Stories and insights on excellent education.
At Sotheby’s, Scholars Critique Egyptian Sculpture, Greek Vases, and a $1.2M Dresser
Selma Sorgho – January 9, 2017
In school, two of my favorite subjects are art and history. That’s why I was so excited when I had the chance to visit Sotheby’s — one of the world’s oldest art auction houses — during a field study last week. My classmates at SA Bed Stuy Middle School and SA Cobble Hill and I saw incredible pieces of art and learned about the history behind each of them. We also visited the auction floor — and saw one piece sell for over one million dollars!
I love history because I am fascinated by stories. My history teacher, Ms. Regan, helps bring history to life. One of my favorite things we’ve studied this year has been the Han Dynasty in China. Ms. Regan taught us that during that dynasty, Confucius spread the idea that all people should receive an education. He was jailed for some of his beliefs, but he never gave up fighting for what he believed. I thank him for encouraging the government to provide education for everyone, because in a way, his idea set the groundwork for my education!
Art is my other favorite subject. Making art is a way to express yourself. So far this year in Mr. Akers’ art class, we’ve created collages, puppets, clay pots, and an animal hybrid (I made a spiderilla, which is a combination of a spider and a gorilla). I love how many ways you can interpret art — for example, the color red can be used to express anger, love, or fear — it’s all in how you use it. My favorite artist is Frida Kahlo. Even though there was a lot of pain in her life, there are so many stories that she told because of her feelings. Painting made her feel happy, and that’s how it makes me feel too.
At Sotheby’s, we saw some incredible pieces of Egyptian, Greek, Modern, and Impressionist art that were scheduled to be sold that week. I love how we were able to experience the great stories of history and the feelings of so many artists.
Take a look at the slideshow, below, and join me in taking a peek inside our trip to Sotheby’s! I can’t wait to share with you what I learned.
We started by looking at Egyptian art. Egyptian art and history is fascinating to me, because they used hieroglyphic symbols to communicate messages. The tour guides first showed us four jars from an Egyptian tomb, made out of a stone called alabaster. We asked a lot of questions about these jars — and learned some interesting things about their purpose!
It turns out each jar was carved to represent an Egyptian god and used to store different organs from the person who died. When one of my classmates asked if the organs were still inside, the tour guide had someone lift off the top and show the inside to us! It was so cool — even though the organs weren’t in there anymore.
They also showed us a sculpture of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, who was the goddess of both war and healing. At first I was confused by how one goddess could represent two things that were so different. But when I thought about it later, I realized it was a way for them to represent their culture and their experiences. When there was war, they needed a powerful god, but also one that was capable of healing them.
This Greek vase was so neat because it contained a story. On the side, there was a scene painted of a woman saying goodbye to two warriors heading into battle. I think it’s so interesting how people have communicated their feelings and ideas using art throughout history. When the tour guide told us the story behind this piece of art, I told her that I thought that all of the art and objects we had seen so far told us a story — the jars from the tomb represented the story of the person who died, and the sculpture of Sekhmet represented stories of pain and healing.
I was so excited when we got to the modern and impressionist art section, because it’s one of my favorite types of art. I like these pieces because they let people imagine what it’s like to be in the scene. I thought this painting of a snowy landscape was great, because the setting was calm and peaceful. But I didn’t realize there was a twist to this piece!
The guide lifted the painting of the winter landscape off the wall and showed us the back — the painter had used the same frame to paint a springtime landscape on the other side of the canvas! The art expert said this might have been because the painter wasn’t able to sell the winter scene painting. I understand the painter wanted to sell more art, but I think he should have kept the winter piece — even if it didn’t sell. I believe that the artist was very creative and shouldn’t have cared what others thought of his art — he should have been satisfied with what he made!
Next, we looked at a modern painting of a street scene. We all got to guess at what might be happening in the picture. This is one of my favorite things about art, because when we guess at a painting’s meaning, it feels like we’re in a conversation with the artist, even if they’re not around anymore. Everyone can have an idea about a different piece of art, so in a way, we can all contribute to the painting. It feels like we’re helping the artist!
Our last stop was the Sotheby’s auction floor, where they auction off thousands of pieces of art every year. I was surprised by how organized everything was — the people on each side of the room were on the phone with the people who were actually buying the art, to find out what price they were willing to pay for the item they wanted. The woman at the podium led the auction and talked so fast! We watched one dresser sell for $1.2 million! I would never spend that much on a piece of art, but that’s just me. If I could bid on something at Sotheby’s, I think I would buy an impressionist or a modern painting because that’s my favorite kind of art. I loved exploring art and history and Sotheby’s! Someday, I want to be a lawyer, and I think studying history and understanding past injustices between different social classes will help me learn how to solve similar problems that exist today. But I would also like to create art and paint in my spare time, because it’s something that I find relaxing and enjoyable. I loved my visit to Sotheby’s. Maybe in the future, I’ll come back and buy a painting!