Discovering Auctions Abroad
Recently, I had the good fortune to spend a week in London, attending meetings, visiting auction houses, and meeting with industry peers. Auctionland, as I like to call it, in Australia is a very small pond. Visiting the London auction scene only reinforces that reality with literally hundreds of auction houses of all shapes, sizes, and histories offering specialist advice across every imaginable category.
So, coming from my “small pond” and after two years of lockdowns, I was keen to get a sense of what has changed, what hasn’t, and what might be new about salerooms.
A day walking between the viewings of the biggest auction houses in London revealed a few things. Firstly, I’m happy to report that viewings were buzzing with people, conversations, and a pronounced use of the iPhone as a camera and record of what appealed to the visitor in place of physical catalogues. More gimmick than useful, but still fun, was Christie’s presentation of Paul Allen’s Giacometti as a rotating hologram presumably because it was considered too delicate to transport across the pond. Did it bring me closer to the visceral connection one makes with a sculpture in the flesh? No. Was it fun to watch this inside what looked like a refrigerator with windows? Yes, indeed!
On another day I visited, again, a Big Three auction room on auction day. I was relieved and I guess also a little flat to observe a room full of chairs and very few spectators of the in-room kind. It was, like here now in Australia, all about the flourish of the auctioneer, a high-quality video camera streaming the whole event to computer screens in all parts of the world and, for good measure, still lots of telephone bidding. Auction day, in this sense, has changed forever and I would suggest, with very few auction event exceptions. It’s funny, I think, that it took something as extreme as two years of Covid for humans to realise they could do better things with their time than sit in an auction-room for hours on end waiting for one or two Lots to present for sale.
One auction house used the phrase “Where Collectors Gather”. I remember loving the simple poetry of that but now, in a post-lockdown environment, it has so much more meaning and nostalgia associated with it. Every time I left an auction appointment what I noticed at all times of the day and night (except my walk along the Thames on a Sunday morning at 6am) was the teams of people everywhere, gathering, talking, walking, and enjoying themselves with such completeness, given the two years of heartache and sacrifice just endured by these Londoners. And while maybe never again in an auction day setting, that is the memory that will always endure from my most recent auction house field trip, the joy of people gathering again.
Chairman / Head of Important Collections
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