|Artist Tom Thomson|
A few things strike me about the reaction to Sotheby's Canadian Art auction on Thursday 27th. Pieces by Jean-Paul Riopelle and Tom Thomson failed to sell, and that has people declaring the event a failure.
- Contrary to what the good folks on Antiques Roadshow and the various antiques price guides often say, art isn't always more appreciated in its native land. Jesus' words about unappreciated prophets are just as valid.
- The current catchphrase among art and antiques dealers is that art is selling well 'at the top end'. I just shrug and assume these people are selling works of art priced much, much higher than I do. But here we have a top end national sale that seems to have been over estimated.
- Some art critics have very high notions of success. I wouldn't call a sale with a 68% clearance rate a total flop, and if several top works didn't sell, were the estimates too high for tough economic times in the first place? Some pieces met their reserves, some exceeded expectations. A CBC article quotes Sotheby's as saying that the evening came to a perfect close and, basically, that Canadian contemporary art is taking its place among that of other countries. That might be an exaggeration, too: the sale's takings, even with commission, fell just below the low estimate, usually a before commission sum.
The comments on the articles were in some cases worth more than the articles themselves. There were comments about greed, a general lack of sympathy for the auction house and disdain for the wealthy who patronise it, and a thoughful letter about the need to appreciate one's own culture being independent of fads and price. One person thought the government should spend some money buying some of these pieces for museums. A good point.
Finally, as an arts fan, I found myself agreeing with a writer who stated that the the CBC article was more suited to the business section than the arts section; another pointed out that the Globe and Mail's article would have benefitted from pictures of the artworks in question. I have noticed this tendency in other contexts as well: superficial treatment of the subject that doesn't indicate educated the reader or reveal any particular knowledge of that subject, in this case, Canadian art. These art articles could have been written by any competent writer, which is a pity. Opportunity lost.