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When did auctions become ‘curated’ sales?

July 7, 2015

 A technician carrys Andre Derains's view of London 's Embankment (estimated £6.5-9 million) in front David Hockney's Arranged Felled Trees (estimated £1.5-2 million) in prepartion for the Masterworks In Dialogue exhibition at Sotheby's in London.

 

Source; Art Cyclopedia

 

“Even cheese is curated today!” So Andrew Renton, a professor of curating at London’s Goldsmiths College, once said. Renton may have been joking, but the word “curated” is incredibly overused, having been “plucked out of museums and pasted onto everything fr om cosmetics, furniture and fashion lines, to recipes, music- and photo-sharing websites, and cat videos”, says National Public Radio’s Scott Simon.

While the trend has been building for a number of years, the latest place it has emerged is in the auction houses. “Sales are very carefully orchestrated today in the run-up to the event: the cataloguing, the preview… this is part of it,” says Renton, who is also the director of Marlborough Contemporary gallery in London. “Curating the session brings coherence and cohesion to the auction, and with new younger collectors, and those from emerging economies, it helps them sift through the offerings.”

Plus he says: “Our standards for presentation are a lot higher than they were, say, 20 years ago, when works coming to auction were presented on hessian walls, hanging on lengths of string. The curated sale brings credibility and authorship… and it’s a useful way of branding for the salerooms.”

Young guns

But is all this just a spin on an old formula? Times were when the salerooms put together catalogues by going after choice lots and turning down others, including those with over-optimistic expectations from their vendors or when better examples were already sourced. It was called “editing”–the best lots went into the evening sales, the rest into Part II.

Then in 2014, Christie’s specialist Loic Gouzer put together If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday, a sale billed as offering “gritty” contemporary art, and held in addition to the Part I sale of contemporary