Here’s what I’ve gleaned from the New York Times and the New Yorker so far this week: Art sales are down. Lily Allen is a big celeb here, but not as big as she is across the pond. And everyone’s texting Damien Hirst! Observe:
From last Sunday’s New York Times magazine piece on the state of the art dealing world (some scene-setting background: Jose, Alberto, and David Mugrabi – art dealers, whom the Times says own “what is believed to be one of the largest and most valuable private collections of art in the world” – are at a Sotheby’s art auction, where several of Hirst’s works are up for sale):
The first four lots sold quickly, for more than their high estimates… Then came the shark. Alberto started trading text messages with Hirst, who was apparently playing snooker at a pub but eager to receive a play-by-play of the auction…
Bidding began at £2 million but quickly stalled at £3.2 million — below the low end of the house’s estimate, which was £4 million to £6 million. The auctioneer, Oliver Barker, looked beseechingly at two long tables, which were lined with perhaps three dozen Sotheby’s employees, each manning a telephone to field remote bids from collectors across the globe. But none of them proffered a bid…
But before the hammer went down, a remarkable thing happened. Jose sat up and began waving his hand, to get the auctioneer’s attention. Then he motioned toward one of the phone attendants, who he could see was still talking to somebody on her line.
Barker kept on going, and a new bidder came in. There was another lull — the piece almost sold at £3.7 million — but an auction-house staff member on another phone could be heard successfully coaxing her bidder.
Once the low estimate was reached, a couple of other would-be buyers bid £4.5 million, £4.6 million, £4.7 million and beyond — in no time, all the way past £8 million… The hammer finally landed at £8.5 million — which, once Sotheby’s commission and taxes were added in, translated to a £9.6 million payout, or about $17.2 million. The room broke into applause.
Alberto received a text message from Hirst and smiled. “Damien made one of these symbols,” he said, sticking out his tongue to demonstrate.
And then, from Sasha Frere-Jones’ lengthy piece on the original MySpace pop star, Lily Allen (subscription required):
Through her father, Lily became friendly with celebrities like the late Joe Strummer, of the Clash, and the artist Damien Hirst. “We were BlackBerry messaging last night,” she said of Hirst. “I was trying to get him on Twitter, but he wouldn’t do it. I signed off, ‘Good night. – Dame Moody Wench.'”
All of this means nothing at all, of course – except perhaps that Lily Allen and the Mugrabis share a mutual friend, a fact that probably no one will find exciting – but it was a funny coincidence of text message-friend name-dropping, nonetheless.