Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Oliver Barker

The auctioneer recounts his weekend of snow and shows

Oliver Barker

February 06 2012
Oliver Barker

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Sotheby’s view is in full swing this weekend ahead of the sales, so it’s a working weekend for me. After giving the kids breakfast, we opt for a rare treat due to the Arctic weather outside: a family movie, the new animation feature A Monster in Paris.

Saturday is the time when I catch up on my favourite media outlets. I am a devoted reader of FT Life & Arts, which has superb arts coverage, and I check the advertising Sotheby’s has placed with the publication. An interview by the historian Simon Schama with leading American artist Cindy Sherman is the cover story of the FT magazine and it’s absolutely riveting. I am also an addict of The Spectator magazine and the iPad version of The Week, which a good friend of mine publishes.

At Sotheby’s on Saturday afternoon international clients are arriving in numbers, and it is an ideal time to catch up with key collectors. Our galleries look wonderful and will be open again next weekend for public viewing, so it’s a question of maintaining one’s energy levels. Clients are keen to get our views on works in our sales, as well as discuss the unmissable exhibitions that are on in London at the moment. I feel a little like an upmarket concierge as I recommend a Cy Twombly drawings exhibition at a new gallery, Eykyn Maclean, on St George Street, as well as a couple of great new restaurants that clients are always keen to hear about.

On Saturday evening my wife Vanessa and I relax at home. We enjoy cooking a beautiful piece of fish and watch a great drama. We’re devotees of Love Film and catch up on all the films we don’t get time to see at the cinema.

On Sunday we wake up to a white carpet of snow outside and my plans for a 30-mile bike ride are scuppered. The kids are exultant as they put on all their snowgear ahead of next week’s half-term ski break and run outside to throw as many snowballs as is humanly possible. I get an urgent call from a colleague to say that we have to drop everything to take a major client and seven of his friends at short notice to the Hockney show at the Royal Academy and then on to the exhibition at Sotheby’s. I hotfoot it to Bond Street, arriving just as the client does. He is in London briefly, so these opportunities for face-time are critical.

Lunch today is with a great colleague and friend, Melanie Clore, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, at Sotheby’s Café, which is one of the great selling points of our New Bond Street premises. We make sure that we have a table close to reception so we can scan which clients are arriving. There are noticeably more US collectors today, and their main topics of conversation are an exclusive in Vanity Fair online about the identity of the purchaser of Cezanne’s The Card Players and tonight’s Superbowl. Lunch with Melanie is a great way of bouncing ideas off each other and grappling with our latest challenges. A client we’ve both been friends with for many years joins us and we end up having an insightful conversation about the principal homeowners in Mustique.

As I do a lot of charity auctions, I talk to my colleague Alex Branczik, who has taken a major charity auction at Claridge’s hotel on Saturday night, principally for the Greek community in London. He says it was a huge success. Tonight is also the lender’s dinner for Lucian Freud’s hotly anticipated portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, surely one of the greatest highlights of the festival countdown to this year’s Cultural Olympiad.

I wind down in the evening with Vanessa, ahead of a busy week. Tomorrow night I am hosting a table at the Lucian Freud exhibition and will need to attend various other engagements as well.

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