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.