Next time you attend a major auction, spare a thought for the unsung heroes behind the scenes.
The ones who know that one slip or trip could see thousands of dollars slip through their hands.
I’m talking about art handlers.
“There’s a lot of nuance that goes into art handling,” experienced Sotheby’s handler Julian Tysh recently told the Wall Street Journal.
“We have guys who have 40 years on the job, who can tell you the different dynasties from China and can identify the different materials like sandstone. This is not just pushing boxes around.”
And all is not well in the art handling world.
42 handlers employed at Sotheby’s New York are currently on strike over cost cutting proposals.
Worryingly for your prized artwork, Sotheby’s has called in temps to fill the void.
They may be eager, wear a suit and tie (for the first day), but will they be up to the job?
Former Sotheby’s handler Jason Ide told the newspaper: “Pieces that are handled a few times a decade at a museum are handled dozens of times a year at an auction house, and in order to do this stuff you really need to know what you’re doing, or things get damaged.”
Accidents really do happen. In 2008, Domenico Beccafumi’s 16th century Marcia was dropped by art handlers at the National Gallery in London, splitting it in two.
Beccafumi’s Marcia (before the accident)
It’s just as well we’re in the midst of quiet season in the auction world…