Despite the challenges of COVID Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ mavericks Rico Baca and Wade Terwilliger make bringing celebrated 20th-century art and design to auction for their international clientele a virtual art form.
It’s a rainy November morning and Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ Rico Baca is in no mood for setbacks. The prized Arman Choreographer bronze violin sculpture that shipped yesterday from Singapore is stuck in customs due to a paperwork snafu, and his 10 a.m. with the Provenance Director at Sothebys just rescheduled to next week—an appointment that took months to arrange and was the reason for his eighth trip to Manhattan this year. With several clients in the Hamptons the trip isn’t a total waste, he tells his driver who is thrilled to have the morning off.
“Fuck it,” he tells business partner Wade Terwilliger who is in their Palm Beach auction house finalizing more than 500 items for next month’s sale. It’s the first of the 2020 season, which will set pace and pocketbook for the year. A big push now with their most important pieces means everything.
“If it doesn’t clear by noon we may have to go with the Lynn Chadwick. Didn’t it sell last year for $80,000? So how’s the weather?” Baca diverts, lightening cracking as he peeks through half opened curtains in his suite at the Peninsula.
South Florida rarely sees overcast skies let alone temps that dip below 70. It really is paradise and chief reason why Palm Beach winters are synonymous with the ultra rich and an ideal locale for business.
“You don’t want to know,” Terwilliger laughs.
Overcoming obstacles has only bolstered their success, not just in sales but in the ever expanding breadth and scope of their auctions. Even the advent of COVID has created ingenuity if not opportunity. Although the coveted live, in person auction events have been paused Baca has kept his auctioneer hammer searing hot with a slew of virtual sale events that have helped forge new avenues to reach their celebrated audiences around the world.
“After all, necessity is the mother of invention and we have been creating in ways we never dreamed imaginable,” smiled Baca. “It’s an incredibly exciting time.”
Celebrated international auctions like Studio 54 memorabilia and original sketches by the late Chanel mastermind Karl Lagerfeld, which were curated last year for PBMA’s new division, Urban Culture Auctions, made Baca a media darling and regular guest on all three top television networks.
After weeks of relentless media coverage, by the time the hammer came down on the last of 125 lots, the Lagerfeld auction had realized $247,520 and was 100% sold.
“The auction far exceeded our expectations. We had many new-bidder sign-ups, and from everywhere you can imagine – Russia, Australia, Japan, probably a dozen European countries, and all over the United States,” said Baca.
All of the drawings were created in the 1960s when Lagerfeld worked for the House of Tiziani in Rome. Many bore his handwritten notations in the margins and some had swatches of original fabric attached. The artworks are especially rare because Lagerfeld routinely discarded anything he viewed as extraneous. “If those designs had not been kept in the Tiziani archive and preserved by two subsequent owners, they would have been lost forever. We hope some of them will end up in fashion museums, as they are so rare,” Baca said.
Most of the drawings ended up selling for about mid-estimate, and many sold for the high estimate or more. “We thought the bidding might calm down as the sale progressed, but bidding was intense through the very last lot,” said Baca. “Hitting the right note is a phenomenal experience.” https://www.modernauctions.com