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NEW YORK — A geyser of blood spurts from a barely visible corpse lying flat on a grassy knoll. A bullet blows through another man as the air becomes an indistinguishable mess of bodily fluids and flying flesh, a stark contrast to the placid ocean in the background.

No, this isn’t a scene from the latest Quentin Tarantino flick. It’s “Where the Boys Are (Iwo Jima),” a watercolor by Brooklyn-based contemporary artist Barnaby Furnas — which also happens to be Lot 15 at today’s auction at Christie’s, part of its new “first open” sales and lecture series.

Listed at an estimated $10,000 to $15,000, the painting is the first Furnas work Christie’s has ever offered, an appearance that would not be possible in its more expensive main season Post-War and Contemporary art events, held in May and November. Now with “first open,” the storied auction house hopes to broaden its reach into the world of up-and-coming artists by adding two sales, in March and September, with lower-priced works (the bottom of the range hovers at $2,000 to $3,000, compared with the $15,000 of its regular afternoon sessions in May and November), supplemented by monthly educational lectures.  

“The exciting thing about contemporary art is that for the most part, the artists are still living,” says Alicia Bona, an associate specialist in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary art department and director for sale of “first open.” “You can participate in a dialogue, whether you go to museums and hear lectures or you go to a gallery to learn about the artist’s background. And you can come to us, as well, for this lecture series.” 

Bona, 32, who has been with Christie’s since 2000, was a natural choice to head up the new venture. Born in Toronto, the daughter of an architect father and art teacher mother, she delighted in childhood museum trips and art projects (batik and tie-dye particularly) before studying art history at Queen’s University in Kingston. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked for three years at the Marian Goodman Gallery, known for representing artists such as Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth, moving to Christie’s when its then-head of contemporary art, Philippe Segalot, approached her.

This story first appeared in the March 15, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“First open” allows Bona to put her finely honed eye to excellent use compiling a body of work diverse in price, scope and medium. Newer artists like Dirk Skreber, whose “Untitled” work graces the catalogue’s cover, and Kai Althoff hold their own beside more familiar names such as Elizabeth Peyton, Willem de Kooning, Alex Katz and Andy Warhol. Paintings and drawings (Bona notes a trend back toward figuration) are interspersed with photographs, silk screens and sculptures.

The customer base is as varied as the auction lots, composed of both older, experienced bidders and those new to the scene. While they may be enthusiastic about contemporary art, many of those clients feel less informed about both the market and their auction skills in general, a gap the lectures hope to fill. The first in the series, “Demystifying the Auction as Process,” was held late last month and Bona advised attendees to see the work in person, speak to the specialists and, perhaps most importantly, set a price level in their own minds.

As Bona says, “You’re seeing a lot of people move over from Impressionists because, in our area, you can still find that amazing A-plus painting for not the millions you would spend in Impressionist and Modern.”

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