Founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern Leave Christie's-Owned Haunch of Venison

IN THE AIR exclusive!: In news sure to shake up the London art world, Harry Blain and Graham Southern, the dynamic pair of dealers who founded the Haunch of Venison gallery eight years ago, will leave the business as of August. The development is the most significant upheaval at the gallery since it was acquired by the Christie’s International auction company in 2007, and comes little more than a year after the departure of Robert Fitzpatrick, the former MCA Chicago head who served both as Haunch’s international managing director and ran the New York space.

Founded in London, Haunch — a blue-chip operation that also has branches in New York, Berlin, and Zurich — is pressing on without its founders, according to Emilio Steinberger, who with Barrett White is co-director of the New York branch, which opened in 2008. “We want to give artists the best platform we can,” says Steinberger, who adds that he and White are actively looking to expand the Rockefeller Center-based outpost by adding a new space in Chelsea.  Meanwhile, Haunch plans to beef up its artist roster, and recently took on the estate of Venezuelan Op-Art sculptor and painter Jesus Rafael Soto. (The gallery is working with Soto in conjunction with his widow, Mme. Helen Soto, and his family.)

In a bit of internal musical chairs, the formidable Matthew Carey Williams, who came to Haunch from Gagosian Gallery in 2006 and was transferred to Christie’s private sales department in 2009, is moving back to Haunch to take on a leadership role at its London flagship. Last year, the gallery made a high-profile move when it leased space at 6 Burlington Gardens from the Royal Academy; that lease ends in 2011, and, according to Steinberger, renovations at the original Haunch of Venison Yard space will be completed in spring or summer of that year, and there may be some overlap when the gallery would produce shows in both locations.

As for Southern and Blain — the latter of whom London’s Independent called “Britart’s most powerful man” last year — their plans are not yet known. Blain did not respond to an email requesting comment on his departure and on his and Southern’s future plans. But it seems unlikely either of them will leave the art business. “Not many people in the art world would have been able to achieve what they did in so short a time,” says Steinberger. “We have every intention of working together, when we can.”