Tonight’s contemporary-art sale at Christie’s, called “If I Live I'll See You Tuesday,” should be unremarkable, insofar as it's selling the same artists who always appear at contemporary-art auctions. There’s a twist, though: Christie's is trying to tout this sale as hardcore, dangerous. The house made a slick promo video featuring professional skateboarder Chris Martin and a soundtrack by Awolnation, in which we see Martin snake his way through storage bins, salesrooms, and freight elevators, giving high-fives to black workers and nodding to others preparing works on their way to auction. Martin glides in slo-mo past art featured in the sale: work by Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Dan Colen, Cady Noland, John Currin, and other blue-chip names. Christie's crows that this sale has been "curated" by an in-house person named Loic Gouzer and that it seeks to represent "the gritty and underbelly-esq [sic] side of Contemporary Art ... tough, controversial ... built around a mood and an atmosphere ...to convey the darker side of what art can be." I say it’s just a bullshit ploy to massage client egos and reel in rubes.
We sound like church ladies if we complain about the hype, or are accused of acting in the circus if we mention it at all. Yesterday afternoon at Christie's, however, I saw collectors, sellers, and auction-house swains and dames actually sweating, worrying about something that might have been undermining their cash machine’s operation. On Instagram! Wade Guyton's smallish but beautiful black, blue, and red Untitled is estimated to sell for between $2.5 and $3.5 million tonight, and rumor has it that there's a guarantee of $4 million. Guyton makes his art on inkjet printers and photocopiers, and last week, he began printing scores of new paintings from the same 2005 file that produced this one, perhaps an attempt to erase the singularity of this painting and torpedo its price. He took pictures of this process and posted them on Instagram. You can go to his account (@burningbridges38) and see copies of the painting rolling out of his printer and spread out all over his studio floor. These images have gone viral. Suddenly the piece at Christie's is identical to dozens of others. The uniqueness has gone away.
Or not. Christie's has already tried to spin this to its advantage and offset collector skittishness by posting Guyton's Instagram pics on its site. On Sunday, an auction official told me that she thought that what Guyton was doing was "fun." She claimed that other artists are "happy" to be in the "show." (I told her, "It boggles my mind that you consider a four-day auction showroom preview, hung so that everything looks horrible, a show.") Cynics will say that what Guyton is doing is only creating a new batch of real-fake $4 million paintings for auction houses to fight over. Others might sneer at an artist’s even showing that he notices what goes on at auctions. However, two pundits told me quietly that Christie's is worried about this, that the house fears that "other artists might try to do something to offset the auction houses." Whatever happens tonight, I admire an artist willing to tank his own market by flooding it with confusing real-fake product. I appreciate Guyton’s trying to throw a tiny spanner into the well-oiled auction works.