In Los Angeles, Modernism at Auction

There’s no university for learning the art auctioneering business, says Peter Loughrey, executive director of Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA).

Sure, Sotheby’s and Christie’s offer a few masters-level courses, but if you’re serious about it, you’re pretty much on your own.

“You have to learn how to research a piece, negotiate consignment contracts and make sure something’s covered by insurance, door to door,” he says.

Loughrey spent some time at Sotheby’s, then opened up his own gallery, running it for four years before he founded his auction house in 1992. It’s earned distinction as the first auction house to specialize in 20th-century modern art and design.

An upcoming October auction will feature 533 works, to be bid on over the course of seven hours. That’s one piece every 25 to 35 seconds.

But it’ll be conducted in a genteel manner.

“If you’re expecting someone speaking quickly or people touching their noses to bid, that’s in the movies or a cattle auction,” he says. “Because I worked and trained at Sotheby’s for a time, I learned to be slow and deliberate and gentlemanly.”

Among the items up for bid on October 12:

  • A Roy Lichenstein silkscreen titled “Sweet Dreams Baby!,” that’s one of the artist’s most iconic images, and one of 200 made.
  • A bench by French artist Maria Pergay called “Flying Carpet,” and one of only a handful made in the1960s and ‘70s. “It was a piece sitting undiscovered in Los Angeles,” says Loughrey. “It’s got a stainless steel, curving frame with a black leather block sunk down into it.”
  • A Giacometti floor lamp. “It’s one of the most copied or counterfeited or faked of all his work,” he says. “This one comes with a chain of provenance and letter from the Giacometti committee, so it’s guaranteed authentic – he client bought it from Giacometti in 1968.”
  • A Mike Kelley painting that Loughrey calls one of the best pieces that his auction house has represented in 22 years. “What you want with Kelly is something deep and filled with multiple layers of meaning and the intellectual idea behind the work,” he says. “This is easily one of his most controversial and challenging works.”

Add to that paintings and furniture by Mies, Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, and Frank Lloyd Wright and what you’re actually talking about is a huge opportunity, and not just a sale.

All of it can be previewed daily, 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.; the auction opens at noon on Oct.12.

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