When I was traveling about, in order to get the most out of the experience, I set a couple of rules for myself. One of which was to never say no to anything I hadn’t already done before if someone should suggest it. I found myself in all kinds of interesting situations thanks to this simple rule, and have never regretted any of them, even if they were difficult or upsetting. So a couple of weeks ago when my friend Olaf asked me if (being that I live in New York) I would mind going to an auction house here and bidding on a couple of items on his behalf. Dramatic Hollywood visions of Christie’s and Sotheby’s danced in my head, nasty bidding wars breaking out between otherwise upper crust and overly polite people. I immediately pictured myself in drag as a cross between Joan Collins in Dynasty, Bette Davis from Now, Voyager and Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman (after the shopping). There would be raised voices and wine glasses. Five thousand. Ten Thousand! TWENTY THOUSAND!! And…sold!…to the elegant heiress in the large hat.
The reality wasn’t all that far removed, although with quite a bit less drama and a bit more casually attired. At least, the crowd (about 50 of us, such as it was) was fairly casual. The many people that worked there were more smartly dressed, a line of about 30 of them taking phone bids during the auction. The room was contemporary and well appointed, coffee rather than wine was being served. Many of the bidders were hanging out at the back of the room, leaving very many of the chairs (especially at the front of the room) empty. I arrived about a third of the way through the bidding (at about lot 30; my lots to bid on were 75 and 76), and strolled to the front dramatically taking my seat in one of the almost empty rows at the front of the room. I was given a catalog of the lots, which was quite a nice book on its own really. I was stunned to discover that many of the photos on auction were ones I recognized and greatly admired. In and among them was the work of Diane Arbus, Herb Ritts, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and many other well knowns. The fact that I would be bidding on pieces in such company made my palms slightly sweaty, especially as we approached my lot numbers. The bidding was all going more rapidly than I had imagined such things would take, and I was getting nervous, not wanting to miss my lots. I loosely grasped my blue bidding paddle with the number “110” in white upon it. The pieces I was to bid on were, relatively speaking small potatoes at a couple of thousand dollars each. There was a Cindy Sherman print a few lots before mine that went for $95,000, and the bidding was most furious for this lot. During it, I sneezed and the auctioneer looked over at me, as if to say “Sir, do I hear $80,000?”. Breaking out in a cold sweat, I shook my head and firmly removed my hand from my paddle as if it were toxic. They fortunately moved on to the other bidders, and no one seemed to notice. I don’t know why I felt a little nervous, this wasn’t MY money I was bidding with after all. I could just picture the conversation with my freind Olaf later:
“Sweetie, I just got you the most wonderful Cindy Sherman…and such a bargain! Worth at least $100K! And I got it for you for a mere $80K!…what?…well.. I know that wasn’t the one you wanted…yes, I understand that is about 76K over your total budget…no no, no need to thank me. Ciao!”
When my lots finally came up, I have to say I was a total natural. I waited just long enough at the first bid to not appear too eager. i refused to be bullied into a higher bid by the auctioneer. I held my ground and counter bid when necessary, but didn’t go higher than what I was authorized to do. In short, I was a pro. (Hm…maybe I should add this to my CV as a service I offer?) I ended up losing the first lot, but winning the second. I had to bid up to the high amount authorized me, but I got it.
I stayed to watch a few more lots go and some minor skirmishes. The totality of the event, now that I was coming down off my bidding high, washed over me. This turned out to be a fascinating look at a world I had never really encountered before. I got up, turned in my paddle and walked out feeling very posh indeed.