Phenomenal Sale’

“He did a phenomenal sale,” said Alberto Mugrabi, a New York-based collector and dealer who regularly buys and sells at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s. “He left when he was on top.”

The departure had nothing to do with Loeb’s campaign, according to Mugrabi. “They are good friends,” he said.

Andrew Gully, a spokesman for Sotheby’s, declined to comment on whether the departure had any connection to Loeb and whether further executive exits may be coming.

Loeb also declined to comment on Meyer’s move.

Sotheby’s auction sales declined 7 percent to $5.4 billion in 2012, and the company’s revenue fell 7.6 percent to $768.5 million. Sales of art and collectibles at London-based Christie’s International rose 10 percent to 3.9 billion pounds ($6.3 billion).

Ruprecht, 57, whose contract expires in August 2014, earned $7 million in 2011 and $6.3 million in 2012.

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