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 Joel's Blog

Buy One, Get One Free


Just kidding.

This past weekend Sally and I went over to Christie's, the large auction house in mid-town Manhattan. We like going there because whatever is on exhibit is well displayed, admission is free, and it usually a very interesting hour or two of art and objects that are rarely seen. The crowd is generally made up of window shoppers like us and serious collectors or their agents asking serious questions and taking careful notes. In this particular case, the exhibit focused Impressionism and some 20th Century art. The auction estimates ranged from about $5,000 to $70 million -- with a few "estimate available on request" for some items, like a Van Gogh on display. One of the great things about auction houses is that you get such a wide range of stuff. In a museum, only what a curator deems is worthwhile is on display, but in an auction it's whatever they have to sell. One of the benefits of our relatively informal society is that the super-rich sometimes dress like slobs, so the programs that serve them don't discriminate against the slovenly. Good for us regular folks - you never know who might be ready to snap up a small sketch for $800,000, so you have to be cordial to everyone.

Some of the works by the most famous artists (Picasso, Renoir, Degas) seemed to be of middling quality along with great stuff by less famous artists, but that depends upon the collections on offer. There also was an awesome sculpture (at an awesome estimate) by Jeff Koons in a dedicated shrine-like glossy white alcove that showed it off to tremendous advantage. None of the pictures I took do it justice so I am not including any here, but the effect in person was "Wow." And by the way, I am mostly not a fan of late 20th century/early 21st Century art, and in the past I would have said I don't really get Koon's giant sculptures. But now I get it.

Along with the paintings were some advance pieces from some upcoming auctions. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is auctioning off his guitars - 120 of them - in June and three of the guitars were on display to whet appetites. The prices for the guitars were much lower than they were for paintings, since they seemed like regular Fender guitars made more valuable only by the Gilmour association rather than any particularly artistry.

Three design pieces, also displayed as teasers for a future auction, really caught my eye. A 1980 marble chair by Ai Weiwei seemed like a joke. It might make a nice outdoor chair, but why bother? A clear plastic chair by Shiro Kurmata might be a piece of "art" but in real life it would get scratched up and dirty and look like crap. It's from 1988 and to me very dated.

But a bull shaped bronze bar cabinet, "Mouflon de Pauline," (2007) by Francois-Xavier LaLanne, seen at the opening photo of this post, was awesome and I would love to get it. (Estimate: $1 million - $1.5 million. Father's Day and my birthday are just around the corner.)

I have always thought that if I were more of a drinker, making an Art Deco bar would be perfect. This bull is 80 years removed from the period but it has that "classy bar" feel to it and makes you want to reach for a high ball and chat up that model from Milan who doesn't speak any English and is too polite to tell you that she would be curious as to why you thought it might be worthwhile talking to her but then again that really would take more involvement from her than is worth considering. This to me is the sign of successful furniture design and worth thinking about any time you design anything. To me, all good art, of any genre, can be judged by the emotional response it engenders in its audience. If I look at a chair or a bar and all I see is a chair or a bar, it might be a fine and even difficult bit of craftsmanship, but it isn't to my mind art. If, on the other hand, the piece inspires deeper thoughts and feelings, even irreverent ones, I would consider it a successful piece of art.

Since I don't collect art or furniture and certainly don't invest in it, I mostly rate what I see on the basis of whether I would like it in my home. Perhaps if you thoughtfully surprised me with a $50 million painting I would find a place on the wall for it, but would I find joy looking at the piece every day? Of the couple hundred of so painting we saw, I would say about a half dozen would find their way home with me if I had unlimited funds and wall space.

And that bar.

The big industrial hinge on the bar caught my eye as flimsy door mechanisms can always ruin an otherwise great piece

A really cool but too-large-for-my-living-room sculpture by Rene Magritte was my favorite of the sculptures

A little nook filled with a collection of Monets for auction

For some reason - perhaps to signify expensive importance - most of the paintings were in highly carved, magnificent frames

Join the conversation
05/08/2019 Daniel Burgoyne
Interesting, as always. I have never been to one and wonder if I ever will :)

In passing, I would refer to the "bull" more as a buck, as the French name for it is mouflon as in "mountain goat".
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