October 9, 2008

I was born a Cockney in East London and, though we moved to Chiswick in West London before I had a memory (when the whole borough was still a mix of Victorian houses turned slums and spit-and-polish-clean workman’s cottages, not the chic area it has become), my mother liked to take me back to the east end; especially to Petticoat Lane, the Smoke’s great flea market along Wentworth Street and Middlesex Street.

I’m not sure what she went there for, but I grew to love the spielers, the stall-holders who sold their goods through their showy talk.  The kings of the trade were the china salesman who, in the course of a rambling sales pitch, could pile an entire china dinner service on a large serving platter and throw it in air, catching it again with a huge clatter.  And by that time, you were so entranced by his storytelling and feats of strength that you took out your purse and bought a plate or two.  So the theory went; and I’m sure it worked because they kept at it throughout my youth.

When I came to live here on the west coast, I was immediately drawn to the pitchmen I saw on TV:  Cal Worthing ton “and his dog Spot”, the classic used car salesman; Ron Popeil, the grandmaster of kitchen appliances and spray-on hair; Billy Mays, king of the infomercial, with his beard and trademark “Billy-back” guarantees; and the up-and-comer selling absorbent cloths.  I love listening to the pitches, analyzing the creative, reading the disclaimers, and never buying anything (OK, in the interests of full disclosure, I did buy a pasta maker from Ron Popeil in the 1980s:  it was great to use and good value).

Anyway, this whole musing was kick-started by a fascinating Lloyd Grove interview of Billy Mays in Conde Nast Portfolio.   Billy turns out to be a single-minded money-making machine, happy to launch into a detailed analysis of “direct response” advertising, and with a keen sense of the downstream revenues he can plug into.  He has developed his art of pitching, worked hard at it, and I don’t begrudge him anything he can make out of it.

Lucian The Small

October 8, 2008

The next auction that I have an interest in is at Christies, London, on October 19th.  It is a sale of “Post-War and Contemporary Art“.

The first thing that struck me from the catalog were the Notes attached to Jeff Koon’s “Jim Beam Log Car” (estimate up to $1.6m).  They are the epitome of the Inflated Phrases we have discussed before.

But the real treat comes as early as Lot 9:  “Girl Reading“, Lucian Freud’s portait of Lady Caroline Blackwood.

We are used to Freud’s massive images, but this is a tiny 8″ x 6”.

It still took an age to paint.  Blackwood has described sitting for Freud:  “Not only it is slow, but after six months you can be back to where you started. He not only paints the anguish of your age but he also paints the anguish of his sitters” (C. Blackwood, quoted in S. Aronson, Sophisticated Lady, p. 146).

And the pre-sale estimates for this almost-miniature run from $3.5 million to $5.2 million.

A little larger, at 14″ x 14″, is Freud’s portrait of the other giant, Francis Bacon from 1956/7.  The pre-sale estimate for this historic image goes up to $12.3 million.

The catalog also includes a number of works from young Chinese artists, some basic Warhols, along with works by Gerhard Richter, Lucio Fontana, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and others.  It will be interesting to see if the “financial meltdown” has any effect on this end of the market.   I don’t expect it to.

Upwardly Mobile

October 8, 2008

What image comes to mind when you think of “mobile homes” and “trailer parks”?  I bet it is not this:

Or this:

And I bet the $1 million price tag doesn’t match the sterotype, either.

This is the view from the Paradise Cove mobile home park in Malibu, California.  Pretty neat.

These images come from a fascinating Los Angeles Times slide show study of the Malibu areas of Paradise Cove and Point Dume Club. The areas feature many double-wide and manufactured homes.

And why not?  Every home is manufactured, of course.  Take a look at the cookie cutter houses in the average North American suburban sub-division; and prefab houses were a popular option in the early part of the last century.

Trailer parks on the edge of our cities that look like shanty towns should no more influence our overall opinion of mobile homes than say, inner city slums should influence our views of mansions.  There is no intrinsic difference that I can recognize.

So, it comes down — as it always does — to location, money, money, and location.

Ban It And They Will Buy It

October 8, 2008

Forty-four years ago today, LSD was officially made illegal in the US.

The following few years saw a phenomenal growth in the manufacture, sale and use of LSD and it has its supporters even today.

Bad policy makes unenforceable law.

Beach: Water’s Edge

October 7, 2008

“Beach:  Water’s Edge” (2008), acrylics, plastic shoe, on canvas, 18″ x 36″

Click on the image for a larger picture.

Auction Update

October 7, 2008

The rather charming study by Felix Kelly that I mentioned earlier, sold at auction this morning for more than double the estimate, hammered at $26,350.  Still a bargain.  His other two works in the same auction, that I like less, also doubled their estimates or nearly so.

The $35 Movie Experience

October 5, 2008

Regular readers will know that the child bride and I go to see movies at the Van East Cinema.  $6 in the stalls or another 50 cents for a balcony seat. No frills.  First run shows.  Great sound.  That compares very favourably with $11 or $12 downtown.  And as for the South Barrington Gold Class Cinema in Illinois!

Complete with recliners and a seasonal dining menu … Gold Class Cinemas offers a much more upscale, intimate night out than your typical evening at the local theater.  “It truly is an experience,” said Marissa Denny, a Gold Class spokeswoman.  Each theater has a maximum of 40 seats. Individual reclining arm chairs are assigned to each ticket holder and full waiter service is available inside the theater with just the push of a call button. Gold Class assures other moviegoers won’t be disturbed during the movie … Valet parking is included in the $35 ticket, but the popcorn or cocktails are not free. Patrons will, however, have a professional server who will bring slippers and a blanket upon request. The theater’s menu includes a full wine list, Dom Perignon champagne at $295 a bottle, and food items like duck tacos, Wagyu beef burgers and bleu cheese potato chips.

Now that is the kind of place to which you should have delivered your $135 hamburger.

Janis Joplin

October 4, 2008

38 years ago today, Janis Joplin was found dead in her motel room.  The cause of death was a heroin overdose, possibly accidental.  She was just 27 years old.

Many of us boomers think highly of the 1960s, and Janis Joplin was one of the true standout artists of that talent-saturated period.  Her looks, her swagger, her drug abuse, her odd affairs with people like Leonard Cohen, and most of all her voice — she sure had a lot of difficult things to pull herself through; and in the end she didn’t make it.  But we are all the richer for her life and all the poorer for her untimely death.

More Retail Art

October 2, 2008

Next Tuesday, in London, Christies are holding an auction of Twentieth-Century British Art.  Looking at the range of pre-sale estimates, this is another chance for starting or building worthwhile collections.  The highest estimate is only $35,000, and most are in the $1,000 to $5,000 range.  The catalog is stretched with some undistinguished drawings, I think, but there’s some good material there too.  I particularly like Felix Kelly’s “Beach Scene with Abandoned Tram“:

The estimate for this whimsical beauty is just $5,300 to $8,800.  I’ll check into the results next week.