hirst 2.jpgFor many people the beginning of May means blooming flowers, frolicking bunnies, and the chance to play a few rousing games of "Hide the Maypole." However, for the art world, nothing spells springtime like some conspicuous consumption, auction house style.

For the next two weeks the twin bastions of the art market, Christie's and Sotheby's, will be playing host to the upper echelon of collectors and gallery owners in their Impressionist and Modern and their Post-War and Contemporary sales, respectively. The trendier Phillips, de Pury & Company will be offering Contemporary sales only.

While the vast majority of works in these auctions are far out of the price range of most of us peons, these sales are still a great way to track what is going on in the art market, whether you're interested in gauging how an iconic artist's reputation is holding up or in seeing which newer stars will prove to be the big sellers.

As the New York Times points out, this year should be particularly interesting in contemporary art, since in past years more and more big buyers have been gravitating away from Impressionist and Modern works and toward newer artists. And really, where else can you witness an investment banker buying two cow heads preserved in formaldehyde?

As we remember, the auctions are not open to the public, but anyone who is lucky enough to have an invitation should jump at the chance to go. We went one year and found the sale completely fascinating, although we have to admit we did spend the entire night literally sitting on our hands, petrified that an errant squirm might be taken as a bid.

Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern sales will take place tonight and tomorrow and its Contemporary sale will be on May 10th. Christie's Impressionist and Modern sales will be the 4th and the 5th and its Post-War and Contemporary sales will be on the 11th and 12th. Phillips, de Pury & Company’s sales will be May 12th and 13th. All of the works included in the sales can be viewed online at www.christies.com, www.sothebys.com, and www.phillipsdepury.com.