Liyen Chong, Hero, 2008, embroidered hair on cotton, 65 x 140mm, 64zero3
Lately we've seen the rise of New Zealand auctioneers acting increasingly like art dealers, working directly with artists as the first point of sale. Whereas once an auctioneer needed to wait until the collector decided to part with the work, now they're plucking the works directly from studio walls. It's something that's always happened, of course; and it works particularly well for artists with an established reputation but without a dealer, as it provides them with high profile marketing of their works, reproductions in a catalogue, access to a pool of collectors, and sometimes a short essay commissioned from a decent art writer. And they don't have to chip in for invitations, advertising, or drinks at the opening.
Recently the practice has become more obvious, due perhaps in part to the increased competition for sales among Auckland's auction houses; it seems the art auction game's working increasingly like real estate, with the ability to secure listings being just as important as the ability to close a big sale.
Adopting another strategy from real estate, now the tables are being turned -- sort of -- on the auctioneers with Christchurch art dealer 64zero3 offering a work for sale by closed tender. Liyen Chong's Hero, pictured above, is one of her characteristic intricate works made with her own hair. Her works look like very precise line drawings until you view them in extreme close-up, when you realise they're actually embroidered. They take more than a week each to make, and collectors quite understandably line up for them.
This tender is being offered in a good cause -- the proceeds from the sale of the work will be donated by the artist and her dealer to Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Trust -- so it's a one-off. But I wonder if there's legs in the idea for future sales? Perhaps, like real estate, there are some popular properties it would work well for, while others would need to wait for the next speculation boom.