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Sotheby's: the museum where you can buy the art
Sotheby's is London's oldest auction house, and has been a London institution since 1744. They sell everything from fine art to vintage wine to antique furniture. While most items are beyond the means of the average visitor, the galleries and auctions are open to the public. There are branches in London, Paris, New York, and Hong Kong.
When I lived in London I visited the Sotheby's galleries regularly. They host constantly changing exhibits of art and antiques. Since the items mostly end up in private hands, this is your only chance to see them. I was a bit worried the first time I went in that I'd be given some cold English upper-class attitude. It was painfully obvious I wasn't there to buy anything. Surprisingly, I was treated with respect, which is more than I can say about a certain antique shop I visited in Islington.
On one visit a few years ago there was going to be a major auction of Russian art--some medieval icons and a lot of Neorealism. As usual the items that would be going under the gavel were put on display. As I wandered around admiring the art, I found the crowd to be equally interesting. Hordes of Russians in Armani suits were on their cell phones calling buyers in Moscow, describing art and getting instructions on maximum bids. Watching all these rich Russians and their multimillionaire bosses I realized just how much the world had changed in the past twenty years.
So check out Sotheby's. It's not only a lesson in art, it's a lesson in sociology.
[Photo courtesy Claus Hoppe]