The big fall auctions in New York have been closely watched these past few weeks for what they might tell us about the turbulent art market. No less important, however, was a November 16 auction officiated by the Boston-based house RR Auction, which staged an online sale of items belonging to the late, great Prince. The top lot in the sale was a white ruffle shirt worn by the Purple One at the 12th annual American Music Awards in 1985 (one of the defining moments of his career). It went for $33,219, outselling a stage-worn Chain Hat from the Act II Tour, a stage-worn waist chain from the Parade Tour and a stage-worn pair of iconic heeled booties from the Act I Tour. The top lot was a Schecter ‘Cloud’ guitar known to have been played by Prince, which sold for $64,423 after being given a $4,000 estimate.
Observer caught up with Bobby Livingston, Executive Vice President at RR Auction, to hear more about what it’s like to stage a sale with such unique material.
I know that when it comes to auctions and estates there’s often a great deal of competition between houses. How did this one come to yours?
RR Auction is known for selling Prince items, and we’ve achieved incredible prices in the past. In fact, many of his former girlfriends, wives and employees have consigned to us consistently and reaped the rewards.
Our Consignor, Bertrand, was well aware of this and knew that RR Auction was well-positioned to represent his curated Prince collection.
What can you tell me about the types of potential bidders you were courting with this sale? Were they types that collected art? Or were they more into fashion and music?
The types of bidders we targeted and acquired were people with disposable income who love Prince, of course, as well as Prince fans in general.
Generally speaking, what kinds of questions did potential buyers ask about the lots? Would they want to know how often Prince wore something?
The most asked question about the items we offered in the sale was: are they authentic? This is the number one issue always with things like this. And because Bertrand had bought these personally from people who worked for Prince, the designers were there when Prince wore them. There are photographs of him wearing the items. Authenticity and provenance were not an issue. And people bid with confidence.
You held an in-person viewing for this auction in New York at the Chelsea Hotel. How did that go?
The in-person event at the Chelsea Hotel was an amazing success. We had so many celebrities, models, collectors and socialites attend because they loved Prince and wanted to see what Prince wore. Also, it didn’t hurt that the event was at the hottest hotel in New York City—the Chelsea.
Were there any lots that surprised you by greatly surpassing their estimate, or receiving a larger-than-expected number of bids?
Some of the items that overachieved were surprising. They were small items, like brooches, gloves, a guitar pick and his stage-worn cross. These things overachieved the estimates because they’re easy to display, easy to explain and things to brag about.
What did you learn about Prince, working on this auction?
What I learned from the Prince auction and what reinforced my opinion of Prince is that he constantly reinvented himself with an incredible vision in fashion, music and art. His death was a tragedy, and Prince is sadly missed. Prince collectors want to own things he touched, wore and designed. It was an incredible auction and an incredible success.