+44 (0)1428 653727 sales@johnnicholsons.com


Yet again, it’s the internet that paves the way for the ultimate experience

The younger generation are said to value experiences more than possessions these days, which isn’t the best news for people like me who spend their time disposing of chattels at auction.

Having said that, Generation Z also seem rather taken with the latest fashions and footwear – the global market in trainers is now worth around £5 billion, I understand, so all is not lost on that front when it comes to acquiring material items.

However, the past week has been notable for what must surely be the record price for an ‘experience’ sold at auction: $28 million for a single ticket to join Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos for his maiden flight on the Blue Origin capsule as it leaves Earth’s atmosphere. That means that the unnamed buyer will be paying out around $9 million for each of the three to four minutes of the ten-minute trip that will be at zero gravity.

If we are genuinely at the beginning of what may later become mass space travel, then this exclusive experience may well prove a bargain. After all, to be one of just four passengers, including Bezos and his brother, on the trip will surely seal their position for posterity – once they are named, of course.

The statistics from the live auction are interesting too: 7,000 bidders took part, with pre-sale bids from 159 countries reaching $4.8 million before the live auction began took place on June 12. It’s yet another example of how impossible this process would have been without the internet – a facility without which Mr Bezos would not now be the world’s richest person.


Conjuring art – and money – out of thin air at auction

I thought I’d seen it all until last week when I read a report about an Italian artist who had auctioned off an ‘invisible’ sculpture for $18,300.

How do you make a sculpture invisible? Er, you don’t. You simply pretend that you have made one, produce a plinth, say that although you can’t see it, it is certainly there, and then attract bids.

If this seems like lunacy, you may not be far wrong. However, Salvatore Garau explained away this exercise in conceptual art by saying: “It is a work that asks you to activate the power of the imagination.”

In doing so, he titled the work Io Sono (I am), arguing that the vacuum in which the ‘artwork’ sat was “nothing more than a space full of energy” – although I would counter that if it is a vacuum, then it wouldn’t have any energy, even if, as Garau continued, the Heisenberg Principle states that even ‘nothing’ has weight.

Nonetheless, if you can conjure no more than an idea from nothing, what was it that the successful bidder got for their money? A certificate of authenticity accompanied by a set of instructions on how to exhibit the invisible sculpture. These stipulated that it must be displayed in a five foot square space unencumbered by any obstruction.

Confident in his logic, Garau justifies his creation and its sale by arguing: “After all, don’t we shape a God we’ve never seen?”

I’ll leave you with that thought.


Technology expands possibilities for art, but it must do so within the law

When you buy and sell art, it’s important to remember that although an artwork itself may change hands, the rights to reproduce it or exploit it commercially through copying it remain with the artist and their heirs right up to seventy years after they have died.

Likewise, just because you have bought a photograph doesn’t mean that you can set up a business selling copies of it if the photographer’s rights are still active.

I was reminded of this by news of an attempt to sell an NFT (Non Fungible Token) of a Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing coming unstuck recently.

Basquiat, a prodigy mentored by Andy Warhol, succumbed to heroin addiction at the tender age of 27 in the late 1980s. Today, he is just about the hottest artist on the market, with top works selling in the tens of millions of dollars. Understandably, his estate guards his rights jealously and took exception to a digital version (in NFT format) of one of his drawings being offered for sale without permission.

As well as the question of copyright, the sale raised a slightly more obscure but no less important issue: that of moral rights. This is because the seller, who also owned the original drawing, offered the winning bidder of the NFT the option of destroying the original drawing. It is thought that the destruction of the original would vest more value in the NFT. However, while someone may acquire a work of art, it is not in their gift to damage or wilfully destroy it, or to exploit it in any other way that might damage the artist’s reputation while the artist’s rights remain active.

This is the area of artist’s rights that is often overlooked yet has just as valid a call on control of artworks as copyright.

Technology may make all sorts of new things possible, but it does not remove longstanding rights to allow them to happen.

Why auctions are the ultimate green trading platform

To be fair, it was a mangled wreck, yet someone decided to pay nine times its lower estimate of £10,000 to secure it at auction. Why?

The remains of the 1960 Jaguar XK150 S.38 Drophead Coupe look ready for no more than the scrapheap, but a mixture of faith and hope – and possibly a little charity – mean that it will now rise again to wow petrolheads in what must be the ultimate recycling exercise.

This vintage Jag was a very limited edition originally: just 69 of the right-hand drive models were made. It also played a massive role in the development of sports cars; quite an eyeful on its own terms, it also proved to be the stepping stone to the iconic E-Type, arguably the most important British sports car of the 1960s.

This model has been with the vendor since 1969, and they remained the proud owner until it had a serious argument with a tree in 1996, since when it has languished in its current state.

Now though, someone with enough vision and money to make the difference has snapped it up at auction with a view to restoring it to its former glory. I just hope that they film the entire process as they could make a mint out of the rights.

When fully restored, it is thought that it might be worth up to £250,000, so the new owner will have a chance of getting their money back and more if they ever decide to sell.

There has been a lot of talk about antiques being green as they are recycled through the secondhand market at auction or via dealers. But I can’t think of any better illustration of that argument than this XK150.