“auction”

The economics of uncertainty

In public sales, we know that the final bidder is the one who wins. But at what price? Game theory is a way to resolve this conflict. An hour with Françoise Forges, economics professor at the Université Paris-Dauphine. Everything you need to know on strategic bidding behaviour. The topic, we have to say, is a bit tough, not so easy to swallow: game theory. In other words, the secret life of numbers. Or how to formalise conflictual situations within communities of individuals when they interact, for example, at public sales. How can the strategic behaviour of bidders be analysed, anticipated, or even thwarted? So… In very basic terms, game theory deals with the formal resolution of conflicts. First of all, there’s one name you need to keep in mind: William Vickrey, who in 1961 matched game theory with auction mechanisms for the first time. A winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, he was recognised for his research contribution to “the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information”. This was the man who namely theorised on the interaction of strategies used by bidders. Let’s say that here, we flirt with the concept of the “Nash equilibrium” whereby a player cannot modify his or her strategy unilaterally without weakening his or her position. All clear? It may not exactly be straightforward stuff… but understanding it can also pay off… Thanks to game theory, it’s possible, for example, to identify the symmetries at work in auction rooms. Game theory also offers very practical applications for military defence, where the modelling of nuclear dissuasion can prove handy. In short, the field is vast, starting off from the economic sciences and the analysis of competing logics, and spreading to the political sciences, where game theory can apply to electoral jousts. In the social...

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Memorabilia, the great revival?

For several years now, auction sales related to pop culture have flourished. From French music to video games via the Star Wars saga, auction houses have been exploring new segments. A panorama of these wide-appeal niches. Mylène Farmer’s military jacket, Maurice Chevalier’s boater, a childhood videogame or the robot R2-D2, the pipe smoked by singer Georges Brassens… The list of fetish objects from what is known as “pop culture” is long… and sells well! Once reserved to an obscure minority of underground collectors, for several years in France now, the purchase of memorabilia from childhood, the stars of music, film or television, has been transposed to auctions. So is this an auction-house strategy to reconquer market shares? Or is there a genuine demand for these objects? In any case, this new category of memorabilia is gaining more and more fans. Of course, it’s not new for these astonishing relics to exercise a power of fascination. In the 1970s, MGM studios would auction off objects from every category in their possession, including over 350,000 costumes. “Marilyn Monroe dresses and Elvis clothing articles were sold for around $1,000,” explained, in 2011, Darren Julien, founder of the auction house Julien’s Auctions, to Alex Ritman from the website theNational.ae. Around a decade later, in about 1980, Drouot in France began holding auction sales of the personal belongings of Claude François or Édith Piaf. But what is surprising these days is the sudden recurrence, ever since the start of the 2010s, of sales focusing on popular culture: French music, videogames, Star Wars… Is this the emergence of a new market? Culture geek icons In Paris, the auction house Millon & Associés has set up a specific department for pop culture, directed by Alexis Jacquemard. “It was a matter of opening up to a new...

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Data: Picabia, nihilism and humour at auctions

A painter with talent, cheekiness and an eventful life… Francis Picabia marked the 20th century with the eclecticism of his painting and his significant contribution to French and American intellectual life. And what does the market make of him? Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia was born on 22 January 1879 in Paris. A single child born to parents representing Spanish aristocracy and French bourgeoisie, he grew up in a certain material comfort but was not spared from emotional affliction. He was seven when his mother died of tuberculosis, and he found himself stuck with his father, Juan Martinez Picabia, the Cuban consul in Paris, his bachelor uncle Maurice Davanne, a curator at the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris, and his grandfather Alphonse Davanne, a wealthy businessman and enthusiastic amateur photographer who at one time was president of the Société Française de Photographie. In this universe that was possibly a little too virile, Francis escaped boredom by painting. In 1895, after school, he signed up at the École des Arts Décoratifs with Braque and Marie Laurencin as his teachers. In 1899, Francis Picabia joined the Salon des Artistes Français thanks to his painting Une Rue aux Martigues. At the start of the 20th century, his painting owed a great deal to impressionism. He showed at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, but also in galleries such as that of Berthe Weill or at the Galerie Haussmann. His paintings sold well. In 1908, Francis Picabia met Gabrielle Buffet, a young avant-garde musician who encouraged him to continue his research. Supported by his personal fortune, he gradually shook off his ties with his synthetic style and his dealers to trace a path through the 20th century’s “isms”: fauvism, futurism, cubism and orphism. His style stretched in all directions and adapted itself to every constraint, every manifesto. Some of his...

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Data: Robert Mapplethorpe, a stabilising market

The market of this “sculptor-painter”, whose auction prices are still affordable, is currently stabilising, even if great disparities exist. A market that still tends to be dominated by the United States… Robert Mapplethorpe was born on 4 November 1946 in New York State, into an English-Irish Catholic family. He was the third of six children. He spent his childhood in Floral Park, Queens (New York) where he attended Our Lady of the Snows. “I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things” (Deborah A. Levinson, Robert Mapplethorpe’s Extraordinary Vision). In 1963, Robert Mapplethorpe enrolled in Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. First — and primarily to please his father — he studied graphic arts. Bad choice. He dropped out two years later and it was then that he turned his attention the visual arts — drawing, painting, sculpture. He began making surrealist collages, in tandem with his discovery of cannabis and LSD. He met Patti Smith, and they became friends — following a short tryst. At this time, Robert Mapplethorpe was largely marked by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell: he continued to practise collage, but also made boxes, installations and altar pieces, influenced by his Catholic childhood but also by black magic. At the end of the 1960s, Robert Mapplethorpe became fascinated by the New York avant-garde. He namely frequented the clubs near Union Square, such as Max’s Kansas City or CBGB, where Factory members tended to congregate: Andy Warhol himself, but also Gerard Malanga and Candy Darling. According to Patti Smith, it was only at the start of the 1970s that Robert Mapplethorpe started photography. His interest in the medium is inseparable from his visits to the Metropolitan Museum (New York), when John...

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Data: Jackson Pollock, auction star

We look at “Jack The Dripper”, one of the best-rated painters on the auction scene. New proof of the dominance of American artists on the art market. Shows and hammer blows! Jackson Pollock was born on 28 January 1912 in Cody (Wyoming), the youngest of five siblings. He was affected by the immense landscapes of the American West where Amerindian culture is still visible — he would take part in rituals from a distance in the 1920s. Between 1912 and 1928, the Pollocks moved eight times. The family had trouble making ends meet and alcoholism took a toll. Jackson Pollock didn’t have much success at school either. He didn’t finish secondary school, and was expelled from Manual Arts High School for criticising the teaching methods. Open to Marxist ideas, he appreciated mural art and along with his brothers, discovered the frescoes of José Clemente Orozco at Pomona College (California) in 1930. He enrolled at the Art Students League of New York, where he followed Thomas Hart Benton’s class and met Orozco. During the crisis, Roosevelt’s New Deal instigated the Federal Art Project to offer financial support to artists. As part of this programme, orders for his frescoes multiplied, but Pollock was excluded from the Project because of absenteeism. At the end of 1937, Jackson Pollock went into rehab and started therapy — the first in a long series — before being rehired for the Project until 1942 in its “easel-painting” section. A delicious touch of irony for the man who, as of 1947, would lay canvases on the ground to perfect his famous dripping technique. Jackson Pollock was passionate about Amerindian art, the sand paintings of the Navajos, the Kachinas, the Hopis, and so on. He had the opportunity to fine-tune his knowledge at the “Indian Art of the...

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