After living in the city for some time now, it is not very often anymore that I have a new “first” experience and last night I had one that I won’t forget.
It was my first time going to an art auction, the Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, where I was led by a veteran in the arts. After the bustling in the lobby, she handed me the bidding paddle and we headed upstairs (but not before I took a wrong turn) to the auction room. It was filled to the brim with at least 500 people. We had to walk across the room in front of all the people to find our seats. We sat next to a woman who had her iPad out to tweet the hammer price of each lot as it happened.
The auction began with auctioneer, Christopher Burge reiterating the rules of the auction and how the hammer price was the baseline price, additional costs such as the seller’s premium would be added after the fact. Then the bidding began! Quickly and without hesitation people were raising their hands and Mr. Burge was calling them out, getting a volley of prices going and charming the audience with his quick wit and math skills.
Most works came in around their estimated value until the Andy Warhol, Self Portrait, 1963-1964 went up. The value of the work was estimated at $20-30 million dollars but the work stalled around $24 million dollars. Then, hundred-thousand by hundred-thousand, Mr. Burge teased out an additional $10 million dollars for this work. An incredible triumph and a lesson in auction endurance.
So all in all, a lesson in what goes on in a contemporary art evening sale at an auction house.