The yellow Lotus occupied a prime spot in front of the valet stand outside of the Heritage Auction annex for the modern and contemporary art auction preview. As I walked past the car, the inexperience of having never been to an art auction preview morphed into self-consciousness.
The vibe in the first gallery felt empty, like hanging out in a giant, luxury vestibule. Down the narrow, crowded hallway, the second (and final) gallery was divided up topically into shallow alcoves. Tall, cocktail party style tables dotted the center of the gallery. The overly imaginative wines rested on a very unimaginative folding table at the far wall of the gallery. I got the sense that the true shoppers in the crowd were aware of the art, but not focused on it. There was a clubby feel to the back gallery of acquaintances catching up; talking about art maybe but not necessarily anything that was on the walls.
The poseurs, and I use this term affectionately given that I include myself among them, walked around looking at art like it was gallery opening. Our lack of insouciance may as well have been a placard, distinguishing us from those of the valet-parked, art-shopping persuasion. We wandered around looking at the art like we were in some kind of pop-up museum that we could only afford to remember. The next time you are buying a tie, imagine there are other shoppers, obsessively looking at every single tie carefully and abstractly like it didn’t have to compliment a suit or shirt.
Gradually, I started to get the hang of it. It isn’t a museum after all; the people who buy this art are going to have to live with it. Something whimsical, ironic, and even edgy –why not have something with a sense of humor in your home! But is there a limit? What is the best room in the house for the semi-nude boudoir scenes of the beefy women by Paul Kleinschmidt? Where would you put the multi-media piece by Ken Luce of the 1960s style TV with shark fins (Sea Hunt)? If you hate George W. Bush, do you want to spend thousands of dollars to see him on your walls everyday (Empire at War, by Andrei Molodkin)?
Investment pieces seemed to be the order of the day along the left wall in the back gallery, with South American/Cuban, Chinese and Pop-Art – hold on to these pieces and you are likely to make a profit. On the opposite wall seemed to be the art you would by so the space above your sofa doesn’t look blank. Some horrible post-war Picassos provided the chance to have his name as a part of your life, but they weren’t museum-quality.
That brings me back to the strangely deserted front gallery. Clearly these are not investment pieces you would buy because you expect them quadruple in value. The Wahrhols, Rauchenbergs, Ed Ruschas and super sexy Mel Ramos seemed to be pieces at the top of their game. The approach here is that if it doesn’t go with your sofa, you pitch that it immediately and find a new sofa (or have one custom made). These aren’t conversation pieces: they are statement pieces.
Isn’t that what we tourists ultimately missed – the difference between the conventional art appreciation way of looking at art (what did the artist intend, what does the art-work say) vs owning a work of art for what it says about you and your taste.
The auction takes place Tuesday at 10AM. I won’t be attending the auction, but I would love to see how the paintings that caught my fancy are actually displayed in someone’s home.