2019 Global Auction House Summit

Day 1: Saturday, February 2, 2019
NOAG Heads to London


Over the next week, myself (Taylor Eichenwald, Director of Marketing & PR), Jelena James (Director of Fine Art) and Tessa Steinkamp (Director of Auctions) will be visiting London to attend Invaluable’s second annual Global Auction House Summit. I invite you to follow along with us both here on the blog and on our Instagram story as we share the sights from our trip and meet with other leaders in the auction industry. My intention for this blog is to share my take on interesting moments and thought-provoking topics from the Summit while also touring one of the largest and most layered cities in the world.

Topics include a look at ARTMYN, a company that is changing the art world with 5D scans and immersive, interactive applications; globalization in the art world; and a look at the changing landscape of the auction industry. You can view the entire agenda HERE.

As I pack the last few things and head off to the airport, I look forward to sharing this journey and looking for ways that NOAG can improve our client experience.

Stay tuned…

Day 2: Sunday, February 3
Beating Jet Lag

The key to beating jet lag is to just keep going from the second you touch down at your destination. We wasted no time after landing around 10:30am local time in London. The first stop was, of course, our hotel and then a quick espresso to fuel up, then off to the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The V&A houses a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. I’m including some photos below of my favorites, but the entire collection is wonderful and certainly worth a stop. I think my favorite room at the museum was the tapestry room. With examples from the 16th century, it was remarkable to see such exquisite examples so intact as many from that time did not survive. What I found most interesting was that Henry VIII of England absolutely love tapestries and acquired or commissioned many beautiful works. When he died, he owned at least 2,700 tapestries.

Other highlights include an exhibit dedicated to the dress of various periods. Seeing styles come to life that is illustrated in paintings and illustrations of the times is amazing. The attention to detail, materials and construction are unrivaled. I think there should be a movement back to 18th-century dress! Well… maybe only some parts…

After the V&A, we walked across Kensington to visit one of Jelena’s friends from when she attended Christie’s Education here in London. She and her husband hosted us for a quintessentially British tea in their beautiful flat. After tea, she and her husband took us on a whirlwind drive to get oriented with the city. (I highly recommend doing this on the first day you get to any city as it gives you perspective and helps with planning!) We saw Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and much more. Unfortunately, Big Ben is hidden by scaffolding at the moment as it is undergoing MAJOR restoration – the first time in many, many years.

The evening ended at The Ivy Café in Marylebone, the neighborhood that we are saying. A quiet 20-minute walk through the neighborhood led us to this lovely spot. I, of course, had to order the Shepherd’s Pie (it was divine) and the first night would not be complete without dessert.

More to see and do tomorrow before the conference officially kicks off! 

Day 3: Monday, February 4
Preparing for the Conference

I hope you are enjoying following along! The first stop today was the National Gallery. I have a fondness for Old Masters and always make a point to see any paintings by Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Bronzino (my absolute favorites). The preciseness, use of light and realism make these works relatable to the modern viewer. Although I loved seeing works by my some of my favorite artists, the most memorable piece at the National Gallery was “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger – it gave me goosebumps. The attention to detail and scale is so stunning. This double portrait is also interesting to me as the ages of the sitters are inscribed – 25 and 29 (around my age).

Another favorite was a portrait of Madame Moitessier by Jean-August-Dominique Ingres. The painting is stunning in terms of composition, color and attention to detail, but what struck me most about this painting was the fabric of her dress. I learned that the fabric is fine silk from Lyon, which was extremely desirable at the time. The floral print is absolutely stunning. It was interesting to learn what and why this particular dress was worn in the painting.

One final piece that I will touch on is a charming painting by Thomas Gainsborough. I’ve become quite fond of his work since we sold a recently rediscovered portrait by him last year. For the longest time, I was fortunate enough to have it hanging in sight of my desk. It’s moments like that when I truly feel like I have the best job in the world. Being able to sit next to a painting by a master like Gainsborough, especially one that was of his own family member, is very special. The Gainsborough in the Portrait Gallery was left unfinished – the curator suggested that the unfinished spot was to leave space to paint in a child, but for whatever reason it was never completed. I’m fascinated by these little glimpses into both the culture of the period and the mind of the artist.

After making our rounds at the National Gallery, we stopped in for a quick bite at the café and then headed to Philip Mould & Company, which I’ve been dying to see in person. It is quite thrilling to see works by some of the same artists displayed at the National Gallery available for purchase (although a little bit out of my price range!). The collection of miniature portraits is delightful. While I love having the ability to instantly share or save memories with my iPhone, I do wish the art of portrait miniatures (and honestly silhouettes) was still alive and well. The Old Master collection is unbelievable, but what struck me was the 20th century and modern gallery on the bottom floor. Two paintings by Lorna May Wadsworth, a contemporary British artist, stood out to me. One is titled “The Queen of New Orleans”, which of course caught my attention. The other painting was inspired by A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood and Tom Ford’s Oud Wood fragrance (my personal favorite scent). I think if I had to pick anything in the gallery, it would probably be that painting. Anyways, I am starting to ramble, but there are SO many wonderful pieces of art to discuss.

After viewing hundreds of paintings, it was time for some proper afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason (after popping into Harrod’s of course!). I nibbled on some refreshing cucumber and mint sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves and lemon cake accompanied by White Peony King tea. After a few hours of heaven, we hustled back to the hotel to pick up our welcome packets and attend the meet and greet for the conference before finishing the night with dinner.

For dinner, we ventured out to the oh-so-trendy Soho neighborhood to Social Eating House, which I HIGHLY recommend. With so much packed into the day, we called it a night after dinner to rest up for an exciting day of speakers and panels at the Summit!

Day 4 and 5: Tuesday and Wednesday, February 5-6
The Summit

After two intense days of meeting other auctioneers and hearing from industry leaders, I feel very inspired and am excited to return to New Orleans to begin implementing some new ideas. Jelena, Tessa and I had the opportunity to meet auctioneers from around the world, from Denmark to England and all over the U.S. This is the second opportunity for auction houses from all over the world to meet and discuss how we can improve as an industry. I am going to share some of the most interesting topics that we heard about over the last two days.

ARTMYN: First, I want to give you some background on this revolutionary company and I think they say it best: “Born at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, ARTMYN offers a new generation of technological tools and services for the art eco-system. Combining thousands of photographs captured with different light sources and spectrums – including UV lights, ARTMYN generates interactive 5D images and movies providing an emotional experience on screen. The scanning process extracts the DNA of artwork by acquiring its unique features – making the original unforgeable. I hope to be able to utilize this technology at NOAG to offer our consignors and clients an unparalleled experience. One of the biggest issues all of us in the industry share is that clients need more information about what they are buying. This technology allows the potential buyer to literally interact with the piece they are interested in bidding on. Stay tuned… we are working towards offering this for select pieces in our sales.

Events: We have already begun to plan some exciting events outside of our regular sales to engage our clients. I don’t want to give too much away, but after speaking with others and hearing what our fellow auctioneers are doing, I have some exciting things in store that I will share in the coming weeks and months.

Women in the Industry: This was perhaps the most controversial panel at the conference. The moderator was a journalist who was trying to connect the “Me Too” movement with the rising price of female artists, and all of the gallerists and auctioneers on the panel agreed that it was too soon to connect a recent event to trends in the art market. While we have seen rising prices in female artists, many agreed this trend is simply merit-based rather than connected to specific events outside of the art world. One specific event that was discussed was the sale of a painting by Artemesia Gentileschi. Artemesia was an Italian Baroque painter, today considered one of the most accomplished painters of the 17th century. In an era when female painters were not commonplace, she was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence and had an international following. After seeing this painting in person (it was acquired by the National Gallery in London), I was in awe of the story behind the artist and the painting itself. She was raped as a young woman and won her case against her assailant – something that was unheard of at the time and continues to be a challenge to women even today. The painting sold for millions, way above the presale estimate. The painting is a Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (who was also a victim of rape). I am always fascinated by artists’ self-portraits and to first see this in person and hear the story and then hear from the auctioneer that sold this incredible piece was an amazing experience. The take away from this panel was that we all hope that moving forward we don’t have to point out how many female artists are featured in a sale of any kind and that all art is simply judged on its merits. We agreed that diversity of all kinds needs to be a priority in the industry.

Art Theft and forgery: Another major issue in our industry discussed at the conference was forgery and theft. The discussion began with FBI agent Christopher McKeogh who highlighted recent cases of both theft and forgery. He pointed out many of the tell-tale signs of shaky provenance and accompanying documents. In once case, the forger used documents from now closed galleries with deceased gallerists to accompany major works. One of the ways that the FBI cracked the case was that he used a zip code code with a New York gallery prior to the invention of zip codes. We also heard from the leader of The Art Loss Register, Julian Radcliffe, who runs an organization that compiles an international database of stolen or problematic works and hunts all over the world to return these works to their rightful owners or their descendants. It is crucial that we are all committed to due diligence in our industry.

Mega Trends in the art market: We discussed the different types of collectors and how each interacts with the art world. The lecture was given by Evan Beard, a National Art Services Executive at U.S. Trust. His engaging talk was fascinating. One of the things that stood out to me most was that he used a non-existent piece of art as collateral for the purchase of a physical piece. Yves Klein would host these experiential “parties” and issue certificates to the attendees. The certificates trade for six figures now, but there is literally nothing but a piece of paper. You do not own a piece of art, but a certificate from that experience. I was floored that the contemporary market has moved so far as to trade non-existent art! The market for post-war and contemporary art has grown in the past 15 years, with Old Masters and Impressionist and modern art contracting.

I could write about everything I learned for pages and pages, but what I am going to do is save some exciting things to show you as the year progresses! I feel invigorated and look forward to an exciting year at NOAG.

We have one more day left here in London and I have lots more to share. Don’t forget to check back!

Day 6: Thursday, February 7
Final Day

Thank you to those how are following along! From the moment I landed in London, I fell in love with this city. The level of service, style, the art and even the food. This morning started out with a quick café macchiato and then I hopped on the tube to head over to Kensington Palace. After a lovely stroll through Kensington Gardens, we headed into the Palace to see the exhibits. The chambers of George II were as extravagant as one would expect. Despite George and Catherine having German roots, they worked very hard to promote their Britishness. Their predecessor, George I, often spoke German, but George II and Catherine insisted that English be spoken at the court. This truly speaks to the internationality of monarchs in Britain and across Europe due to marriage arrangements. Another way that Catherine promoted her Britishness was to hang portraits of William III, Mary II, Charles I and Henry VIII in the Privy Chamber.

I loved seeing the elaborate silk-decorated cornices and draperies as well as replicas of period clothing on display. I see similarities between the details and designs of these and those of modern-day couture, especially men’s fashion  One style that stood out to me was a gown called a mantua, which is a wide petticoat worn by every woman in the court that was a display of wealth and status worn. This wide flat dress was done so that the brocade, a richly decorative type of silk, could be appreciated both for its craftsmanship and design. This particular silk was woven in Spitalfields, London. If you recall, I discussed the significance of silk from Lyon in a portrait by Ingres at the National Gallery.

The next room was the King’s Gallery. I was touched by the story of this room – when Queen Catherine died on November 20, 1737, at St. James’s Place following a terrible illness, the parties and balls came to an end. I imagine they were beyond magnificent and would love to have been a fly on the wall! The story goes that George II was unable to speak about Catherine without weeping. This display of emotion was certainly not something typical for George or any King at the time. All of the household workers were instructed to wear black. Although the King allowed Catherine to arrange his paintings as she saw fit, they would bicker frequently about what went where. After her death, he insisted that the Gallery remain untouched – no paintings were to be moved and even the wood in the fireplace at the time of her death was to stay. The story was very moving – what a wonderful way to honor a lost loved one. It speaks to the insignificance of day-to-day squabbles and what really matters in life.

After moving through some of the other galleries, I stopped to see an exhibit of Princess Diana’s dresses. While some were really pretty horrible by today’s standards (80s colors, shoulder pads and weird cuts – yuck!!), other gowns were unbelievably gorgeous. My favorite was a white gown with beaded birds wrapping around the front all the way down the train on the back. The beading and detail work was incredible to see up close. Being young when Diana died, I did not appreciate all that she did to support AIDS research and victims all over the world. I have immense respect for what she did at a time when it was not necessarily popular is admirable.

Also on display at Kensington Palace were several of Queen Victoria’s tiaras. One that struck me was one that converted into a necklace. When hooked one way, it could be worn as a tiara, but when flipped down, it was a diamond necklace. Very clever!

After moving through the Palace, we stopped at The Orangerie for a quick bite and headed off to the London Museum via the Tube. The Elgin Marbles were our first stop. It was interesting to read about the debate between Britain and Greece on where these should be held. The British Museum (and the British government) maintains that these objects belong to everyone and they should be held in a place where they can be viewed and enjoyed by all. The British Museum, like all public institutions in England, is free to the public. I do think that the museum has done an outstanding job of displaying and educating the public about their importance.

I personally love Egyptian art and that was where I focused my time. One thing I learned that I did not know prior to this visit is that hieroglyphics recorded the ancient Egyptian language with a mixture of sound and picture signs. For example, the word for cat is written with a combination of three hieroglyphics signifying the sound “meow” and then a picture sign showing a cat. Did you know that Egyptian hieroglyphics were first used around 3500 BC and tell out of use by the end of the fourth century AD? Until 1822, it was assumed that hieroglyphs were simply the use of images recording ideas without language. Using the Rosetta Stone (a mixture of hieroglyphs, modern Egyptian text and Greek) and other inscriptions, Champollion figured out 4000 years of hidden meaning. That is the kind of thing that excites me – there are commonalities among humans (even after thousands of years) that allow us to unlock secrets of the past. Without trying to sound like one of those crazy people from the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens”, our predecessors on this earth likely unlocked secrets that we are still trying to figure out today. We must continue to research and learn from the past to help unlock new technologies and better understand the world around us. What better way than looking to the Egyptians, Assyrians and Greeks!

Although it is wonderful to be able to see so many of these artifacts, I would be remiss if I did not touch on how problematic it is that many of these antiquities were looted from their countries of origin under the British Empire. The British Empire was the most powerful in the world for a very long time and colonized places throughout the world (not to mention the institution of slavery). While viewing these objects, we must all remember the problematic nature of how they were acquired.

After spending time in the British Museum, we popped into a couple of cute little bookstores. There is a little shop across from the Museum that has 18th and 19th-century books that were so cute I could have spent all day in there. We continued to wander around, poking into little galleries and shops around the neighborhood. For dinner, we stumbled on a tapas restaurant not far from Cavendish Square Garden with the best jamòn I have ever had. We chatted about the highs of our trip over wine and charcuterie before turning in for the evening.

Well… maybe we made one last stop. By total chance, we walked by Ice Bar London. Jelena and I had to pop in to check this out. The upstairs of the bar is called Fire Bar where you wait to go downstairs into the ice. They give you parkas and you enter a room made completely out of ice (even the bar!). The glasses are also made of ice. It was so fun and a perfect way to decompress after two intense days at the Summit.

I’m back in my room packing and preparing to come back to New Orleans. I have enjoyed sharing my trip on the blog and I encourage you to ask me more about it when you see me next! Like I said in yesterday’s post about the Summit, I am excited to share new ideas and implement improvements for our clients.

See you in New Orleans!