Art Auction Drama Plays Out on the Small Screen

by Natasha Wolff | November 19, 2015 3:00 pm

Real-life art auctions[1] are regularly making headlines these days for the eye-popping sums they’re pulling in—like the recent $170 million fetched for a Modigliani—but the action isn’t confined to the hallowed halls of Christie’s or Sotheby’s. The Art of More[2], a new series on the Crackle network, dives head first into the world of high-stakes auctions, crooked collectors, secretive smugglers and all manner of hustlers.

Christian Cooke leads the series as Graham Connor, a former solider who’s reinvented himself as a slick art-world operative but hasn’t entirely left his old life—or bad habits—behind. Cooke sat down at the DuJour offices to discuss the role, his unique research experience and his own taste for the finer things.

You’re starring in a new series about the cutthroat world of art auctions. Are you a collector? 

I don’t mind saying this: I know nothing about art. What I know, I’ve learned through the show, so what I know is mainly about how the auction world is and how that operates and how auctions are put together. What it does, though, is makes me more aware of the art world in the news. Because I’m playing a character who is a part of this world, I seem to see it more and it feels more present. I am more interested in it, that’s for sure. 

Graham is a rising star at an auction house, but he’s also got a lot of other, darker, layers. Did you set out looking for a role like this?

I was in London, and I was avoiding pilot season like the plague. I said to my agent, ‘I’m just going to stay in England.’ I only wanted him to send me the really good scripts, and if I really liked them I would do a self-tape. Then, I actually went out to L.A. [for another project] and just when I was literally about to fly back to England, the day before I flew back, I went in to meet the casting director and to read for The Art of More.

So, you went from avoiding pilot season to landing a pilot? 

I read the scripts and I liked them, and this part was really very different. It was something that I have never done before: playing this blue-collar kid from Brooklyn who is working his way through the exclusive art world, all the while smuggling and having this thuggish streak and trying to keep these two worlds separate. It felt very new and like uncharted territory in terms of television. It is something that hasn’t been on before and it’s a very new concept. 

Were you able to log time at an auction house to learn the ropes?

I spent a day in London researching, and the stories that I heard were insane. There was one particular story just talking about how these different auction houses really do compete for accounts—like how on the show Kate Bosworth’s character and mine compete for accounts. This story went that there was this Chinese business tycoon who called the four major houses and asked them all to send a representative because he was going to sell all of his art, and wanted them each to pitch for it. They all went to his home in China, and he gathered them around and said, ‘Tomorrow at noon you are all going to play rock, paper, scissors, and whoever wins gets the account.’

That’s nuts! And what happened? 

They were like, are you kidding me? Three of them just went out and got drunk, but one of them went online and did research on slight of hand and ways to win at the game. And that guy won. I don’t know if it’s just chance or if his research paid off, but that was one of the many stories that I heard from this expert in London. And it really is true! That’s what makes this such rich ground for storytelling, because there are so many different things that go on that you wouldn’t believe.

Over the course of this season, you’ll have an awful lot of ground to cover. 

There’s also the darker underbelly of the show, which looks at smuggling and corruption and the criminal aspect of that, which really does happen. It’s about that greed and possession and envy and ownership. We struggle every day for status and wealth, and it’s really all bullshit. That’s really what the show is a satire of, if look at it deeply.

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