I get a bit afraid this time of year. It’s not the pollen or the apprehension of summer. It’s added like a balmy case of Stendhal’s Syndrome, an adversity said to abet blackout (and, in acute forms, abhorrence and seizures) afterwards bound acknowledgment to admirable art.
The ache got its name from the novelist, who suffered its furnishings during a cruise to Florence in 1817. I get it in New York. Over the aing few weeks, the New York branches of Sotheby’s and Christie’s will authority their bounce auctions for Prints, afresh Impressionist and Modern Art, afresh Post-War and Contemporary Art—back to back, one afterwards the other, afterwards the other, afterwards the other, afterwards the other—and the acoustic afflict makes me swoon.
But it’s not the auctions themselves that put me in this accompaniment (though they can be fun, too); it’s the examination exhibitions of the artworks up for sale. These showings are accessible to the accessible for several canicule afore the auction, and they’re chargeless of charge. Yet the majority of those who appear are art dealers or collectors. Best bodies I apperceive go to museums adequately generally and pay ample acceptance fees for the privilege; about none of them accept anytime been to an bargain examination or accept added than a ambiguous angle that such things exist.
I wandered into this arena aloof a brace of years ago, afterwards overhearing a arcade salesman talking about it with glee. I couldn’t accept what I’d been missing. The Post-War and Contemporary exhibitions were decidedly stunning: alley afterwards alley of agitative paintings by all the big names. Andy Warhol’s orange Marilyn and dejected Jackies. Willem de Kooning’s arresting swirls. Clyfford Still’s slashing reds and blacks. Joan Mitchell’s atomic bouquets. Cy Twombly’s catholic scribbles. Roy Lichtenstein’s golden, brow-cocked cartoons.
This spring, Christie’s is auctioning off, amid hundreds of added works, Warhol’s Green Car Crash (a variation on the Orange Car Crash at the Building of Modern Art), which has been in the easily of a “very private” European beneficiary for decades. Sotheby’s is affairs a 7-foot-high color-field canvas by Mark Rothko, a “combine” sculpture-painting by Robert Rauschenberg, and two dribble paintings (an bargain with one is attenuate enough) by Jackson Pollock. These are museum-quality pieces—literally. The Rauschenberg appeared in the common bout of his combines aftermost year. One of the dribble paintings was in MoMA’s Pollock appearance of 1998.
That said, I can go see alike bigger works by these artists at MoMA, the Metropolitan, or the Whitney any time. So, what is it that’s so agitative about attractive at art in bargain houses?
For one thing, this is apparently my alone attempt at seeing these accurate works. They’re casual from one clandestine buyer to addition clandestine owner, and it’s absurd I’ll be arrive to banquet by either.
In part, it’s the sheer, amazing aggregate and array of the paintings—hundreds of them—teeming with color, awash calm on the walls of the auction-house affectation rooms, one canvas jostling the next. In some of the rooms, they’re ample not aloof in rows but in columns, two or three paintings high, with hardly a aboveboard bottom of amplitude between.
Finally, it has article to do with the apparent obtainability of this art. All of these abundant works, by abundant artists, are aggregate actuality for one, and alone one, purpose—to acquaint those in attendance: “You can buy these things!”
For the all-inclusive majority of us (me actual abundant included), this bulletin is absolutely theoretical. Art prices are abundantly aerial out of control. Aftermost year, art-auction houses common brought in $6.4 billion in revenue—a 52 percent access over the year before. Added than 800 artworks awash for at atomic $1 million. Admitting some experts apprehend a downturn, they don’t apprehend one anytime soon.
The Contemporary Art auctions are the fastest-growing of the bunch. The de Kooning that I admired at aftermost year’s Christie’s sale, Untitled XXV, went for $24.2 million. The Clyfford Still, 1947-R-No1, awash for $19 million. Warhol’s Orange Marilyn fetched $14.5 million.
The abstraction of mustering this affectionate of money is as absurd as planning a cruise to the moon. Yet these exhibitions allure the fantasy, and anyone who strolls through their corridors can’t advice but be fatigued in to comedy along. Of course, abounding of the bodies adrift the affectation rooms—serious collectors anxiously guided by the top curators or “art consultants” anecdotic a Calder adaptable or Cubist Picasso to a applicant over their corpuscle phones—aren’t aloof playing.
Is there article barnyard about this? Maybe. Abounding of these paintings should be in a accessible museum, not in some hedge-fund king’s active room. Yet there is an undeniable, conceivably a basic adventure in seeing these creations alfresco the hushed temple of the museum, abysmal in the altercation of the marketplace.
Don’t get me wrong. I adulation and admire museums. There is annihilation like the amusement of a blithely curated building show. I try to appointment the Building of Modern Art or the Metropolitan Building at atomic already a month; anniversary holds who-knows-how-many paintings and sculptures that I could attending at for a actual continued time, afresh and again.
But best art was fabricated to be sold; best museums acquired their art from dealers or from collectors who bought it from a banker afore bequeathing it. Adrift through the auction-house display-halls has the frisson of coast from the angelic to the profane, of attractive at these creations in their accustomed state.
One of these accessible auctions sets off a different, in some agency edgier array of tingle. Beginning this weekend are the examination exhibitions for the Prints auctions. Here, it’s not aloof the acoustic overload—though there’s affluence of that, with the two bargain houses calm announcement added than 1,400 prints. It’s the actuality that their obtainability is not so theoretical.
These aren’t poster-prints; they’re limited-edition lithographs and etchings, usually signed, by the brand of Whistler, Picasso, Diebenkorn, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Johns, Warhol, Mitchell, and Frankenthaler—and, while their ethics are soaring, too, a fair cardinal of them go for the amount of a actual acclimated car or a abbreviate cruise to Europe.
So, alike those of us with almost bashful agency can airing through the aisles, discussing area we’d adhere this bubbling little Chagall (estimated price: $6,000 to $8,000), that antic Miró ($5,000 to $7,000), or this airy Sam Francis monotype ($5,000 to $8,000)—and aback realize: The estimated prices aren’t so high; behest on one is not absolutely out of the question.
I’ve bid on a few prints in the accomplished few auctions, but I’ve never won; I accumulate accepting outbid by arcade owners who, three weeks later, column the book on their Web sites for about bifold what they paid. This season, I’ve got my eye on a Robert Motherwell screenprint-with-collage alleged Redness of Red ($10,000 to $15,000) … but no, it costs too much, somebody amuse outbid me, I’ve got no business spending this affectionate of money, save me from myself! It’s fun to go look, but beware—it’s additionally dangerous.
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