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What's going on at Drouot?

Image :: fr.wikipedia

As my faithful readers know, in my search for the ineffable fantod (under glass) I visit auction rooms near and far. Drouot, the venerable collection of sales rooms located on rue Drouot in the 9th arrondissement (metro Drouot), has long been my choice for the place with the best bargains in Europe. Some sales are catalogued. Some are not. Some have experts. Some don't. Sometimes you need a large cheque book. Sometimes just a pair of sharp elbows.

But changes are afoot. Drouot has been closed for months for a new refit, only opening again in October, a month after everybody else. And some of the changes are great - new spiffy bathrooms for one (ground floor, on the right) and they're (finally) free. The not-always-reliable escalators have been replaced, and all the sales rooms now have video screens outside so you don't have to battle everybody (and their ferocious maiden aunt) to see if the lot you are interested in is finally coming up.

But not only is Drouot facing competition from Christies and Sotheby's, but Parisian auction houses are leaving, holding sales in their own premises. Artcurial, Tajan, Paisa and most recently Cornette de st. Cyr are now holding sales at their own locations, cutting out Drouot and it's former semi-monopoly on auctions in Paris. And sales, therefore commissions, are down.

Où est le fantod

Why are they leaving? Cecile Demtchenko Woringer from Piasa put it simply. They have lovely new premises, and they would like to have their buyers on site. It also gives them the option - not available at Drouot - for evening sales, much easier for international collectors. More sales, more potential profits.

Olivier Lange, the director-general of Drouot was recently interviewed by Le Figaro on just this subject. He pointed out that Drouot is open to the public- just like a department store, for example. They have their own magazine (La Gazette Drouot, which he calls "Le financier") hold classes on everything from decorative arts to 18th and 19th century still life paintings, and receptionists who speak every language known to man (and woman) kind. They also have between 4,000-5,000 visitors a day. Every day.

What do they sell? What don't they sell...fine art, decorative art, furniture and your uncle André's chipped set of glasses given to him by somebody he can't remember. Tribal art, antiquities, the complete contents of ateliers (some better than others), and stuff from folks who neglected to pay their taxes for 15 years or so. In all, approximately 500,000 objects a year.

Le frisson de la chasse

Drouot is big, but not enormous. There are 16 sales rooms, and they all follow the same format. Viewing on the day previous, and the morning of the sale. Then lunch (the cafés in the neighborhood are jammed with note takers and folks drinking wine and shouting in many languages on the phone). Then the sales, which never have enough seats. Note: wear really comfortable shoes- not the place to show off your new Laboutins. People will step on your toes- literally.

M. Lange is quoted as saying that, in France as a whole, 97.3% of all objects sold cost less than 50,000 Euros, and Drouot is right in that range. Of course, to some extent that's because New York and London are where the big markets are...the upcoming sales in London this week do have eye-watering prices. The advantage of the big sales rooms- you know exactly pretty much) what you are getting.The advantage of Drouot- the thrill of the hunt. Indeed, this is where I am sure the ever-elusive fantod will finally turn up.

What's next? Drouot live is expanding, the internet vehicle, with versions in English and Mandarin. It made 23 million Euros in 2013- which added up to 20% of all Drouot's sales. Of course everybody has internet sales now - but Drouot has all the available sales rooms in one place. Or to put it simply- more stuff. Especially interesting for the cross-collector.

But I, like all of those other daily visitors, like to go in person. Not only do I find attractive objects I never thought of before, but I am sure that one day, waiting for me, will be the attractive fantod (under glass).

Maura Haverly