During yesterday’s train ride from Ottawa to Toronto my iphone serendipitously paired the Grizzly Bear Crystals’ cover, He Hit Me, (and it felt like a kiss), with the following passage from the auction chapter in the newly released Seven Days in the Art World by sociologist Sarah Thornton.
“All done?” [Christopher Burge, Christies’ chief auctioneer], inquired with an affectionate tone, “I am selling”¦One million five hundred thousand dollars to the gentleman on the aisle,” and he raps his gavel with such a short, sharp violence that it makes me jump.
The hammer punctuates and passes judgment. It acts as a full stop to every lot, but it is also a little punishment for those who didn’t bid high enough. In the subtlest of ways Burge dangles the carrot: This unique work could be yours, isn’t it beautiful, see how many people want it, join the club, enliven yourself, don’t worry about the money”¦Then, in a blink, he hits everyone but the highest bidder with a stick, as if the seduction and violence of the art market were represented in the rhythm of a single lot.
I’m not suggesting there’s a perfect parallel between a song about physical abuse and auctions, but the allure and simultaneous cruelty described certainly match well enough to warrant the repeat pairing here. I’ll be writing more thoughts on Thornton’s book as I make my way through it — the amount of depth and insight provided by the author countless high profile art world professionals is impressive to say the least — though, four chapters in I wouldn’t mind a little less focus on the market end of the profession. We’ll see how the book does though. After all, these are the kinds of thoughts that can turn around in a chapter.