just pretend you can afford it

I have become rather lazy in following what is happening within the art world since I finished my course at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in December. It seems like an age since I first walked into Sotheby’s and Christie’s to see the Post-War and Contemporary Auction previews so I thought it was about time to go back and get my head wrapped around those prices again. I guess that half a year or so on and the art world hasn’t moved much as the offering looked almost identical to what I saw last year, but I still enjoyed seeing all that art I can’t afford.

First I went to Christie’s, then over to Sotheby’s and S2, Sotheby’s special little gallery just behind the main building, for the Banksy show (for which you can find my opinion of in this other post as this one is going to be long, I can feel it).

Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998. estimate £800,000 – £1,200,000

When I walked into Christie’s I wondered if I had walked in, uninvited, to a special event. There was champagne, miniature food (croissants, burgers oh my!), coffee and hors d’oeurves whizzing about the place. It was buzzing with people, there was cool music playing (Foster the People, MGMT – Christie’s appealing to the young crowds for sure) and Tracey Emin standing by My Bed and apparently she was jumping on it too. All of this happening around millions of pounds worth of art and I was having a great time on my own. Some things I will be watching for during the sale is the Yves Klein pieces, how much that ridiculous bed goes for and especially how much Martin Creed’s Work No. 127: The light going on and off sells for.

I feel like I’ve talked about that Martin Creed work before and so I will talk about it again. When I saw it at Tate Britain my scepticism was replaced with amazement at how much of an effect it had on me. However, this “edition” on display in a tiny out of the way room at Christie’s was less than impressive. While all you get if you buy it is a certificate the sale guide tells you it’s 30 seconds on, 30 off so really you could create it anywhere. But the big difference is the space it is in. At Tate it was in a big white gallery, high ceilings and beaming lights which left your eyes struggling to dilate between the changes. In Christie’s it was a low ceiling carpeted room with little spotlights, the light didn’t really fill the space as dramatically as it does at Tate Britain. For the £50,000 – £70,000 estimate I hope if someone does buy it they have a massive room to play it out in. I always wondered how it would be possible to sell such a conceptual piece of art so I am really counting down the minutes (by flicking my light switch) until it comes up during the auction.

Yaacov Agam, Structure Couleurs, 1973-4. estimate £15,000 – £20,000

Over at Sotheby’s there was a more subdued atmosphere. No free food, no music, no people. Just silence and art. Usually I would love that but I was tipsy and wanted more fun. I had the problem I had during my last visits to auction previews, it all seems the same. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s follow the trends but it all seemed too similar, Francis Bacon pieces are the stars surrounded by Warhols, so many Fontana slash paintings and the inevitable Richter. The whole team was there. It gets to be the case if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. So going to Sotheby’s after Christies didn’t feel much different. There were a few particular pieces I enjoyed like the Yaacov Agam above and the crocheted marble lions by Joana Vasconcelos below, both in the day sale.

Joana Vasconcelos, Gardes, 2012. estimate £180,000 – £250,000

After all this time and all that champagne I still find the classification of these auctions to be problematic. Post-War and Contemporary, what can that even mean anymore? One piece at Christie’s really echoed my sentiment and so on that I will end my poor mans reaction to the auction views. I will be watching the auctions online, from the comfort of my own home, writing down how much people overspend on the pieces I wish I could own.

Maurizio Nannucci, All Art Has Been Contemporary, 1999. estimate £15,000 – £20,000
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