The Million Dollar Man

The expression “culture clash” leaps to mind pretty fast when entering Rockefeller Center. One of the first things you see is a gilded sculpture of Prometheus holding a torch aloft — over an ice rink. Then at the corner of 49th Street, throngs of tourists holding signs from Akron and Walla Walla mug for the NBC Today Show cameras. Jostling around them, however, are people with determined faces heading into offices for serious trading and very serious money.

Among those men in the black suits is Christopher Eykyn of Weston, slipping into the building known as 20 Rock. The doorman snaps to attention. Inside these doors is the global auction house Christie’s International, and it’s the week of a big sale. The Town Cars along Fifth Avenue will be bringing in all manner of collectors, curators and art-world glitterati.

Eykyn’s business card identifies him as International Director and Head of Impressionist and Modern Art. He knows what he knows. And you have to know more than a good deal to cope with this daily circus. Eykyn steps right out of central casting for his role. A tall, agile bundle of high British cool, church choir sincerity mixed with a sense of let’s-roll-the-dice flair, he possesses the distinguished air of a young James Bond. Very well spoken, he still expresses a bit of the devilish sense of humor that his colleagues know well.

The seething drama of a packed auction house is only part of the game. All the maneuvering that leads up to that thundering gavel smash is a melodramatic event combining all the intriguing elements you would want — predatory capitalism, electrifying glitz, high scholarship, unraveling mysteries, cunning human ambition and the noble quest of capturing beauty, art and immortality. In these halls, the rough urban combat of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice is smothered with the refined etiquette you would expect at high tea at Hampton Court..

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