Who would burn an antique Chinese apothecary cabinet? Was it a house fire? A warehouse disaster? Could it have been a craftsman creating a new kind of “aged crackle” finish? Maybe it was a prop? Or perhaps it’s computer generated.…?
To answer this question we need to open a “time capsule” post, stretching back all the way to 2008.
Pause for a moment to click on the post below and briefly have a read, so you know who Maarten Baas is. Don’t worry, its a short post and mainly presenting examples of his utterly wild designs.
Dutch designer Maarten Baas in Shanghai: The art of burning Chinese traditional furniture.
Posted on by Roger Schwendeman
Finished reading? Great!
So now we know the who (Maarten Bass) and the why (crazy artist).
But what we still don’t know is why is this charred chunk of destroyed carpentry worth 29,622 USD?
The answer lies with international auction houses.
When something is sold somewhere for some crazy price, the road always leads to an auction house. And sure enough, in June of 2019, Christies London auctioned lot 556 at a final hammer price of GBP 18,750
That is a lot of cash for a chunk of epoxied resin charcoal. 💰💰💰💰
So how did we come up with the USD 29.622.00 figure?
GBP 18,750 is assumed to be only the final hammer price. If that’s so, then the money doesn’t end there. Why?
If in you are going to buy anything from these auction houses you need to have deep pockets because in addition to the hammer price, you need to factor in “buyers premium.”
In the world of major international auction houses, they need to get their (absolutely insane) cut of the sale. In this case that’s an additional 25% (at the time of the auction in 2019, rates have risen since then). In a nutshell, the buyer’s premium is just the auction house’s charge which is added on top of the hammer price.
So if indeed this is only the hammer price, we can do some simple math to come up with a final figure:
|GBP 18,750||Hammer Price|
|GBP 4687.5||Buyers premium of 25%|
|1 GBP = 1.2639 USD||Conversion rate around June 2019|
|USD 29,622||Total in USD|
So was it worth that much?
As someone with a fine art background, I am perhaps the wrong person to ask. For quite some time now, artists have been surprising and confusing the populace by representing common forms in different and often unexpected materials. Stone items that look as if they are light as a feather. Carpets that seem to melt into the ground. Common materials used in uncommon ways. Literally the kind of stuff we talk about in our first year in art school.
This is nothing new.
Fun maybe, interesting, yes! but definitely nothing new. Nor is the destruction of antiques for political or artistic purposes anything new either. We all know the destruction of antiques by Mao’s red guards and Ai Wei Wei’s merging and modifying of old pieces into something new.
Can furniture get drunk? A look at the works of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei
“For “Grapes”, 2008, Ai partially merged ten stools; they force their way into the others structure, like mutant siblings slowly fusing in the womb. Here, several centuries’ worth of artisan furniture production have been hybridized to form something altogether…… (Click to read more)
And how do we even know this piece was actually an antique?
The description refers to it as a “pre-existing cabinet.” Hmm… Vague.
But the tell tale signs of an older piece are obvious to anyone working in antiques and restorations. Lets have a look at the images below:
Chinese apothecary cabinet drawers are heavy. Much heavier than the average drawer, primarily because they are subdivided into sections in order to organize and hold the various herbs used to concoct Chinese medicine “potions.” In addition, these drawers are often opened and closed at a much higher frequency then the average drawer that is subjected to only occasional use. More often than not, and unlike the average drawer, the frame itself surrounding and supporting the drawer will wear at a slightly faster rate then the drawers face itself. This is due to the friction of the heavier then average drawer sliding in and out at higher intervals. We can see this in the images above. But we also see the same tell-tale signs on the piece below. I doubt those were caused by the burning. There are other tell-tale signs of age as well.
So we can assume this was was an original piece, in other words an antique, or at the very least vintage.
So this piece was destroyed (or perhaps the artist would say “transformed”) for the sake of “art.”
Please don’t do this alone by yourself to your own antique pieces. 😉