I once went to a Contemporary art auction at Sotheby’s. Not to buy anything, obv, but because private art collections are more or less private and auctions present the only opportunities one may get in a lifetime to stare and gape in mock, shock, and awe at a select group of historically significant and/or very pretty world famous paintings and photographs. Plus, they’re surreal affairs, phenomenon both fascinating and nauseating to witness. Unless your last name is Rockefeller or FancyPants, you’re rarely in a room with a few hundred individuals who count their money in stacks of millions.
If you want to experience it all firsthand, you can make your way to your local neighborhood international auction house on days when the hammer drops to watch all the hullabaloo and hobnob with high society (auctions are usually free to attend), or you can catch Christie’s In the Saleroom. The original web series delivers the action from the auction to a computer screen near you.
The latest installment features Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge entertaining a 16-minute bidding war for Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait, 1963-1964. The piece was originally commissioned in 1964 for $1,600. The final selling price came to $34.25 million, the most expensive lot in a very good night for Christie’s.
The best part of the above is Burge’s growing irritation (and subsequent delivery of bits of comic relief) at the seemingly absurd $100,000(!) bidding increments for an objectively cool, four-panel photograph estimated to be worth $20 to $30 million. That’s not at all how these things usually go. In the same auction, Burge gets up to the final selling price of $30 million for Mark Rothko’s Untitled #17 in less than 180 seconds thanks to bidding increments in the much more appropriate millions of dollars range.