Spotlight: Christie’s Paris
A BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT THE PARISIAN AUCTION HOUSE BEFORE THE GAVEL COMES DOWN
Three thousand, three thousand five hundred, four thousand for the gentleman in the back… four thousand five hundred on the phone. Five thousand and five hundred for you, sir…going once, going twice, sold! The scene is all too familiar at Christie’s—since namesake James Christie organized his first auction in London on December 5th, 1766, the world- famous auction house has been conducting high-profile art sales all over the world.
Christie’s has grown into a worldwide company that employs more than 1,800 people working in forty countries across the globe. And yet, the auction experience remains surprisingly personal. Art specialist Capucine Milliot perks up when she talks about some of the most remarkable Christie’s sales. “Auctions are a series of surprises, suspense and wonders,” she says.“Everyone gets excited at the sound of the gavel. It’s a kind of a game where everyone wins.”
When Paris’ salesroom opened in 2001, Christie’s selected four auctioneers among 460 in France to conduct its auctions. In preparing each sale, these professionals are charged with creating an item inventory, authenticating the objects in question, estimating their value, and conducting the auction itself.
To assist them in their work, Christie’s employs qualified specialists in more than eighty different art fields. They give their expert advice on items of African art, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art, Asian art, books and manuscripts, European ceramics, Impressionist and Modern art, jewelry, motor cars, photography, post-war and contemporary art, prints, silver, 20th century decorative arts; the list of different fields is inexhaustible.
According to Frédéric Ballon, director and teacher at Christie’s Education Paris,“Identifying art work is a long and technical process completely reliant upon a process of educated questioning. These questions are the result of intense research by historians, restoration experts and curators, because Christie’s cares about the condition of the work.” Every year Christie’s conducts over 2000 estimates all over the world in a wide variety of categories. For the past several years, sales of artwork and furniture collections by Christie’s have amounted to more than three billion dollars annually.
Each month, auctions are organized by theme in salesrooms world- wide. June’s Modern and Contemporary Art sale—featuring works by Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Chana Orloff, Kees van Dongen and Niki de Saint Phalle—took place in Paris, but buyers could participate from anywhere in the world. Thanks to a sophisticated data processing system, Christie’s auctions can be monitored via internet in real time. Buyers can instantly transmit their “purchase orders” and have their works shipped to them the next day. From 1766 to the Information Age, Christie’s has been and remains an innovator in the art world.