As soon as the auction was announced, scholars protested at the sale of potentially looted antiquities to support an organisation that wants to bring classics to the masses (which is a bit like trying to support a charity that helps protect people from human trafficking by auctioning off the services of an undocumented worker to clean your house without pay). Admirably, Classics for All soon responded by withdrawing from the auction.
Last week Christie’s sold at auction a portrait ‘created by an artificial intelligence’ for $432,500. The canvas from the art collective Obvious was described as a portrait of the fictional ‘Edmond Belamy’, and signed with an equation: It expresses the concept underlying the class of machine-learning algorithms known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), which were used to produce the portrait.
Manet’s oil sketch for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was auctioned last Wednesday night at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art summer sale. The large Salon painting has been at the Courtauld since 1934, but the privately owned sketch was last on sale 21 years ago, when it went for £4 million. This year, its value was estimated at between £15 and 20 million. It was sold in a few seconds for £15 million, plus £1.9 million in fees. (The overall total for the night was £178,590,000, twice as much as last summer’s sale.) Auctions have been described as ‘tournaments of value’ but there was no jousting; the sale was settled between the seller, the buyer and Sotheby’s before the bidding began, and the auctioneer brought down the hammer after just one bid.
Looking around her apartment in the Dakota above Central Park, Lauren Bacall saw ‘my several lives’ surrounding her. ‘Going from room to room,’ she writes in her 1994 memoir, Now, ‘I am faced with one or more of my collections, my follies: books, pewter, brass, Delft, majolica, tables, chairs, things... how did it happen, the acquiring of all this, the accumulation of it? Now that I have it all, what do I do with it? Who will want it?’ Quite a few people, it turns out: at the auction of Bacall’s belongings at Bonhams last week, every lot sold, from the Henry Moore sculptures to the Louis Vuitton luggage to the Ted Kennedy lithograph of daffodils (the auctioneer joked about the ‘collective gasp’ in the crowd when he announced that this one had ‘lots of pre-sale interest’), to the miniature bronze statue of Bogart in his gumshoe get-up (14 inches high; $16,250).
The second verse of Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changin'' tells 'writers and critics' not to ‘speak too soon/For the wheel’s still in spin/And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.' Dylan was smart enough when he wrote that to know that his own prophecies were as unreliable as anyone's.
Tomorrow morning, at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers in Midtown Manhattan (and online at www.txauction.com), the US Marshals are selling off the assets of Bernie and Ruth Madoff. There's a preview today (until 7 p.m.) at a warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard; some items are for ‘visual inspection’ only, but the feds will let you try on the jewellery. Madoff seems to have liked gold Patek Philippe watches, though I preferred a Rolex with a moonphase and a perpetual calendar in less gaudy stainless steel (lot 182, est. $60-70,000). The clothes wouldn’t fit me, though there are handsome ties from Charvet, and if you wear a size 8½ shoe you should pounce on lot 331: 16 pairs of John Lobb loafers with a low estimate of $1500, the price of a single new pair. There are lots of shoes. I counted more than 200 men’s pairs, including dozens unworn, to say nothing of slippers, running shoes and boots.
The Madoffs also had a library that is being sold en bloc,