Duane Michaels, Portrait of Magritte, 1965.
This was October 2009, one year after “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” the most garish triumph by an auction house ever. For that sale, Damien Hirst consigned 223 new pieces to Sotheby’s in London, cutting out his dealers Jay Jopling and Larry Gagosian. “I was indoctrinated by the gallery system—that you don’t do auctions,” Hirst told the Sunday Times. “If you don’t like the rules, change the rules.” The presale estimate was $122–176 million; the sale would bring in an outrageous $201 million, upwards of six times the previous record for a Sotheby’s single-artist sale (set in 1993 by the Estate of Pablo Picasso). But even more outrageous, in retrospect, was the date: September 15, 2008, the very day Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. […]
It was obvious from my very first day that Sotheby’s would be exactly as I had come to imagine it. As the elevator reached each floor, archetypes spilled forth. Tweedy men got off at Rare Books, preppies at Impressionism, former sorority pledges at HR. The cool girls got off at Contemporary. In their jewel-tone flats and blended eye makeup, they were the ones who most resembled works of art.
These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton. But during business hours, they went on client visits, consulted on prices, and tirelessly secured property. They were friendly on the phone, enthusiastic about the art, and harder working than people who look and talk like that usually need to be. (+)