Tax Bracket Exposure
Uebermalte Fotografien, Gerhard Richter, 2005
It was obvious from my very first day that Sotheby’s would be exactly as I had come to imagine it. As the elevator reached each floor, archetypes spilled forth. Tweedy men got off at Rare Books, preppies at Impressionism, former sorority pledges at HR. The cool girls got off at Contemporary. In their jewel-tone flats and blended eye makeup, they were the ones who most resembled works of art.
These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton. But during business hours, they went on client visits, consulted on prices, and tirelessly secured property. They were friendly on the phone, enthusiastic about the art, and harder working than people who look and talk like that usually need to be.
Hired as a researcher, I was assigned the task of going through the catalogues raisonnés of the Contemporary Art department’s top-grossing artists—Warhol, Koons, Prince, Richter, Rothko—and determining the whereabouts of every piece that had ever come onto the global market. The Excel spreadsheets I worked on each day (column 1: image, column 2: title, column 3: year, column 4: cataloguing, column 5: present owner) would serve to expedite the future searches of collectors, who might want, say, a big, mostly purple Richter from the mid-’80s. Sometimes a painting was in a museum (the auction houses hate this because it makes the work more or less permanently priceless). Other times, a prominent collector was listed as the work’s owner. Usually, though, I was trying to track down pieces in anonymous private collections. Sometimes a city or country was provided, unhelpfully. Private Collection, France. Or more often than not: Private Collection, Liechtenstein.