Caveat Emptor

March 12 2012

Image of Caveat Emptor

Picture: BG

Intrigued by the above advert in the London Evening Standard, I went along to what seemed like the auction of a lifetime in London yesterday. A Van Gogh for sale at 'total inventory clearance' prices? Too good to miss, I hear you say.

Too good to be true, of course. It was a motley selection of prints, some 'signed', and sold in the strangest 'auction' I think I've ever seen. The lots were put up randomly, with each one preceded by a little speech on how valuable it was. Sometimes (with a Dali for example) the auctioneer made reference to a 'price guide' he had, saying the print was worth £4500, but then starting the 'bidding' at a bargain £1500. And still nobody bought it.

Anyone attending the one hour viewing (that tells you something), was first given a lengthy and seemingly inane document detailing the history of printing, which, at the very end, set out the difference between a 'Fine Art Print' and 'a poster' (answer, not very much). I guess this was to avoid any difficulties on the legal front. The auction itself started with a tale of how all this fine art was being sold so cheaply: because a US art gallery had hoped to establish a large gallery in London, and had shipped all this investment quality art to the UK - but, at the last minute, 'the real estate deal fell through', and so the stock had to be sold off. What a curious way of doing business! (I presume the same tale was given at the previous weekend's auction in Birmingham.) As they used to say in the News of the World, 'I made my excuses and left'.

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