To the outside observer, an art auction can seem like an entirely different universe. From the wide range of insider terms to the elusive buying process, it’s a spectacle that’s nothing short of fantastic. If you want to get a glimpse inside this world and begin to make your own way into it, here’s a complete breakdown of the art auction process.
If you want to understand the world of art auctions, then you’re going to need to learn the lingo. Lots of different terms will be thrown around at an auction, and it’s important that you’re familiar with them before you show up to an auction. Here’s just a bit of the jargon you might encounter:
An estimate is one of the more self-explanatory ones, but it’s an essential term to know. The estimate is the market value approximation given to a piece before it’s put up for bidding.
If a piece doesn’t happen to sell at auction, that’s where the guarantee line comes into play. The guarantee line is the amount of money the auction house will pay the artist, even if their piece doesn’t sell.
Once that gavel goes down, you’ll know you have your hammer price. The hammer price is the price of the winning bid, before any other additional fees.
These are tools you’ve surely seen in the movies. When raised, they demonstrate that a bidder is interested in the piece. Not everyone uses these, though—hand gestures or nods work just as well.
A brief walk-through
Each art auction is its own unique experience, but there are some similarities between all of them. Generally, before the auction process, bidders are able to peruse the artwork that will be up for sale; if you’d like to see the pieces in person first, check out the presale exhibition to give them a thorough look-over. An expert will also appraise each piece and give an estimate for the price it should go for.
On the day of the auction, all the potential buyers will gather and bid on the pieces they’re interested in. Art pieces are auctioned off one at a time, and buyers are determined then and there. It’s an exciting and fast-paced event that promises an adrenaline-filled time.
How buying works
You may have some preconceived notions of how buying works based on television shows or movies, but the actual process is a bit different. First off, it’s important to do your homework ahead of the actual auction. As we mentioned above, you’ll want to see artwork in person if possible to truly assess its condition. You should also investigate the artists behind the pieces. That way, you can find out what past pieces have sold for, about the artists’ reputations, and other important details. By obtaining this background information, you’ll get a better idea of how much you’ll want to pay for the piece.
On the day of the auction, the specifics may vary, but you may bid in person, over the phone, or online—depending on the auction’s policy. If you’re able to get the highest bid and secure the piece you want, the auction house will tell you the next steps for finalizing the deal and finally receiving the piece.
Don’t let its air of exclusivity deter you—the world of art auctions is an exciting, ever-changing one that promises great rewards. If you want to start on your art collecting journey, there’s no better option than to throw yourself into it headfirst. Once you’ve bought a piece you love, look no further than our state-of-the-art custom framing to really bring it to life and to keep it in pristine condition for years to come.