auction houses

Quite Possibly the Funniest Image Ever to Appear in an Auction Catalogue

mccarthy Quite Possibly the Funniest Image Ever to Appear in an Auction Catalogue

Brett Gorvy at work. (Courtesy Christie's)

After a grueling but extremely unscientific analysis, as well as much heated debate, we’ve determined that the image at left may well be the funniest one ever to appear in an auction catalogue, and that it offers solid evidence, if any was needed, that auction house specialists are far from the dry, pretentious characters depicted in movies and television shows. In fact, their senses of humor would, by all appearances, seem to be intact.

Usually what you get in auction catalogues, aside from the photographs of the works that are up for sale, is a bunch of comparison images, some of them sort of dubious: pieces by Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst will be embellished with a parade of the Old Masters’ greatest hits to add a bit of historical oomph. This image accompanies the main image of Paul McCarthy’s sculptural masterpiece Tomato Head (Green), a 1994 artwork that goes on offer tonight at Christie’s as part of a group of works consigned by collector Peter Norton. The sculpture is a riff on the Mr. Potato Head toy–only, as should be obvious, it has been built to human proportions and involves some, let’s say, unusual parts.

Skulking around behind Tomato Head in this image, and brandishing a carrot, is none other than Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of contemporary art at Christie’s. Mr. Gorvy’s presence in the photograph has an obvious pragmatic purpose ­–he’s presumably there to provide scale and to demonstrate the interactive aspects of the piece–and yet he wears a slightly devious, or at the very least mischievous expression, as though somehow he has it in for poor Tomato Head, who looks unprepared for whatever is about to be done with that carrot.

We are going to go ahead and say with no irony whatsoever that this photograph is a masterpiece, implying as it does a moment, in the dead of night, when all the other auction specialists are asleep, and Mr. Gorvy has sneaked into the galleries to play with his beloved Tomato Head. He’s become so attached to the sculpture, come to so love it as a child does its Mr. Potato Head toy, that he can barely stand to even think of parting with it at tonight’s evening sale, even should it soar past its high estimate of $1.5 million and into the vaulted heavens of art prices.

Indeed, we feel that this photograph has handily done all of Mr. Gorvy’s work for him. It has, at the very least, made us covet Tomato Head.

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