First time at the auctions

December 13, 2009

We were lucky enough to get invited to attend our first Sotheby’s auction in mid-November with a party from a gallery I used to work for on the Upper East Side.  Having only seen these formal auctions in movies, we were of course excited to go.

Apparently, the people who attend these auctions do not really dress as formally as portrayed in films. There were no gloves, no evening gowns, and no tuxes.  There was however free flowing champagne. And there were exorbitant amounts of money offered very coolly for items with sale prices (or hammer prices, as they are termed at auctions) that are determined by how many people on the auction floor, or on the phones, want to walk away with them.

Being a newbie, I read each the description and estimate price listed in the catalog for each lot.  And then watched as the bidding, for the most part, reached the high estimate price and then quickly pass it.  If this is how the art market is in such dismal economic times, I wondered how much more money would change hands if we were not in a recession.  The Camargo sculpture pictured here for example, sold at $1.35M, three times the high estimate price of $450K. I had to struggle to keep my mouth from hanging open as the bids skyrocketed for about ten minutes.  It was quite an exciting evening, although the critics wrote the next day that it was not at all a great auction by their standards, and that Christie’s, although they did a bit better, also was not spectacular.  As for us, we are happy to start following the market at this stage.  If the tales are true about art being so much more lucrative a couple of years ago, we may have had a coronary at our first live auction, as we watch what to us is the value of a couple of homes, thrown at a things that will hang on the wall. 

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