Christie’s Auction House, an establishment where vast amounts of wealth have been exchanged for collectible antiques, art, watches, manuscripts and wine since the mid-eighteenth century. It’s not a place I ever thought I’d visit, given the fact I can’t even afford to shop at Waitrose.
I took a seat in the third row back, sitting on a smooth plastic ping pong paddle which had the number ‘280’. I slipped it under my seat as I had no use for it, and flicked through the catalogue with a glass of complimentary fizz in my other hand.
This wasn’t your usual Christie’s art auction; the It’s Our World charity event was hosted by The Big Draw and Jupiter Artland Foundation. A new friend of mine had contributed some paper lanterns, hand painted with earthy images of flora, fauna and wild beasts. She wore imposing skull earrings, and the crowd was a blend of choker necklaces next to velvet skirts, corduroy trousers and chiffon dancing with leather.
Before the first drop of the hammer, there was time to pretend we could afford the scribbled Hockney as we walked around the exhibition room outside. The space was filled with donated pieces from artists that I should have heard of, and in the corner sat a cartoonist drawing live sketches of women interpreted as gremlins. One particular piece that caught my eye was Sarah Ryder’s enormous crouching rabbit in charcoal, complete with women’s breasts which should have been called, Bunny Without Bra. A helmet made from dead leaves by the artist Andy Goldsworthy attracted lots of attention, and not just because it was located in the canapé zone.
The auction was about to begin, and the room was introduced to the young Zoom Rockman, who at thirteen was the youngest professional contributor. There’s nothing quite like the success of a boy half your age to make you jump for another glass of bubbly.
The bids were underway, but everything felt like a warm-up ahead of David Hockney’s Kilham to Rudston from 2008. A frothing oil wave on black canvas by Maggi Hambling called Night Waves fetched a decent amount, and Antony Gormley’s nightmarish blurry figure with noticeable naughty dangly bits garnered a giggle from the otherwise sophisticated audience. Peter Randall-Page was rather cheeky for submitting an egg print in burnt sienna that was created by folding a piece of paper in half. A googly-eyed chicken with a rainbow bursting from it’s back by Jake and Dinos Chapman hatched a good bid.
It was time. Lot 13, unlucky for some. The Hockney demanded a solemn hush. People shuffled in their seats, straightening up ready for business. The bids started at £20,000. The auctioneer was furiously waving his hammer around the room keeping up with the incoming bids. I’m not sure it’s good form to look around the room, but by this point I was four champagnes down and curious to see who has this much disposable income. £25,000 up now, and the charity element surely encouraged the figure to climb. We hit £30,000 and the bidders were down to just two. The dramatic countdown began, but this time the auctioneer lingered on the numbers, his bated breath crying out to be interrupted by another bid. Clack. The gavel struck the wood, and the room exhaled.
My friend who sat next to me, caught the fever and bid for a moonlit caravan picture, abandoning her budget to secure her prize. She justified the spend by calling it an investment, and when she broke down the monthly repayments it didn’t sound quite so bad as she signed away on the paper slip. This is the kind of behaviour that caused me to quit eBay. I once purchased some boots a size too small, not because they were good value, but because I wanted to win.
The auctioneer’s voice boomed across the room. £100. The lowest starting price I’d heard all evening. I glanced up at the screen at Lot 28, and it showed a pencil sketch of a snow globe. It was moody, there were twigs levitating in the glass dome with glitter cascading lazily down. My first piece of art, I thought, my muddled brain as cloudy as the shaken liquid filling. I scrabbled around for the paddle, and lifted it above my head.
The auctioneer clocked me, and gave a smile as he introduced me as the new bidder. For that split second, I felt warm in his gaze, like I belonged here at Christie’s. Someone from the back outbid me. I lifted my right arm again, whilst swigging from my left. My friend asked me if I was sure, and what price was my maximum. The honest answer was I didn’t know. I was fixated on getting my first piece of art.
As my arm automatically shot up again, I wondered if this first piece would reflect my future self. Would it suit the more grown-up me? My first album was The Coors, and although that introduced me to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, I’m not sure it captured the essence of who I am, or rather, who I wanted to project as me.
£350. I had just bid £350 almost unconsciously. I twisted round as demurely as I could to check out the competition. A man immediately behind me with an impressive waxed moustache caught my eye, and I slinked back round. ‘Just one more…’ I told myself, as my hand popped up again. £400 now. That’s a month’s rent. For a piece of paper. A line of sweat formed on my lip. This was serious now. Was I going to have to default on my bid in front of everyone? The paddle found itself back under my seat, where it belonged.
The auctioneer appealed to the room, as I maintained my now strained smile. I reminded myself to blink, but my eyes felt rounder than usual. The auctioneer kept twisting his head towards me – the cursed countdown from three was imminent. Just as I resigned myself to months of soup, I was saved. A bidder trumped my offer by just £20, and I skipped out of there with the knowledge that my reckless paddle action contributed more money to a wonderful charity. That’s one way to remember it anyway.
Andy Goldsworthy’s Sweet Chestnut Leaves & Blackthorns http://gbphotos.photoshelter.com/image/I0000GyNRkeyqfLU