Alistair Sooke is promoting his documentary on the world’s most expensive paintings in the pages of the Telegraph. Grouping works of art by their auction prices hardly makes sense in world where pricing is done randomly and at unexpected intervals. Nonetheless, Sooke inadvertently captures some of the seething resentment between auction houses and their clientele.
Here he catches Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge expressing uncharacteristic regret at having achieved a record price of $82m for Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet that had been de-accessioned by the Museum of Modern Art:
“There was sustained applause for five minutes,” he recalls. “And my feeling was one of great distaste. I seriously thought about walking off, because they weren’t applauding for Van Gogh, and they weren’t applauding the work of art. They were applauding for money.” Later, I asked Burge whether he enjoyed dealing with Christie’s wealthy clients. “Some of them are very spoilt,” he told me. “They treat me like a jumped-up butler, or a seal bouncing balls on his nose.”
Turns out the feelings are mutual—at least according to Sooke’s selection of quotes. Kate Ganz, the daughter of legendary collectors Sally and Victor Ganz, has her own complaints.
“Right after my mother died – she died second – we were inundated by teams of people from Sotheby’s and Christie’s descending on the house,” Ganz recalls. “That was fairly uncomfortable, but that’s their job. Now it’s all computerised – they have on their computers the 50 most important collectors in the world, how old they are, when they’re going to die, and who’s going to inherit what. As my mother used to say: ‘The vultures are circling’.”
Surprisingly, Ganz goes another step further. She oddly complains that one of parent’s prize works was later priced at triple what the estate sale (one of the signal events in the current art market) made. It seems Ganz feels that spending a lot of money on art is immoral.
The World’s Most Expensive Paintings (Telegraph)