LLast year I was standing in the slums of my house, a place now ankle-deep with books, pots, pictures and lamps, and I thought, I want more. No more books, no more pots, no more photos, no more lamps. I had barely left home in months, but still managed to accumulate a storehouse of new tuts. I say new – it was all old, nothing done after maybe 1989, nothing that has not gone through at least two previous owners, at least one of those owners now long dead, the other having woken up one day and found himself minimalist. Everything was bought, you see, at auction. Specifically at auctions that I wouldn’t have thought of visiting before the pandemic, but (after viewings became only online), I found myself walking around at night, panting.
My local auction house is a timeless place, a stacked Tetris room of dressers and Beatles magazine boxes, smelling a specific combination of vape and dust. Every weekend, I wander the aisles, marveling at collections of erotic art, old computers, or nesting tables that have nestled so long they almost hatched. And every weekend, I come home with another item that I didn’t need but needed immediately.
My boyfriend watches with a mixture of affection and disgust. His birthday card for me this year was a painting of a 1970s lamp that he particularly dislikes, claiming that his volcanic varnish looks like semen, and inside a poem that began, “Eva went to the auction house, debit card in hand, to feed a strong compulsion that she couldn’t understand. Every night on the internet and in person once a week, she browsed their sad collection of ugly teak furniture. There are five verses, he hates it so much.
We live in a house of compromise, pottery and widespread affection: “Eva picked up the sperm lamp as if she were her mother and rushed her home to meet her ceramic siblings. Her partner was delighted to see this tasteless totem pole and asked her why she said she was just shopping for toothpaste. But even though he rolled his eyes, he knew it was his duty to love something she loves and try to find its beauty.
I tried to explain to her why I’m drawn to these things, and why they keep filling our shelves. Partly, I say, because they are steeped in memory, partly because their quality is much better than their Ikea alternatives, partly because there is no fixed price, partly because of the pleasure of discovering a treasure.
You don’t buy things at auction, you win them. I try to bring home only the things I know will bring me joy, but the problem is, they do. I urge him to understand my love of auctions not as a problem but as a hobby. Leaked online from real life, like it does today.
I am reluctant to encourage others to join me as an auction enthusiast because of course there is only one fabulous lamp for sale at a time, and it can take several months before a similar lamp is available. But if I had to, if I was a better person and less concerned about the competition, then I would recommend approaching the-saleroom.com (where auction houses around the world list their products) as if they were visiting a gallery rather than a store.
I would advise people to savor the artfully random selection of tchotchkes and design, prioritizing the pleasure of looking over the desire to buy. Sometimes it’s exciting to grab an offensively low bid, because sometimes you win it – on the wall by our front door hangs a painting that I bid £ 10 on, and after I got it back in a desk filled with Matisse prints and Dalí objects, I discovered the artist’s work hangs at the Whitney in New York. But in the rare event that you see something you want – something you absolutely must have – I recommend calling the auction house directly (to avoid the online commission) and if possible bidding in. direct. Although it is a dangerous game, which can make you very sick and poor.
At night, I slowly scroll through abstract landscapes and Modernist chairs, mourning rings and haunted dolls, bidding low and often. What is lost by looking virtually rather than walking through an auction house – the ability to pick things up and turn them over, to enjoy the dissonance of seeing an ancient baton balanced on a meticulously carved Buddha, or a vintage Chanel hat perched on a very large bear – is won over by the many kilometers you can cover with your thumb. This week I bought another lamp.
How to do
The auction room is used by over 2,000 auction houses around the world to sell art and antiques online. Live auctioneers is a similar service and includes jewelry and fashion in the available lots. This site offers auctions from more than 50 countries. The online design platform 1stdibs also launched a seven-day auction system in December 2021. The site focuses on furniture, interior design, art. For other great used housewares, try Find, a recovery company that stocks everything from chairs to fireplaces. Or to do business and support a good cause, most charities now have EBay Stores for furniture and ornaments.