ARTINFO reports on the top-selling lot from Paddles ON! London - Michael Staniak’s IMG_885 (holographic), 2014, which sold for £25K!
Meet our auctioneer!
We sat down with Phillips’s Head of Contemporary Art Day Sale and Paddles ON! auctioneer Henry Highley to talk about how he started auctioneering, his training under the legendary Simon de Pury, and his predictions for the future of the digital art market…
Jed Moch: Tell us about being an auctioneer.
Henry Highley: It’s great, is the short answer (laughs) - it’s the glossy side of the art world. There’s a lot of work that goes into it before the auction itself. The experience is incomparable really - being the face of the auction is incredibly exciting - it gets better each time.
JM: Does it get easier?
HH: Technically it’s easier but each sale is very different. It’s tough to predict because the feeling in a room can only be determined the night of the sale itself. The difference between a good and a bad auctioneer is the ability to make a quiet sale look very busy.
JM: Tell us about the training involved in becoming an auctioneer.
HH: I started out by bid clerking for about 3 years with the great Simon de Pury. I picked up the technical side there as well as a few mannerisms, and then I started doing charity auctions to get a feel for what it was like to be in front of an audience. It’s a combination of getting the numbers down and getting the experience, both with Phillips and with charity auctions. They’re entirely different experiences. With Phillips, it’s harder to bluff, you’ve got to be a bit more serious.
JM: What goes into organizing a sale at Phillips?
HH: It’s about a 3 month process for getting consignments. You take data from previous auctions and read markets to select and review artists that fit into each sale. With the younger artists, it’s about finding names you think may be ready for auction and sourcing them. With the blue chip artists, you review where the currents markets are for the artists, which is a combination of reviewing major collections and proactively seeking certain works for the sale.
JM: Do you feel as though this is a curatorial practice?
HH: To a certain extent. I think a curator would laugh at my answer but I think more and more so you get the flexibility to curate the sales, and handpick certain artists particularly at the younger end and that’s what’s so exciting about what’s developing at that end of the market. There are so many good artists coming through the ranks you can really try to handpick the ones you think are particularly strong and place them in a sale. For example, we’ve got a really good group of young LA-based painters that we’re excited about who are just coming up the pipeline now. There’s a lot of young talent really, which has always been a focus for Phillips.
JM: What dictates to you that these artists are ready for the secondary market?
HH: It’s a combination of reviewing price points on the primary market and gauging the accessibility of the works in that market. If they’re hard to access on the private market and have begun trading on the secondary market privately, we then think about bringing them to auction.
JM: How do you feel about the ‘flip’ rhetoric that’s emerged surrounding these younger artists?
HH: It’s part of the industry. The art market has always had speculators involved but in a period as buoyed as we’re seeing now, there are just more of them. It’s the way the market is, particularly at the younger end. The important thing is to be aware of what’s happening and gather as much information as you can. I’m not against it necessarily as it drives business. People need to buy and sell over short periods of times.You do have to be sensitive to the gallerists and private market programs as well. So it’s a balance as is the case with other any other demand-based market.
JM: How do you feel about Paddles ON! as an independent sale?
HH: It’s great. The digital art and post-Internet art movements are attracting a lot of attention right now. We’re seeing great names: Michael Manning, Michael staniak, Jonas Lund, Amalia Ulman. There’s something really brewing among so many of the artists in this space. We’re excited to have them showing alongside the Contemporary Day Sale.
JM: Would you like to see these artists become fully integrated into the contemporary program?
HH: Absolutely, you know we already have artists like Parker Ito and Petra Cortright who Paddles ON! introduced last year in New York. It could be that Paddles ON! continues to focus on the genre completely but there will undoubtedly continue to be crossover appeal. We don’t want to step on toes but would love to continue integrating the post-Internet group into our contemporary sales.
JM: Do you think post-Internet artists that are not working traditional mediums are long term market viable?
HH: I think in many ways it is comparable to performance artists or land art or people working in large scale installation that is less commercial. A lot of the post-Internet artists follow this tendency to produce works that are less commercial that have more commercial components to their practice that are offered as bodies of work on the side of the works created in those more complex spaces. For example Jonas Lund - one of his really interesting projects is having people design their own pizzas online and then having them ordered and delivered. It’s a fun idea. But then he also produced 40 canvases for a show at Steve Turner Contemporary called ‘Flip City’ wherein each canvas has a GPS chip that tracks the canvas and it’s movement to illuminate all of the flipping that goes on. The work is certainly commercial but it is just one of many examples of his practice. It will be interesting to see how the movement continues to evolve. It’s an exciting time.
"The paintings are given a clear texture on top. In a lot of ways, it’s a hollow gesture to create the feeling of a hand, admitting that it feels nice to have that element." - MICHAEL MANNING
In this video, we visit artist Michael Manning on site of his show at Retrospective Gallery in Hudson, New York to discuss his ‘Microsoft Store Painting’ series and how that evolved into the ‘Wild Fusion’ series that’s included in our upcoming Paddles ON! auction.