I think America has been infected by something far worse than any flu epidemic or natural disaster. America has decided to take spin, the taking of reality and making of it something that it isn’t, and place it along side truth as a reality of its own making. The Republican administration has been doing it quite well so the rest of American industry is giving it a go, although I have to say that I still remember the photo of those tobacco executives lined up at a congressional enquiry swearing that tobacco causes no harm. Maybe that’s chutzpah, not spin.

I say this because of the article I mentioned in my most recent blog in the New York Times about how the auction houses were calling single owner sales, taste making events. They said that such single owner sales gave a chance for their clients to define their taste by seeing what so and so was putting on the block, whether he was a private individual or a dealer.

Did I read the article correctly? Why not go straight to the dealer? You need to wait until an auction house has a sale of a dealer’s inventory to learn about taste? Is this just a tad illogical? Dealers define taste, that is what their lives are about. That is why they buy and sell. I thought the spin cycle was round and round, but in this case, it is topsy turvy.

An observation often made about the differences between auction houses (the two and half biggest ones) and dealers is that dealers usually do their business out of passion and the auctions fo the sake of doing business. Like many seemingly poignant observations, the profundity of the statement loses traction under close observation. There are dealers that are in business solely to make a fortune and who have no passion and there are people at the auction houses who put their heart and soul into their work.

Of course, all dealers are in the game to make money. That is axiomatic. And auction houses also have to please their share holders. Not all dealers that are passionate about what they do are good people so this dichotomy is not one of the good guys versus the bad.

The point is actually a lot more subtle than who is right and who is wrong. The underlying principle is that dealers have to sell in cold blood, face to face with their clients. There is no presale estimate, the goods are (usually) ready to place in a home, there are no underbidders or false reserves, there is just the dealer and the client and he has to convince the client that what he is buying is worth it and that he is worthy of knowing all about the piece. This is where the contrast between dealers and auctions lies.

The NY Times had an article about single owner sales and people trying to learn about style from such sales. I find this quite risible as they point out the Tony Ingrao and Segoura sales held at Christies and Sotheby’ respectively. These are dealers after all. Substitute the word private collection with dealer and you have the reason why people should shop with dealers. Spin is so named for a reason.

Sotheby’s auction house had their fine English furniture sale the other day as well as a private collector sale of the goods belonging to Martin and Gloria Gersh. Martin was a remarkable man, full of piss and vinegar and unflagging intelligence. I met him when we was in his late 70’s and his dynamism¬† shone out.

Sotheby’s estimates of the Gersh goods was strong. A wonderful pair of walnut Gainsborough open armchairs were listed to sell for $600-800,000 and made $450,000 which with the commission adds up to $540,000. This was the reserve, or the price at which they were allowed to sell on agreement between the estate and Sotheby’s. The estimates were clearly designed to attract private clientele, better known as the retail trade, who could compare and contrast Sotheby’s prices with those of the antique dealers.

The ploy is generally a successful one as it allows the retail trade to believe that, at worst, they are paying retail to Sotheby’s and, if they are lucky, they can buy close to what a dealer would pay. Right? Not necessarily. Dealers have considerations that go beyond whether a piece is a bona fide antique. They include whether the piece is up to their standards as defined by condition and color and, in today’s market, rarity.

For example, the Gersh walnut chairs mentioned above were quite lovely. The carving was fine and the proportions were excellent. The color, however, was very bleached out, as if they had been stripped. This neither negates the value of the chairs nor does it make them unmarketable–they are still good chairs, but it does limit their appeal. Indeed, at the International Show, there are a pair of in mahogany with lovely color that I liked better than the Gersh chairs and they were not that much more expensive. The dance between the dealers, the clients and the auction houses continues.

The semi-smiling face of Damien Hirst on the front of the New York Times weekend “Arts and Leisure” section dressed in ghost busters white forced me to focus on this genius of conceptual art. I have a hard time with the term, conceptual art. I am not certain that it means art that is in the process of being conceived, art that is designed to let the viewer conceive what the art is or means or whether it is one of a billion permutations and combinations thereof.

There is no question that Damien Hirst is a genius. I don’t get his art, but I get him. He is in a playground of his own making and there aren’t too many of us that ahve been able to do that. All he needs to do is conceive, a process that I do all day long but for which I don’t get paid.

I have gotten it all wrong so many times in my life that missing conceptual art is just another notch in the belt. I would have liked to be a lead singer in a rock and roll band, but I thought rock and roll was about to die in 1970. Whoops! I should have just conceived myself in that role, but I just didn’t get the concept.

Antique dealers are always looking for home runs. That is to say, they are looking for items that are undervalued, so undervalued that you know you will make ten or twenty times your money. It happens, of course. Not as often as one would like, but it does happen.

And yet home runs may not be an easy sell. Home runs actually require the right person to see the item. These right people are as important to me as the home runs themselves. I could go to museums with them, watch a movie, do just about anything with them as they are the sort of people who look for and find subtlety, who are not obsessed with finding something that fits but who want something that is great.

There are a number of dealers that qualify as home runs. These are the dealers who understand greatness. More often than not, someone who has made a life’s work of being an expert in one field understands subtlety, craft, and aesthetic value in other fields. Not always, however, which is quite surprising. This is a business first, I suppose, but it is hard not to believe in romance.

Listening to the radio the other day while on a road trip, the station I was listening to was interviewing a number of Nobel Laureates. Two cosmologists, Dr. Smoot and Dr. Mather were extremely interesting. They made it clear to me that we are but a speck in the ocean of space and even that is too definitive.

What is truly amazing is that prior to the Big Bang, the dark space that we were, I forget the precise term for it, was likely to be no more than the size of a tennis ball. I understand the concept when I think this planet holds nearly three billion people at the moment and that number will double in the next fifty years. Go find the bunk beds now. No economy should ever have any trouble growing given this particular statistic.

Antique furniture, however, is finite. The amount of it diminishes. It is getting harder to find. There is probably a mathematical theory for this, but being more arts oriented than math or science oriented, I would not know quite how to express it. All that I can say is that if you want it and can afford it, you should buy it now.