The Judgmental Auctioneer
Sotheby’s newest star redefines the value of art
It seems like an evening like any other at Sotheby’s, though the buyers know tonight will be anything but standard operating procedure. Known as a popular spot for trillionaires to embarrass billionaires, Sotheby’s has begun a bold new experiment in auctioneering. Using the personal judgment of their new auctioneer to decide whether wealthy aspirant owners deserve the prestige that comes from owning a certified classic work of human creativity, Sotheby’s has suddenly transformed the art world into something that transcends cash itself.
The bold move was initially viewed as a desperate attention-grab from the auction house, which has been battling to stay relevant in the age of eBay Platinum. It has, however, sparked renewed interest in the novelty of In Real Life (IRL) shopping. This is, in large part, thanks to the forceful presence of The Auctioneer.
Meeting The Auctioneer is a singular experience. The first thing The Auctioneer will tell you, or anyone who happens to be in the same room, about The Auctioneer is that The Auctioneer is the only proper noun or pronoun with which to address The Auctioneer. The second thing, at least in my experience, is that looking The Auctioneer in the eyes is offensive and reflects lessons the viewer must have learned from the white male patriarchy (WMP).
After the polite formalities are observed, The Auctioneer is ready to explain The Auctioneer’s unique style. “The Auctioneer knows what’s right, that’s all anyone needs to know.” The Auctioneer explains to me over a lunch of cavier and goji berries. “The Auctioneer went to the best schools and received the best education, but that’s not what makes The Auctioneer special. The Auctioneer is special because there is only one The Auctioneer. The Auctioneer’s lifelong struggle to enforce acceptance has informed The Auctioneer’s entirely unique, new, and special viewpoint. No one has ever had The Auctioneer’s viewpoint in the history of humanity.”
This spirit of hearty American individualism is on full display when the lights go up and The Auctioneer confidently strides to The Auctioneer’s specially made podium. The opening item of the evening is a beautiful 17th century European landscape (names of paintings and artists withheld out of respect to the new owners). Rather than set standard opening price, The Auctioneer simply glowers at the audience before asking who thinks they deserve the painting.
A hand shoots up, “I do.”
The speaker is a slender man in a gorgeous gown with red and gold trim. The Auctioneer narrows The Auctioneer’s eyes before spitting out a series of seemingly non-sequitur questions about the man’s food habits, political views, favorite charities, exercise schedule, which private school his children attend, and how many hours of sleep he gets each night. Apparently displeased with the response, The Auctioneer shakes The Auctioneer’s head and moves on.
This process repeats itself three more times before The Auctioneer finally seems satisfied with an individual and pronounces, “You deserve this.” The audience gives The Auctioneer a standing ovation before moving on to the next item.
After four of five lots, the most striking aspect of the scene is the absence of dollar values. Not once is the price of a painting discussed, only the quality of the purchaser. Over and over, The Auctioneer quizzes individuals and finds them unworthy, with The Auctioneer’s judgement as the solitary arbiter of value.
When the night’s proceedings conclude I corner a staff member to inquire further. The staff member, who requested anonymity, informs me every person in the audience has more money than god, so determining auction winners via monetary bids had become passé. Looking around, clearly that night’s winners had achieved something greater than merely purchasing a classic work of art, they had passed through a gauntlet and emerged as a validated human.
The judgmental model may not be for everyone, and certainly not for anyone with fewer than triple digit billions, but other industries are beginning to take notice. Certain top-secret classified stores on the Upper East Side are beginning to implement similar quizzes for prospective clients before allowing them to shop. Whether these tests will have the same force sans The Auctioneer remains to be seen.