Think big, think positive, never show any sign of weakness. Always go for the throat. Buy low, sell high. Fear? That's the other guy's problem... You make no friends in the pits and you take no prisoners. One minute you're up half a million in soybeans
We are all familiar with the "buy and sell" cries of city traders in films of the 80's, such as Wall
Street and Trading Places. Amidst screams and incessant waving, these brokers resembled
desperate men on a sinking ship - rather than financial Svengali, who were able to capture
fleeting moments of value in currencies and commodities.
Auction houses, although similar in appearance and purpose, present a different proposition.
The raising of hands is far from manic; on the contrary, even a subtle nod or accidental twitch
can register with the auctioneer as a show of interest or bid – auction, from the Latin augeo,
meaning 'I increase' ... 'I augment'.
Dominic Lewis examines the gravitas of historical images (some now in the preserve of Getty
Image archives, where the artist procures image licenses which allow him to enter this world)
and questions their status as the punctum of our times. For The Auction, Lewis explores this
theme through a new body of works that focus on auction houses. From Rembrandt to Van
Gogh, from London to New York, the images span from the late 1950's to the late 1970's.
Painted alla prima in a monochromatic palette, the works make little editing to the
photographic images they derive from, whilst at the same time steering away from discourses
on photo-realism. These are not an exercise on soft-focus and pixilation. They place emphasis
instead on the application of paint - unmediated - without glazes or filters processing the
transference of image to canvas - as if the artist was telling us; "this is how it happened",
highlighting a sense of nostalgia about these historical events, and acknowledging the tradition
of both history painting and the group portrait.
The Auction, 2012, is a typical example. Here we see Sotheby’s auction of July 11th, 1957 where
Claude Monet’s The Blue House at Zaandam(1871) is being sold (as part of the Weinburg
collection of French painting). Looking back at the setting - with its drapery and period furniture
housing a painting by one of the most romantic artists in history - raises questions about
the contemporary art market and the ever changing values of art. The cameras and
microphones in this painting touch on painting’s relationship to the media, whilst along with
the furniture and fashion, help to place us in a specific period. The different characters
interrelate on different levels, from auctioneer to warehouse attendant, to the buying public,
the journalists and camera men, everyone is involved in the activity of looking and listening.
In another painting Cezanne Auction, 2013, bidders and auctioneers at a Sotheby’s auction in
New York view millionaire Jacob Goldschmidt’s collection of Impressionist painting, including
Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Waistcoat being shown to the bidders at $222,000.
Lewis draws our attention to the inherent silence of these images. They belong to an era where
imagery was scarce and to capture moments like this was rare. In The Auction Lewis removes
the cacophony of the bidding floor and freezes gestures and gazes found in these fleeting
moments, in doing so we become at one with these events; observing, listening, and watching
the world of art go by: estimated values broken, or failing to reach reserves. History being
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