Buying At Auctions: Nothing Can Replace That Feeling!

Those of you who know me well enough also know how much I love my art. I am always on the lookout for the next new addition that will enhance my modest collection and although I will search for it from a variety of sources, from art galleries to specialist sites and blog pages, I find that buying at auctions is by far the most exciting and thrilling experience you will encounter.

Auctions at Phillips De Pury, Sotheby’s and Christies are run just like properly curated exhibitions. Each show is well balanced throughout, with a mixture of artwork by newly established as well as already popular and sought after artists. This ensures that the interest from potential buyers remains strong and consistent all the way through.

While discovering new talent at auctions is extremely rare, they provide a great platform for art collectors to find pieces that may no longer be available on the primary market, often at competitive or even at bargain prices. In an interview Amy Cappellazzo, the International Co-Head of Contemporary Art at Christie’s, claimed that new artists should in fact refrain from entering the auction market until they can ascertain the depth of their market. Running too big a show could in fact be damaging for a young artist’s career, especially if prices are set too high too soon. Auctions on the other hand can make an artist’s career – Jeff Koons’ career, for example, was almost entirely established at auctions even though his work is also successfully sold by the Sonnabend Gallery in New York. Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat are also similar examples here. These artists practically owe the strength of their market to auctions, even though their artwork has been popular and selling well at release.

Most leading auction houses have started introducing print editions to their auction calendar, making pieces that would otherwise be out of reach, accessible to a wider market.

I recently attended the Phillips De Pury editions auction and although some of the lots sold for a small fortune, including Richard Hamilton’s Fashion-Plate, Cosmetic Study IX from 1969 (sold for £314,500, higher that its highest estimate of £200,000), there were plenty of good deals to be had. For example, a set of 9 prints by Patrick Caulfield sold for £3,250, under its lowest estimate of £4,000. This was a particularly good deal, considering that a set of 4 prints by the same artist sold at Christie’s for £9,375 only a few weeks before. Personal note to the buyer: very well done on that, I salute you!

Other good deals included the Andy Warhol Electric Chair in yellow (1971) which sold for £4,375, versus the black version (also from 1971) that ended up selling for almost double the price at £8,125. It was surprising to see how two very similar versions of the same image can achieve such different results. I assumed the yellow print would generate more interest, as in my opinion it is more unusual than the black, and highlights even more the poignant side of the image with the use of yellow, a colour that is normally synonymous with creativity and positive events. The other highlight for me was the Banksy’s Gold Flag print (2007) selling for £3,750, considering that this is an iconic image, a low edition of only 112, and previously selling for around £10,000!

Collectors who do well at auctions are the ones who do their research beforehand (or get an expert art consultant to do that on their behalf) but most importantly also follow their gut instinct on what they like and feel is right for them, rather than solely focussing on what might make a good investment. I really think this is a rule that is valid for the high as well as the lower end of the market. Certainly my personal advice to anyone wanting to invest in art would be to really have fun with collecting, be adventurous in your choices and don’t feel you need to stick to a particular theme or style – oh dear, I can already hear a lot of experts out there cursing me for saying this!! But the reality is that art is a volatile market, often based on hype. Therefore, as there are never any real guarantees on whether you will make a profit, you may as well enjoy the ride. Failing any increase on the value of the artwork all that should matter is that you are happy to have that art piece hanging on your wall, and knowing that you still own something quite unique. As long as you have done your research your risks are highly reduced, especially if you go for an artwork by well-known and established artists. Most industry experts would agree here.

Moreover, if you are serious about investing in art, you should definitely attend auctions, and lots of them. This will provide you with invaluable experience, transparency on the depth of an artist’s market and average prices you should expect to pay for their work. The other alternative is to get in contact with an art consultant that you trust who will be able to do the work for you and share their advice for a set fee.

Last but not least, buying art at auctions is so much fun. When you are set on an artwork and you come head to head with someone else in the room, or on the phone, your heart will start racing, your hands will start sweating and you will have a split second to decide how much you are prepared to pay to secure that piece. Dangerous when that price is higher than what you were originally intending to spend, but of course you should always have a set price in mind, and stick to it!

Sadly, in the end there can only be one winner. At times your heart will be broken and you will have to get over the disappointment of not getting that artwork. Either way you are always guaranteed a good time. On the other hand, when you are the winner and the auctioneer smiles while looking in your direction and says ‘Sold to the lady in the room for £x’ you will feel a million dollars. When that happens there really is no better feeling and before you know it, you are hooked.

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