Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting A Break With Tradition

The first time I ever had contact with an auction house was three years ago, when Menzies Art Brands asked me for permission to reproduce an image of an early painting in a catalogue. I said, "Sure." I also emailed further information about the work, including a correction to the title attributed to it. This process was repeated the next few times my work was submitted for Menzies Art Brands sales. I began to develop a rapport with key senior staff.
This year, one of the paintings from my Lake Eyre On Acid series was submitted for auction just as I was celebrating the 500th post here by offering a free, limited edition, signed photographic study related to this series. I suggested to the auction house that they place a 120 of these studies (enclosed in a hand-made glassine envelope with a blurb about the work) on each seat on the evening of the auction.
The studies were intended as a gift, an expression of gratitude. They were also an attempt to introduce something new and different into an otherwise predictable process, a reminder that while art auctions are about money and investment, they're also about art.
I didn't expect Menzies Art Brands to agree. It was a far from conventional proposal. Nevertheless, they did and when I turned up an hour before the auction with the prints in hand, the staff were excited.
These days, auction houses in Sydney, Melbourne and London – even the esteemed Christie's – deal with me regularly, just as they deal with gallerists, curators and private sellers, even though I have never sold any of my own work through them.
The latest 'hard copy' catalogue of the upcoming Deutscher-Menzies auction catalogue arrived in the post today. It includes an image of one of my earliest enamel paintings, Lolita At Sixteen, listed as Lot No. 10. A young woman is aiming a pistol but although her grip on it looks competent it is actually so wrong that it makes it difficult for her to squeeze the trigger – a metaphor for the often clumsy self-discovery of teenage sexuality.
Printed below the usual descriptive details about the work is a somewhat personal paragraph about the conception of the work. I'd emailed it to the auction house but hadn't asked for it to be included. It's the first time I've seen a contribution from an artist in an art auction catalogue. The text is usually written by critics, academics, or so-called 'art specialists'.
Like the gift of the photographic studies, it's another first: an example of the guerilla methods of an artist working outside the traditional art system in Australia merging with the well-established formula for a high-dollar auction sale. Let's hope it helps my works to sell in this very uneasy market.


JenXer said...

Coming from a complete outsider's approach (an architect trying to transition into a working artist), I get the feeling there's a strict rule set in the art-marketing and selling world: "this is how things are done;" experimentation seems neither wanted nor considered.

When I read about an artist actively applying marketing skill, or simply adding a personal touch to his or her "sales package," versus leaving it up to the "experts," my first inclination is to think, "well, duh! That's how things get sold in other industries!"

I often wonder if the reason these things haven't happened in the past is simply because nobody tried them before.

Keep breaking down the mold!

Paul Martin said...

Never trust an artist with a gun
Check out the second and third images.

mondotrasho said...

Yeah well, (un)fortunately, most guns are designed for right-handed people. Even tho' I'm left-handed I site and shoot right with a gun, but strangely I site with my left eye when using a camera. The girl, it could be argued has smaller hands than a man and therefore needs to pad out her grip. Compositionally I don't think it matters in the image it actually improves the symmetry of the fingernails IMO.

Anonymous said...

Is that a John Brack painting on the same page with Hazels' artowrk in the catalogue? That is quite a juxtaposition to get attention... very good positioning