How To Sell Your Art At Auction


How To Sell Your Art At Auction

With the work of today’s generation of artists gaining more and more attention on the auction block, it’s easier than you might think to auction a piece from your art collection, even if you don’t have a Picasso or van Gogh stashed away in the attic.

Published on 21 September 2017

Take it from us – there’s more to the world of art auctions than meets the eye. Although blue chip artists such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Damien Hirst tend to attract the most attention at high-profile auctions with their stratospheric hammer prices, they’re really the tip of a complex and highly fascinating iceberg.

Just look at Phillips, an auction house that prides itself on “creating an audience and market for the work of today’s generation of artists”, whose 16 annual auctions present an expertly-curated selection of contemporary art for bidders eager to amass a world-class collection. While they’ve sold works by names such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Jeff Koons – recognised masters of the second half of the twentieth century – it’s equally interesting to take note of their auctions that cast light on mid-career artists and emerging talent, such as Beatriz Milhazes, Urs Fischer, and Wade Guyton.

For Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia, this type of auction market creates opportunities for some wonderful moments, such as, “Discovering a masterpiece when one is least expecting to, and coming across an artwork which massively outperforms both the client’s and even our own expectations when it comes to the auction itself.”

From conducting valuations around the world to assessing what it is that collectors will search for next, Crockett give us an idea of how to navigate the contemporary art auction market.

Auction house experts will travel for the right art

While photographs are often the first step in approaching an auction house for a valuation on a piece of art, Crockett and his team prefer to work on a slightly more personalised basis. “Sometimes, we are able to appraise works from a thorough selection of photographs, but our specialists are constantly travelling across the globe to see works of art in person and meet with collectors,” he says, “Contemporary art has taken me to some far-flung places from all across Asia and Europe to the Middle East and South America. Some interesting places I have travelled to specifically to conduct a valuation include Sydney, Australia and Jerusalem, Israel.”

Select an auction house that both sellers and buyers can have confidence in

“We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards and would never consign a work that we were not 100% confident in,” Crockett says firmly, when asked if it’s still possible to auction an artwork that lacks paperwork or a detailed history of its ownership. “Above all else, we want our bidders to be completely confident in Phillips’ assessment and description of the works that they are pursuing at auction.

“As the art market becomes more global, collectors are often participating in auctions from the other side of the world and don’t always get the chance to view works of art in person. From authenticity to condition and provenance, our clients place their trust in Phillips and this is why we take our appraisals, condition reports, and catalogues very seriously.”

Restored artworks can still perform magnificently at auction

“We have included restored works in our auctions and are always transparent about this. Last November, in our New York Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, we included Roy Lichtenstein’s Nudes in Mirror, which had famously been attacked while it was on loan to the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria in 2005,” Crockett recalls. “The painting was left with a 12-inch slash, but had been so meticulously restored that the damage was not visible to the naked eye. Some even said that the attack added to the work’s history. It eventually sold for US$21.5 million.”

Keeping an eye on the calendar and atlas is in your lot’s best interest

“Determining the best season and selling location are absolutely crucial in consigning a work of art to auction,” Crockett confirms. “Some artists have specific and varied regional appeal. For example, a work consigned in Singapore might have a strong market in London, so we would certainly take that into account when planning out the calendar. Also, we find that other events in the art market can affect the auction world. For instance, if a museum is hosting a large retrospective of a certain artist, we might try to offer a work by that artist in the same season, as these kinds of shows tend to generate a lot of excitement around their work.”

An open dialogue with auction house specialists is crucial to a consignment agreement

“When consigning a work, you should make every effort to understand all costs involved, which can often vary case by case, so we recommend having an open and thorough dialogue with the specialists who are helping you through the process,” is Crockett’s suggestion. “One of the benefits of working with an auction house is our large international team, who can devote a great deal of time and attention to making sure all of your questions are answered and that you are completely confident in your decision.”

Cross-category collecting is on the rise

“We have seen an escalation of interest in contemporary art, which can be partly explained by the rise of our visual culture, by current tastes, and what people want to live with in their homes. The market is being pushed toward the present day,” Crockett remarks. “There is also more cross-category collecting. Today’s collectors are not interested in limiting themselves to a particular category, so we have people breaking down the barriers and exploring how different types of art can ‘live’ alongside others.

“Those who used to define themselves as contemporary art collectors, for example, are now exploring photographs and design. Our specialists across the company are working together to ensure that these collectors have the opportunity to learn about new subjects and find exactly what they’re looking for.”

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