Art and Commerce

A group of high-school students from Friends Seminary arrived the other day at the David Zwirner Gallery, on Nineteenth Street, for a crash course in how to sell art. The buyers, it was hoped, would be their mothers and fathers, at a cocktail party later that evening. Friends (students, 761; tuition, $38,300) was founded in 1786 by Quakers. It has an artsy reputation; alums include Liev Schreiber, Vera Wang, and Wylie Dufresne. The teen-agers were to receive talking points on some sixty-six art works, collectively valued at five hundred and forty thousand dollars, that had been donated by gallerists, artists, and collectors (many of them Friends parents), for an auction to raise money for financial aid and school programs.

Tanya Traykovski, who has a son in the third grade and degrees in art history, had volunteered to prep the student docents. “If you’re in a bind and don’t remember much about the artist, feel free to just look at the works and say what you feel about them,” she counselled.

Willa, a junior with wavy hair and a ripped hoodie, said that her favorite work in the gallery was a Marlene Dumas lithograph of Billie Holiday. “But I don’t know what I’ll say about it,” she said. “I think she’s from South Africa? And she paints . . . singers.” They walked up to an untitled piece by Carol Bove—peacock feathers affixed in a grid to a linen canvas. (The presale estimate was a hundred and twenty thousand dollars, and it sold for significantly more.) Traykovski said, “A lot of her works are difficult to live with in a New York City apartment, but this one’s not, which is great.” She added, “My husband and I collect her.” She explained that Georg Baselitz was the most famous artist represented. “He’s also a Friends grandparent.” She continued, “After the war, you have collective trauma, collective guilt.”

Sounds like high school. Did the kids like Friends? “It’s hard to ask any junior that,” Anna, a junior in a floral skirt, said glumly.

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A preppy fellow named Reid practiced his spiel about a drawing of a naked man trapped in a tiny room. “This is a David Shrigley,” he began. “His drawings are usually accompanied by humorous text”—in this case, “I hate being indoors”—“and I’m not really sure, but I would like to guess that he drew this during the winter. I feel like this is something that artists would struggle with—not being able to work outside or with a lot of other people.” Reid asked, “Did I talk a little too long? I talked a little too long.”

Over spring break, he’d be looking at colleges in the Pacific Northwest—Lewis & Clark, Reed. He was considering studying art history. But, he said, “Honestly, sometimes I feel like the art world can be a little too pretentious.”

A senior named Miranda, who had on a Chanel T-shirt, said, “You can come visit me at Middlebury slash Georgetown. Those are my two top choices—international relations, that’s my thing.”

Willa: “She does Amnesty International.”

Guests began to arrive. A blond woman wearing a black cocktail dress and a ring with a gem the size of a kumquat approached Reid and asked about the Bove.

“Bove is a Brooklyn-based artist,” Reid said. “She has a massive studio in Red Hook.” The woman looked at the price sheet and noticed the estimate.

“Ay!” she screamed. Reid moved along to a Peter Doig etching (presale estimate: $3,000). “Oh, this is in my price range,” the woman said. “Under ten thousand dollars, we’re good. I don’t really like it, though.”

Anna, the glum junior, led another bejewelled woman, who had children in the first and fifth grades, to a print by the Swedish artist Mamma Andersson. “She’ll make art out of these barren landscapes, but it kind of has a mystical twist to it,” Anna said.

The woman said, “When I was in high school, in rural North Carolina, I was not educating people about amazing art.”

The gallerist, David Zwirner, whose daughter will leave Friends for Barnard this year, recalled, “I went to high school in Germany. The schools are almost exclusively public. An all-public system is much better, much fairer.” He added, “If you go to public school in the Bronx, I don’t think you’ll have this.”

Miranda chatted with Micah Morris, the chair of the Friends language department. She asked him, “Did I tell you I’m doing a senior project? Learning how to make all sorts of pastries and whatnot. And I’m going to blog about it in French.”

Anna’s mother, a jewelry designer, hugged her daughter. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“It’s good,” Anna replied. “No one really wants to talk to us. And it’s a little dangerous, since you don’t know who’s a major art collector and who, like, doesn’t know anything.” She showed her mother a small painting of an island by Sebastian Black. Her mother leaned in close. Anna rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, you need your glasses.”