It’s the beginning of a new month, and for students and those in employment this means one glorious thing: money. Suddenly my cup-a-soup lifestyle comes to a crashing halt and before the reality that this money needs to last me the whole month and starts to dwindle, for a day or two each month I feel rich beyond my wildest dreams (my dreams are not particularly exciting). For me this means a trawl through digital Topshop and another black dress and faux-chiffon blouse identical to the 20 I already own, but ifanyone has a spare few thousand then this shiny new month might have lead you to the Christie’s website.
From 26 February until 5 March Christie’s ran an online-only auction dedicated to the work of Andy Warhol, sold to benefit The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. This online venture is the first ever for Christie’s in Post-War and Contemporary Art sales.
I’ve only used eBay twice, and that was to buy a pirated DVD of Beauty and the Beast and a Pittsburgh Pirates snap-back (yes really), so I’m a bit of a novice at online auctions, but surely this seem a bit soulless. Don’t get me wrong, I love online shopping. Sometimes (all the time) when my concentration starts to slip in the Library, I decide to refresh myself by checking my saintmail or maybe The Times Online , but every time my fingers type in that dreaded distraction of ‘www.’, before I know it, and without realising I’ve done it, it appears… www.asos.com. Online shopping is definitely a convenience when the high street is Market Street rather than Oxford Street, but there are drawbacks, primarily the fact that you can’t try things on or see them in real life. Online shopping is fun, but it’s not quite the same as having an affair of the heart in Zara and leaving a shop with a carrier bag doubling as a trophy. This is the same for an art auction. The tension in the room could be cut with as feeble a knife as the ones in Café 1413, and it wasn’t until I attended an auction that I understood the expression “a cool million”. So it would seem that removing the human aspect from selling art could lead famous auction houses to just being a rich man’s eBay, and paintings as cold as stocks and shares.
However, I think this could be seen as a serious positive for the art world. Firstly, it offers a more egalitarian approach to buying and selling art, started by Christies.com live streaming their big auctions, which means that anyone can log on and witness the action, if not actually participate. After all, it is still fine art that we are talking about. As well as access to the auction, Andy Warhol@Christies offers essays written by leading scholars on the artist, providing an opportunity to learn more about the artist and the works being sold. It would be a shame if either Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Bonham’s became dominated by online sales, but by offering both information and access to the glamorous world of auctions to anyone with an access to a computer, Christie’s is both acknowledging a change in financial conditions and generating interest in what is being sold. It is this information and interest that will keep the auction house relevant and modern, as whilst it is those with money who will pay for the paintings, it is the continued interest of the public that make the canvases they purchase significant. They may pay, but we set the prices.