all heck breaks loose as Powhida exceeds the estimate
A number of art enthusiasts found their way to Winkleman gallery, and a Saturday in "#class", this past weekend to take part in the (unbilled) "T-Bill Gaming" event. Tom Sanford and William Powhida had set up a projector and screen linked to a laptop, allowing gallery visitors follow the Phillips de Pury auction, "NOW: Art of the 21st Century", in a live simulcast which began at noon.
Fans were invited, Sanford's own blog had announced, to participate in a "relational aesthetics art project" involving "the sometimes-overlooked art of book making". We had been invited to "watch the excitement unfold as shadowy and anonymous international art patrons determine the actual market value, not only of the works, but also of the hundreds of artists themselves!"
Fully in the spirit of the month-long project created by Powhida and Jen Dalton, the installation was described as an attempt "to make the world of contemporary art auctions more accessible to the Average Joe on the streets of Chelsea."
The excitement in the gallery was building for hours as the auctioneer moved closer and closer to lot #257, a drawing by Powhida, "Untitled (Dana Schutz), which the artist had donated to a Momenta Art benefit five years ago. All heck broke loose when it went for $1,900 ($2,375 including 20% premium, and before taxes). The piece exceeded the high end of the auction house estimate. Since only a few years earlier someone had taken it home for $150, it certainly represented a good "investment" for its original owner, even if neither its author nor the non-profit space to which he had gifted it shared one penny of the bounty.
At some time in the midst of the excitement buildup the artist himself was heard to say:
No artist should have to watch this
For the artists and their friends and confederates in class that afternoon it was good fun, but mixed with the fun were melancholy thoughts framed by the sudden and direct confrontation with the reality of the art market. Inside the auction gallery however it all appeared to be only about money.
I'm sure we all had far more fun in class than did the crowd a few blocks south. I have a decent amount of experience with New England antique and estate auctions, and some familiarity with New York art auctions produced by a slightly less prestigious house than this one. I had always associated auctions with great fun and drama, even for the parsimonious participant, so I was shocked at how hurried and perfunctory the proceedings were on Saturday. Not a whit of drama - and no wit - came from the podium. The only excitement generated by the house (as opposed to that created by our own party on 27th Street) happened when the man in the $5000 suit, who normally finds himself selling off Picassos and Rauschenbergs, started the bidding on one item at $9 (it finally sold for $100).