The Christie’s Auction House is a grand building in near St. James Square with luxery shops and posh restaurants on every street. The window displays are as elaborate as Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods’ window staging. Some display furniture and object d’art and other windows allow you a view into the galleries where you can see a Rothko or Francis Bacon yet to be auctioned. Inside there is a grand staircase wide enough for 6 people to walk up side-by-side.
Our art business class was invited to tour the preview exhibition with one of the Christie’s researchers before the actual auction scheduled for the following day. This particular auction was a collection of Impressionist and Modern Art and showcased the work of Degas, Monet, Kandinsky and Moore. Our guide explained the general auction procedure before leading our group to the “lesser” valued drawings first. The drawings and sketches may not achieve record bids but the work is beautiful and expressive.
Christie’s is arranged as a museum. There are rooms with gallery lighting, hanging systems and labels. What had I expected? I don’t know maybe work in hung on storage walls that resemble large fences. Anyway. The drawings were hung close to one another but arranged nicely. Our guide, Richard, spoke about the drawings market and explained that sometimes the work is sold during the daytime auctions. Some drawings warrant an evening sales (I’m assuming a Da Vinci would) but theses works by Picasso and Matisse would be sold during the day.
After the drawing we walked around the gallery rooms where Rothko and Louise Bourgeois had work on display. The main work of Rothko and Bacon were changed a day before the auction. I liked that they moved the orange and peach Rothko to the dark blue wall. What a statement!
Finally Richard took us to the Main Floor and discussed the work of Gris and Nolde, explaining how sometimes fantastic and seminal work will be on display and become completely overshadowed by commercially successful work or marginal work by the rock stars of the art world. For an example he took us to a Degas pastel, the rendering was a unfinished and the study was a little quirky. Then Richard examined a work by Emile Nolde. It was a painting of three Russian men in traditional fur hats and dark beards. Drei Russen III is an outstanding example of Nolde’s ability as a colorist and expressionist. He predicted the work wouldn’t fetch a price equal to its intrinsic value.
At mid point int he tour Richard took us to a muted Van Gogh. He explained that this work, a field in front of the Chappelle de Saint-Remy was not as distinctive as his better known works. The colors were soft greens, browned yellows with warm flesh colors distributed thoughts the field.
I’m a Van Gogh kinda girl. I know he’s a rock-star partly because of his persona but it doesn’t matter. If no one liked Van Gogh I would still love him. And this softer, gentler Van Gogh was beautiful. The grains were as waves, the hay stacks in the distant haloed the ground and his sky was at airy peace with the world. But, traditionally, the work with raging colors and twirling stars fetch the highest bidders these days. He had secret bit of info that would raise this little Van Gogh to the attention of buyers. It has been purchased as a gift for Elizabeth Taylor from her father.
Christie’s had acquired several pieces from Taylor’s estate, notably her jewelry which toured around the world. Instead of auctioning all the items together, Christie’s cleverly divided the items and created a triple-threat marketing plan: See the Jewelry. Watch the auction online. Stay tuned to Christie’s for a few more Liz surprises throughout the year. Richard wasn’t sure if the painting would sell for the highest estimate or exceed it because it was owned by Taylor.
Our tour ended in a room arranged specifically for the Surrealists. The usual suspects included Dali, Miro and Man Ray as well as others I hadn’t heard of before. These works had strange or erotic or violent explanations of the subjects that couldn’t be completely confirmed by Richard. And then, too soon, the tour was over.
Christies considers this collection a Modern and Contemporary Art Auction which brings major buyers and dealers across the world to the event. Bidders register online and either bid at the auction or over the phone while the auction itself is broadcast online. The night of the auction I dressed up and went to Christies hoping to get in to the auction but to be admitted to the auction floor, one has to be registered and perhaps prove they have the capacity to buy objects they bid on. Once the hammer hits the desk the work is under contract to the highest bidder. After the registered guests had been received Christies admitted others to the gallery area where one could view the bidding behind velvet ropes or on large TV screens. I was amazed by the energy and bidding prices and what did and did not attract high bids. I hope to go to a few more actions before the semester ends.