Jussi Pylkkanen sits for an interview in the New York Times Magazine conducted by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Sorkin quickly gets off the “is the art market a bubble” line of questioning and asks something novel and truly interesting: how does the auctioneer see the room and what can he do to make the sale that another person or a machine cannot?
[H]ow do you keep them bidding?
It’s a hell of a lot easier when you personally know the people that are bidding and you know, to some degree, how far they’re going to go, why they’re bidding and when they’ll stop bidding. Laurence Graff was bidding on Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘‘Woman With Flowered Hat,’’ and he stopped at $40 million. I looked at him and opened my hands; I knew he wanted to continue. He went all the way to $50 million. At $50 million, the gallerist Tony Shafrazi said, ‘‘Come on, you have to give him the picture!’’
How did you know he would keep going?
In that situation, the appetite to acquire that piece was significant. That’s when you have to pause and give the buyer time, because in their lifetime they may only have one opportunity to buy the masterpiece that they really crave. I know that sounds a bit extreme, but it’s true. Someone might have collected 40 or 50 good paintings, and when the one work that he wants more than anything else comes up for auction, the auctioneer has to be very sensitive to that.
How much do you think the auctioneer affects sale prices?
It’s very difficult to judge, but I think that a good auctioneer can certainly bring 20 percent to the value of major works of art.
The Christie’s Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen on Working the Room (New York Times)