Dark side of art auctions revealed in new TV series The Art Of More

Kate Bosworth plays a luxury auction house employee while Dennis Quaid is a billionaire with a desirable art collection in The Art Of More.
Kate Bosworth plays a luxury auction house employee while Dennis Quaid is a billionaire with a desirable art collection in The Art Of More.PHOTO: SONY CHANNEL

New TV series The Art Of More, starring Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth, digs deep into the world of auction houses and art trafficking

Ever heard about a piece of art being auctioned off for some mind- boggling sum and wondered why on earth someone would pay so much?

Hoping to shed light on this is The Art Of More, a television series that also hints at the links between this glamorous world and the real-life trafficking of art by thieves and terrorists.

In addition, the new series - which airs in Singapore on Sony Channel (StarHub TV Channel 510, Singtel TV Channel 316) - has the distinction of being the only procedural drama set in the high-stakes world of luxury auction houses, as opposed to the many case-of-the- week shows about law, crime and medicine.

It stars Christian Cooke as Graham Connor, a former art smuggler trying to make it at one of the top New York auction houses, and Cary Elwes as the art dealer who mentors him.

Kate Bosworth plays Connor's nemesis at a rival house, while Dennis Quaid is a billionaire who has a collection everyone is eyeing.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, the actors confess to varying degrees of ignorance about this world, although that changed as they began filming the episodes, which explore a different item up for bid each week along with its provenance, price, potential buyers and eventual sale.

Quaid, the 62-year-old star of movies such as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and an executive producer on the series, says: "I had no formal art training or anything like that, but I've loved art all my life. I love beautiful art, what it says to you. To me, art is like myth - it points at some sort of deeper truth."

Elwes, a 53-year-old British actor best known for the beloved 1987 comedy The Princess Bride, was better acquainted with this milieu, coming from a family well-versed in the visual arts.

"I grew up in the art world. My father was a painter. My grandfather was a painter. So I'm familiar with the art world and auction houses," he says.

"My mother was an interior designer. So she used to take us to some of the high-end auction houses in England and so it is somewhat of a familiar world for me. But it was a great thrill for me to get on this show."

Cooke, in contrast to Elwes and Quaid, had to fake it even as his character knowledgeably rattles off details about different artists and their work.

"I know nothing about art," the 28-year-old Hollywood newcomer admits.

But getting to learn about something like this is "the beauty of being an actor", he adds.

"We get to become one-page experts with each job that we do on the subjects that we are working on," he says.

As research, Cooke "spent some time at an auction house in London with an expert who is the equivalent of my character on the show".

"I learnt about how the auction houses work because I wasn't familiar with that set-up. But in terms of the actual art and the artists, I'm still very much a novice."

Many viewers will be novices like him too, and Cooke thinks that is mostly a good thing.

"We all feel quite lucky that this is a subject matter that's not been seen on television before. So I think all of us are fortunate to get to tackle this subject matter," he says.

Bosworth, the 33-year-old star of films such as Blue Crush (2002) and Still Alice (2014), thought the most interesting aspect of the series is what it says about the value of luxury collectibles as opposed to their price.

"What I find most fascinating about art is how it often reflects the times and what I think this show does that's so interesting is that it shows what is value to someone - how it carries through time, how it increases, how it decreases."

Referring to the work of 19thcentury Dutch Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh, she adds: "His work is now among the highestselling pieces, but back in his day, he was hardly selling anything. And so, to me, it's interesting to see how that increases with time."

The Art Of More will explore the cut-throat wheeling-and-dealing that goes on behind the scenes at the top auction houses, which occasionally turn a blind eye to how their pieces are obtained.

Series creator Chuck Rose believes that imagining some of these shady proceedings is more important than ever now, given the real-life trafficking of antiquities by groups such as ISIS, the Islamic militant organisation.

"So behind the glamour of the auction world you've got a lot of crime, more now than ever. And we don't shy away from that," he says.

"We touch on the fact that a lot of the money from the antiquities is going to fund terrorism. And this guy who has a penthouse in Park Avenue - the money that he spent for that urn is actually going to burn a village down in Iraq."

Of course, all this makes for juicy dramatic possibilities for the show, which has been renewed for a second season.

Cooke says: "The art world is an unregulated world, so that's kind of what makes it such an interesting drama, that these things do go on."

He and the writers insist, too, that the storylines are inspired by research into how real art and artefacts are bought and sold.

"Obviously, the stories that we portray are fictional, but these things do happen."

•The Art Of More airs on Sony Channel (StarHub TV Channel 510, Singtel TV Channel 316) every Thursday at 8.50pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Dark side of art auctions revealed'. Print Edition | Subscribe