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Next time I'll tell you about this in advance—my bad—but last night I went to my first art auction at Pacific Galleries in Sodo, and you should start going to these.

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First of all, an art auction is a weirdly thrilling ritual, even if you're not at Sotheby's watching Warhols fly. And admission is free and open to anybody. There's no pressure to bid; you're more than welcome simply to watch.

The PacGal auctions are pretty modest and pretty eccentric: bidders and audience seated under crystal chandeliers that aren't hung quite straight, an AA-worthy table dispensing free coffee from a metal barrel near the stage. A big sale is one in the five digits (last month in a modern art sale, a multicolored striped abstract painting from Robert Natkin's 1960s Apollo series made waves with a hammer price of $24,000).

Every spring, PacGal has a Northwest art auction, and last night's included works by Guy Anderson, Jay Steensma (whose opening tonight at Vermillion I Suggested), Charlie Krafft (Commandant!), Joe Reno, and more, with a part of the auction emphasizing Native American works and another part randomly trotting out antique European furniture including a Gustavian mahogany captain's desk from the 1700s that was used on the set of the 2003 Peter Weir movie Master and Commander (its hammer price was $1,900).

According to PacGal spokeswoman Lydia McIntosh, sales were "a little down from two years ago, but decent compared to last year."

James Martins Peggy Guggenheim, to Joe Reno, hammer price $130
  • James Martin's Peggy Guggenheim, to Joe Reno, hammer price $130
"We didn't have anything that was one giant spectacular painting like we did last year, which was a Guy Anderson," she said. "Most of the Guy Andersons that were for sale last night were from his estate. His partner came in and was kind of testing out the auction waters with the paintings that you saw last night. And they did okay: they either met or exceeded their reserves. It's likely that we may end up being the exclusive auction house for his reserves."

The Andersons last night (see all the art here) sold in the $4,000-$5,000 range.

I noticed that bidder 999 seemed to be taking quite a lot of Northwest art last night—turns out 999 referred to the online action. (Bids come in live, on the phone, and online.) "We're starting to see international interest in Northwest art, which is new," McIntosh said.

The art itself wasn't overly exciting. No museum representatives were in the house, except for one woman who's starting a natural history museum in California. She was there sweeping up Native American objects. I ran into high-profile contemporary art collectors Ben and Aileen Krohn at the door and they described the offerings as "a little sketchy."

Charlie Kraffts Three Birds, hammer price $110
  • Charlie Krafft's Three Birds, hammer price $110
But there were highlights here and there, and it was funny to hear the auctioneer refer to certain, invariably older or dead artists as "big name, big name, big name" when other artists' works went for a steal. (This auctioneer wasn't exactly up on contemporary art.)

For instance? A very early, very sweet ink drawing of three birds by Krafft—totally counter to the biting political work he'd come to make later—went for $110. And mail art!: An envelope oddball artist James Martin painted and addressed to fellow oddball artist Joe Reno, with the inscription "Peggy Guggenheim in Lotus Position," went for $130.

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I was relieved when a stupid glass-and-granite bird bath sold for just 70 bucks.

Here's a schedule of the upcoming auctions. Tips: The auctions run three hours or more and the best stuff comes up a few hours in. Bring snacks.

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