Part 1 of the fourth lecture in the series. Paul Mocsanyi, director of the New School Art Center, introduces Peregrine Pollen, president of the Sotheby Parke-Bernet Galleries between 1965 and 1972. Mocsanyi gives an overview of Pollen’s education and work experience, including studies at Eton and Oxford, military service, and previous employment as an instructor of Latin, gas station attendant, and aide-de-camp to the governor of Kenya, before its decolonization.
Pollen emphasizes that his experience in auction houses is limited to Sotheby’s and now, through the course of a merger, Parke-Bernet. He dispels a number of popular misconceptions regarding the operation of auction houses, especially that auction house are a “rarified emporium,” and including the notion that auction houses buy and sell art of their own account. Instead, Pollen points out, auction houses operate on a consignment basis. He offers a comprehensive overview of materials auctioned by Parke-Bernet, including all manner of art and antiquities, as well as furniture, objets d’art, jewelry, gold, manuscripts, books, and autographs. Sotheby’s previously limited itself to works of literary or artistic value, a definition that Pollen now describes as “significantly more elastic.” He emphasizes that as the variety of goods sold at auction has expanded and proliferated, so, too, has the necessary level of an auction house’s expertise.
Pollen also relates a number of personal anecdotes regarding auctions, appraisals, and bidding. He discusses issues of price-fixing, setting reserve prices, and of the aversion to private dealers in the American art market. He elaborates on a variety of differences between American art auctions and British or European ones. He also discusses the historical evolution of contemporary auction houses, with a particular emphasis on the history of Sotheby’s as a firm. He expands upon the impact of a number of events on the art market, including the end of the Ancien Regime in France and World War II; and discusses a number of particularly notable and historic discoveries and sales. During the question and answer period, Pollen responds to queries regarding appraisals and export licenses.