Visiting an Art Auction House

All university programs have different pros and cons to them. For example, one of the major positives of my undergraduate institution was the fact that the program was quite small. We only had three professors and less than twenty students in the program at any given time. I loved being able to have close relationships with my professors and classmates.

However, the small program was due to the rural location of my university. In northeastern Missouri there aren’t many museums and galleries for our professors to take us to. They did their best, though! Many of my classes took us to a museum in one of the major cities in my state at least once per semester. The art department even offered a course during breaks that took students to major midwestern cities to visit galleries and artist studios. So we weren’t as excluded from the art world as it may seem.

But living in Toronto, we have access to so many more art institutions! In one of my courses this semester we visited six museums in the Greater Toronto Area to speak with their directors and curators. And recently in another course our instructor arranged a meeting between our class and an art auction house in the city. Yes, auction houses are usually open to the public, but our professor arranged a tour given by the lead auctioneer.

Incredible, right?

Truthfully, I’ve never been to an art auction house. A quick google search tells me that there are no more than five auction houses specializing in art in my state.

So I had no idea what to expect.

What I didn’t expect, however, was museum quality art on the walls of a family owned auction house right across the street from a major Canadian institution. I stared in awe at a collection of Emily Carr paintings that I would have never expected to see outside of the museum setting.

In class, we always talk about the art market and all of the ways that it influences and is influenced by culture but I hadn’t ever considered the actual reality of people owning art like this in their homes. Silly for someone pursing a MA in art history I know.

Growing up in the Midwest with a high school teacher as my mother, I never met anyone who had art like this in their homes. In fact, as a kid we didn’t really visit museums ever. Not in school trips, not on vacations, never. In fact, the first museum that I can remember visiting was the Louvre while avoiding a summer rainstorm on vacation when I was eighteen (oh how times have changed!).

Of course I’ve seen auctions online selling Da Vinci’s or Van Gogh’s by auction houses such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. But I just assumed that museums and galleries were buying these works, not private collectors.

So seeing an auction house in person totally transformed my ideas surrounding the field.

Now that I’m almost one semester into my MA program I’m more confused than ever about my future career possibilities. Upon entering the program I was certain that I would continue on to a PhD program and become a professor. Now, I’m not so sure. This term has opened my eyes to so many different career options in the art field and I kind of want to explore them all.

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