Gallery Girl @ A Fine Art Auction

I generally like to upload at least one new blog post per week. However, dissertation deadlines, exams and a student budget have kept me away from galleries during the past week. However, that was never going to stop me from churning out an art related piece for all of my readers. I was struggling to think of a subject to write about when a catalogue from an auction that I attended at Bonhams earlier this year caught my eye: I had found my thread!

When I started writing Gallery Girl nearly three years ago now, then under the name of Cinderella Venus, I wrote about the gems that can be found when going to look at the show rooms of London’s auction houses. Over the years I have passed many afternoons walking around Mayfair and popping in and out of Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Christie’s. Auction houses often display works of art that have been hidden from public view in private collections, that may go straight to another collector. For me, the most interesting part of the display at these pre-sale galleries are the price guides on the wall labels. You wouldn’t find an asking price for a Picasso at the Tate, but at Sotheby’s it is protocol.

Despite years of seeing priceless works of art on display before the sales, until a few months ago, I had never seen an artwork actually being sold. I knew what went on inside. I had seen pictures of packed rooms of bidders with an auctioneer standing at the front with an aisle of telephone operators on either sides. However, I had always been too intimidated to do anything about actually attending the event. For some sales, you have to be invited to the auction, however, I found, to my astonishment, that for many you can simply walk in. Admittedly, I never had the courage to do so myself, a friend of mine happened to be bidding on a Millais at Bonhams and asked me if I would join him for the experience: I jumped at the chance! I also discovered that day, that you have to be registered to bid, which came as a great relief – I have always seen art collecting as a ‘rich persons sport’, which I simply do not have the means with which to join in with – now there was no possibility of accidentally bidding on a masterpiece!

The auction we attended was a day auction selling 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art. Most of the attendees were sat in there seats in front of the auctioneer. On the wall behind her was a chart showing the conversion of prices into various currencies. As the auction began, my companion thought it best for us to walk around the room in which the auction was held, which was one of the display galleries. We were the only ones to do so, however, nobody seemed to mind what we were doing and it gave us the chance to get up close and personal with the work on sale.

The bidding was quite exciting to watch, however, if I am honest, there is little in difference to the auction’s that you see on daytime television. The only difference was the dramatic rise in price. I found the telephone operators to be the most entertaining, speaking in various languages and asking the caller on the end of the line multiple times if they would like to bid again. Of course, my friend and I were anxiously awaiting the Millais which was on sale half way through the auction. Unfortunately for us, the painting sold for triple the guide price, although we both agreed, that it was probably worth much more anyway.

The experience was one I think every art lover and student should have. For some reason there are some things in life that make us feel that we do not belong in certain situations. Just because you are not earning a salary that could support a habit of buying renaissance paintings or futurist sculpture doesn’t mean you must be exempt from watching it being sold. I go and look at designer clothes far beyond my means in department stores all the time, so why should I not go to Bonhams?!

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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