Art at Christie’s

I went to the preview today of an auction of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s. It made me think I should go to see art at auction houses more often.

What you don’t get is a curated exhibition, with the pieces arranged around some kind of (hopefully) illuminating theme. It’s a rather random selection of work determined by what happens to come up for sale. But there’s no entry fee, the paintings are well-displayed, it’s less crowded than exhibitions at major London galleries tend to be, and the staff are more deferential, even though they must have taken one look at me and realised that I was unlikely to be splashing out a few million quid for a Renoir. And the catalogue (expensive, but there are copies chained around the place for you to consult) gives loads of information about the work.

There were some nice paintings, too; Cezanne, Picasso, Miro, Kandinsky, Degas, Modigliani and so on. I rather liked Portrait d’Eugène Lamy by Gustave Caillebotte and this bull by Oscar Dominguez, for example, as well as some nice Vuillards. Most unexpected item: Giacometti chairs.

Of course the other thing that makes an auction different from a gallery is that all the work has an estimated price on the label. So you can find out that an awful marshmallowy Renoir group portrait of a lesson is worth 2.5 – 3.5 million pounds:

Isn’t that horrible? It’s interesting, though, trying to get some sense of who’s hot and who’s not in the current art market. Despite the price tag on that one, Renoirs were generally estimated at less than I expected; the Schieles on the other hand were pretty expensive.

It would be quite interesting if places like the National Gallery had valuations displayed on the labels. Would you be able to resist being swayed by the number of zeros? Of course they’d never do something so vulgar, and they’re probably quite keen to appear above such things, but I’m sure museums, academia and the art market have a symbiotic relationship. If an artist’s reputation is on the rise, I’m sure curators and collectors are affected in much the same way.

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Fucking bootiful

It takes a lot to make me have sympathy for Bernard Matthews, whose company represents everything that’s worst in industrial food production, both the way they rear the turkeys and the revolting processed foods that they make from them. But I did get a twinge of sympathy when bird flu started killing all their turkeys.

I’ve got over that now.

The breeding ground for new strains of flu seems to be mass poultry production facilities around the world where huge numbers of birds are reared together in close contact with people. Ironically though, this outbreak isn’t going to do the free-range chicken industry any good. A chicken free to roam is a chicken free to expose itself to, and spread, infection. Perhaps if all the world’s chickens were reared in low-density, free-range conditions, the problem wouldn’t have started, but it’s too late for that now. And as far as I can gather from what they’re saying on the news, if H5N1 gets established here, free range will be thing of the past.