Retail is for the ingénue; for the jaundiced connoisseur, there is only the auction house. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. The fountain of treasures lies in the auction house, whether it’s a 100-euro steal or a $500 million Leonardo. Like masterpieces, there are the pinnacles of auction houses, with Sotheby’s and Christie’s occupying the slots of ‘be number 1 or number 2 or get out of the business.’
Like the gambling whale, real collectors are feted. If you’re on the right side of these doyens of the art world, their perks can, at the very least, waltz you into some of the most waitlisted exhibitions on the planet.
However, there is a downside: auctions are incredibly addictive. You’re not only trying to purchase genuine treasures, most of which are simply unobtainable elsewhere, but it’s also a game – a competition, a story with a beginning, middle, and end where you are both the protagonist and antagonist. An overwhelming drive to win can become a costly trap.
The worst that can happen? You acquire a Gauguin and find yourself needing to work harder to stretch for a Van Gogh. But that could be a great benefit for those needing a push to once again scale new heights.
The fun doesn’t stop there; there are the parties. One night, you can be looking at a collection of beautiful works from China; the next day, you’re on a Blade helicopter flight, and then a private jet hop to Paris, sipping Ruinart and looking at the world’s rarest handbags to tempt your better half with whatever rarity tantalizes her.
So, this Thursday, I slipped into Sotheby’s for its ‘Burning Gravity’ show featuring the artist Minjung Kim. I was soaked to the skin in the short 200-metre walk there. Not a qualm from the man at the door upon receiving a rotund, drenched gent. The art was lovely—if your Monaco walls are big enough or not already full, there will surely be room on your yacht or in one of your other properties for a piece or two. If you love calm abstracts that draw your imagination toward landscapes, these works might be your jam.
Next up? Perhaps Paris tomorrow, or London next week, or maybe New York or Geneva—a flow of masterpieces begging you to own them. Picasso, Monet, perhaps even Lavinia Fontana. Who, you say? Why, the first professional female artist on record. But you’re too late for that; it sold on Wednesday for about the price of a Birkin bag with palladium fittings.
If you’re an art lover, this scene is truly a reason to venture out—minus the calories or ennui of going somewhere without a purpose. Whether it’s a watch, a picture, a piece of furniture, a sculpture, jewellery from ancient Egypt or Rome, or even a pair of sneakers worn by an on-court superstar, there is nothing like owning a masterpiece.
Auction houses are the channels for these unique, exquisite items, and Monaco is the portal to that experience. Stepping over that threshold is a gateway to a whole new world for those with both the taste and the pocketbook to play on the other side.
PHOTO: Clem Chambers with Louise Gréther, Director of Sotheby’s in Monaco