Lauren Grundhofer Peterson serves on so many philanthropic and professional arts organizations, her love of art could qualify as a full time personal passion. She serves on the The Auxiliary Board of The Art Institute of Chicago, and is an active member of the MCA’s Emerge, The Arts Club of Chicago, ArtTable, The Art Institute’s Sustaining Fellows, as well as numerous other alumni groups and charities. She has dedicated herself professionally to art since graduating from Boston College in 2003 and receiving a Master’s Degree from SAIC in 2009. After 11 years in Christie’s Chicago office, Lauren joined Phillips in 2017 to serve as Regional Representative, Chicago and Midwest, and Associate Vice President to establish a Midwest presence for the international auctioneer specializing in 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Watches and Jewelry. We asked Lauren to share her story of working in the auction world as well as insider tips for treasure hunting by auction. – GV
Chicago Gallery News: How did you become interested in contemporary art?
Lauren Peterson: I had a strong interest in the Dada and Surrealist movements as an undergraduate at Boston College. I was fascinated by how these groups of artists reacted to the issues of their day – wars, technology, science, the advent of psychology, etc. During graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), I wanted to learn what the artists of my day were examining through their practices. I still find art schools to be a barometer of the way things are heading in contemporary art.
CGN: Tell me a bit about the focus in general at Phillips, as well as what your new role in Chicago is?
LP: Phillips is very focused, specializing in works from the 20th and 21st centuries, which makes us rather unique in the auction world. We have six departments: 20th Century and Contemporary Art, Photographs, Design, Editions, Watches and Jewelry. We also broker private sales. My colleague Carol Ehlers and I have been brought on to establish a presence for the firm in the Midwest.
CGN: Do auction houses get a bad rap in the art world?
LP: Yes and no. I think in any relationship business, a person’s understanding of it is based on the experiences they have with the professionals in that field. The key to a good experience is finding trustworthy, informed and qualified individuals – a gallerist, an art advisor, a curator, an auction specialist or all of the above. Auctions are transparent, since demand dictates price, and the market speaks. Auction houses also have resources. Phillips has a team of specialists around the world, and we encourage people to ask the tough questions, as we want anyone buying or selling with us to be comfortable with the process.
CGN: Bidding: in person, or online?
LP: The online experience has been transformed since I began in this business over 15 years ago. Call me old school, but I still advise collectors to preview works in-person when they are able. Previews are what make auctions unique. You can learn a lot by looking under the hood and examining museum-quality works in an intimate way. That said, once you’ve seen the artwork in person or been in touch with a specialist to answer questions, you can bid online or even by app from anywhere in the world without any issues.
CGN: Estate Sales vs Auctions?
LP: Estate sales certainly have a place in the ecosystem. The format tends to benefit the buyer because, when you are handling an entire household’s contents, some things may have been be overlooked. At Phillips, we are selective and seek out specific works to craft focused sales. Additionally, an auction is not just the day of the sale. Well before the hammer falls we are researching, writing essays, creating sale plans, organizing tours and events, speaking to the press, calling potential buyers and ensuring the best possible result for each of our consigners on the day of the sale.
CGN: Weirdest valuation or work you’ve encountered?
LP: When you think you’ve seen it all, something surprises. That said, very early on I worked with a collector who owned a Victorian hair wreath. The sentiment is sweet – these artifacts were made from the hair of a loved one and kept as a memento, often after that person had passed.
In reality, I find them pretty creepy.
CGN: Do you have advice for anyone unfamiliar with auctions?
LP: Auction specialists love to educate and we often have an art history or fine art background. If someone has never been to a live auction, go visit a local house. It’s fun to see a sale in person and they’re usually open to the public. I also encourage people to go to New York in November and May for the previews and sales to see things that may not have come to market for years and may not be seen again for a generation – perhaps several.