John Windsor previews October's auctions and art fairs.
Buy only what you like" is the favourite platitude of auctioneers and dealers. But investors say: "Never mind what you like, buy what everybody else is buying!" You might, for example, think that the Mary Little armchair "Liz", in Bonhams' 20th century design sale next Saturday (2pm), is hideous. Such lots fox the scruffy yuppies who pack design sales at Bonhams - and rivals Christie's South Kensington and Sotheby's - where they baulk at buying unfamiliar names.

So why blow an estimated pounds 2,200-pounds 2,600 on a Mary Little tubular steel armchair with rude-looking mobile armrest, dressed in baggy blue silk drawers? For a start, because the V&A and the Crafts Council have each bought one. The rest of the six in her "Coat of Arms Collection" (1993- 4) have been snapped up by private collectors. This is the only one left - direct from studio and the first Little to appear at auction.

Who Mary Little? An Eighties RCA graduate with a Nineties punch. Continental public collections bought her "blue chair". The Coat of Arms chairs were splashed in Design Week and on the cover of Blueprint. They were sold by the trendy Galerie Valerie in London.

Coat of Arms retail prices have been between pounds 1,500 and pounds 4,500 (designs vary), so Bonhams' estimate seems reasonable. But newspaper publicity can inflate prices! Next time, buy a catalogue, do some research - and keep mum.

Sotheby's modern design sale is on Tuesday 29 October (2.30pm).

More discerning scruffy yuppies - the sort that are colonising Clerkenwell - have been bidding bullishly at Sotheby's sales of Modern Brit pictures. They are in their thirties. He might be a photographer or designer, a couple might comprise a down-dressing city type with arty wife who nudges him to bid more.

This is good news for Modern Brits, a frustrating auction market for investors that has shown occasional signs of life over the past few years, only to prove time and again that the Brits will not buy even their own art.

On the catalogue cover for Sotheby's Modern Brit sale on Wednesday (10.30am), the auctioneers have placed a lure for the new buyers that is an instructive guide to their taste - a chalk and crayon drawing of 1943 of a poet under a willow by the Neo-Romantic John Craxton, est pounds 4,000-pounds 6,000. Figurative - not abstract. Sophisticated, spirited figuratives are what they want. They would buy expensive Neo-Romantics Piper and Sutherland if they could.

At Sotheby's in March, private buyers competed for Mick Rooney's dream- like oil of a cafe scene, "Too Much on Her Plate" (1982), which fetched pounds 16,100, just below top estimate. In June, a sophisticated, Braque-like William Scott still life of 1948 was bid to pounds 60,000 by privateers before the trade upped the price to pounds 89,500.

Not much Neo-Romanticism at the 20th Century British Art Fair - at the RCA, Kensington Gore, west London until tomorrow (11am-7pm) - but the English abstract landscapist Ivon Hitchens seem to be everywhere. The fair has its first photograph dealer, Michael Hoppen.

Outsiders are in. The first collection at auction of Outsider Art is at Sotheby's on Thursday 24 October (2pm). Outsider art implies the visionary, obsessively dense pictures by untutored recluses and lunatics brought to light by the French contemporary artist Jean Dubuffet in 1945. The Continentals and Americans have been into it for years, but here, until this year, it has been the preserve of a small coterie of cognoscenti almost as obsessive as the artists whose work they winkle out of psychiatric wards or backstreet hovels with drawn curtains.

Sotheby's has 170 works collected by the big Berlin dealer Michael Haas, including a crayon and pencil drawing by Dubuffet's first discovery, the child molester Adolf Wolfli, est pounds 5,000-pounds 6,000. The sale is expected to raise pounds 3m. The London dealer Jane England of Westbourne Grove, west London, a major champion of Outsider Art, has a selling exhibition of mainly British works, 15-26 October. For a Who's Who of Outsiders, consult John Maizels' book Raw Creation, published this year by Phaidon.

One-offs: Eton College is turning out its old fossils - on-site sale of contents of its natural history museum by Bonhams, Wednesday 23 October (11am). Doggies for sale: 308-lot closing-down charity sale of dog paintings from Sara Davenport's unique London dog-art gallery - Bonhams, Thursday 10 October (6pm).

Bottom line: One of 90 cans of Piero Manzoni's Merda d'Artista (1961), catalogued as "artist's faeces in metal tin", is est pounds 15,000-pounds 20,000 in Christie's contemporary art sale on 24 October (11am). They are virtually unknown at auction: Sotheby's failed to sell one at pounds 30,000-pounds 40,000 in London in 1990. Manzoni's unadulterated individuality is taken seriously in Italy. The turd seems likely to be repatriated.

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