It has taken the better part of a week for me to internalize the information, visual, aural and social overload of last week’s New York trip. It’s not as if I’m some country bumpkin who had never been to the Big Apple before (I lived there for a few years just after college), but nonetheless, there was just SO MUCH going on that it took a while to sink in. From the moment we arrived, until the moment we left, we were busy, happy and very engaged in and with our environment.
As I’ve written before, the primary reason for our trip was to attend (and hopefully purchase posters at) the first part of the Hans Sachs auction, hosted by Guernsey’s Auction house. I had expected – and looked forward to – seeing most of the other important poster dealers from around the world (we are a very small group, spread amongst the continents and don’t often find ourselves in the same place at the same time. I don’t make a habit of attended or exhibiting at the various poster fairs which other folks seem to enjoy, so this type of occasion is something of an exception for me.) I wanted Kristina to have the opportunity to meet – face-to-face- some of the people I have known for years, and I wanted to re-connect with them as well. And we did.
The auction itself was much anticipated: there were hundreds of posters on display, some of them the only known copy in existence of that particular image. We had made our shopping list very carefully, and Kristina had researched past auction prices so that we could come up with a reasonable buying budget (I’ve never been good at budgeting. I used to think that the end of the checks in the checkbook meant the end of the money in the account. Wait. It doesn’t??) So I was more prepared for this auction than I have ever been for previous auctions.
My primary focus was on Julius Klinger posters: the book (still being edited. Patience, I tell myself, patience) providing the excuse and motivation for the acquisition of images which are becoming increasingly hard to find. In the Klinger quest I was lucky enough to have been contacted by an exquisitely mannered and very knowledgeable woman who was in possession of another repatriated Viennese poster collection, within which were a large number of Klinger posters. Kristina and I spent a lovely morning in her company, trying to absorb as much knowledge from her as we could, but frankly, I think she is reason enough to make another trip to New York.
When we did manage to make our way to the auction viewing, we were focused on our task but still quite overwhelmed with the venue and the scene. I wrote in our last blog post about the BNH, a stupendously elegant and redesigned community hall on the Upper East Side. It was a perfect location for the auction – -streamlined and modern, with traces of turn-of-the-century Europe in everything from the architectural details to the bar menu. (The bar became the spot between auction sessions to see and be seen.)
The auction was full of people, personalities and posters: there was a mysterious Eastern bloc oligarch and his very imposing, leather-gloved wife who bought roughly 70% of ALL the posters, regardless of price, condition or value (he reminded me of the guy in this fabulous ad. So much so that I nicknamed him Opulence); there were the startling prices fetched by vintage Nazi posters (way, way, way over estimate and sold only to mysterious phone bidders… somewhere, someone is setting up a shrine to Hitler); there were individual posters that
individual buyers (private or professional) just needed to have. The first day seemed very long, but by the second and third days Kris and I had our favorite seats and seatmates (thanks Nicho). There was a lot of side-of-the-mouth chattering – gossip, misinformation, idle banter – even with score cards, it would have been hard to figure out who was playing on which team. My general rule of thumb is ‘be nice to everybody and try to stay out of trouble’, and I think I did pretty well in that department. Which isn’t to say that we didn’t notice just about everything that was going on in the room, but we kept it to ourselves. Much easier that way.
I came away with the impression that Herr Doctor Sachs might have been amazed at the prices his posters commanded, the shenanigans that have evidently been taking place behind (and in front of) the scenes, and a real feeling of sadness. These posters, some of the most magnificent ever created and collected, are now being sent to all corners of the globe. Together they represented the vision and dedication of one man, apart they are primarily representations of significant and socially relevant art. I imagine Hans Sachs floating somewhere above that room, shaking his head in disbelief and wishing he could turn back time to a simpler, more refined age. Let’s say Vienna, circa 1910.