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Thread: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

  1. #1

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    Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    In all the talk about whether galleries are still useful sales models to artists, I think it's also worth talking about the role that auction houses seem to be playing in selling artwork. We tend to think of a Sotheby's selling off Van Goghs or ancient artifacts or Elvis memorabilia, but some living artists (unfortunately I can't dig up any names for you) are running their work through auction houses instead of galleries, obviously in smaller numbers than what a gallery can potentially sell.

    I was interested in what people thought of this sort of opportunity, especially in terms of whether or not this could be a good way to stimulate interest in one's work among potential collectors.

    Here's an online one I think is interesting:

    http://www.igavel.com/aboutUs/emergingartists.php

  2. #2
    Steaphany's Avatar
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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Seems like an interesting option, but their rule "Some prior exhibition or publication experience is required" means I'm excluded.

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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    There is great deal of interest in the work of the artists you speak of so for them auctions are a good idea. The have a built in market of collectors around the world and also those type of collectors are used to buying expensive things at auctions. You're talking about multi million dollar items here.

    If you are unknown it seems that first of all why would an auction house be interested, but if they were, sales of your work would be by chance. A gallery which could give you good exposure to the retail marketplace would be a much better bet.

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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Barall View Post
    There is great deal of interest in the work of the artists you speak of so for them auctions are a good idea. The have a built in market of collectors around the world and also those type of collectors are used to buying expensive things at auctions. You're talking about multi million dollar items here.

    If you are unknown it seems that first of all why would an auction house be interested, but if they were, sales of your work would be by chance. A gallery which could give you good exposure to the retail marketplace would be a much better bet.
    If you look at the web model I posted a link to, I think it opens up the door to a wider range of artists (Steaphany, if you think your work is there, make up some local shows you've been in; I don't think they're checking more than a little!). I think the advantage is, if you can get people to "come" to an auction (the "if" is of course the most loaded word in any sentence, especially involving the web), maybe their having an appetite to buy will extend past the things they originally came to see to the other surprises. In other words, maybe auctions can be enough of a mix between known and unknown so as to introduce a measure of serendipity to the buying process for collectors. I think it could be a win win for sellers and buyers.

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    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Before your work has a secondary market (auctions) it needs to have a primary market (galleries).

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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Quote Originally Posted by QT Luong View Post
    Before your work has a secondary market (auctions) it needs to have a primary market (galleries).
    In terms of traditional auctions yes, but I think these sorts of online auctions may start to work for emerging artists as well. At least that's my gut sense of how it could go. (I should also say that the one piece of mine I have tracked down as selling at auction sold for almost nothing, and less than what I sell for, so I definitely see your point!)

  7. #7
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Here's a story about a photography dealer who sells on iGavel. He says he's a bit out of place, because it's mostly decorative arts.

    This is still a case of it being a secondary market.

    If you want an auction as a primary market, they it seems you're talking about ebay or some variation.

    The point of a gallery is that someone with all the right connections is selling your work. The auction format seems most workable when there are already a bunch of buyers who know they want your work. This doesn't happen automatically by listing the work in an auction.

    Or am I missing something?

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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    The point of a gallery is that someone with all the right connections is selling your work. The auction format seems most workable when there are already a bunch of buyers who know they want your work. This doesn't happen automatically by listing the work in an auction.
    It seems to me the only difference between an auction and a gallery is the means of establishing the price. The auction dealers I know still maintain a prospect list and still court their customers the same as do good gallery owners. They still call customers who they think would be interested in the products they have for sale in the upcoming auction, and still show them respect based on their buying track record when they show up.

    Whether it is the primary or secondary market hinges on whether the auctioneer accepts the prints from the photographer or from another collector. This is also true of gallery owners. Many gallery owners polish their prospect list as much to keep in touch with potential sellers as buyers. For example, if we want to buy a particular print (my wife collects Bev Doolittle prints, so I've been through this), we would call one of several dealers with whom we have worked, or do a search on the Internet, or both. Those dealers would find out our price point, and then call the collectors who own that print to see if they still want to keep it. That is also the secondary market. It's hard for any artist to make inroads with dealers who specialize in the secondary market, whether they are gallery owners or auctioneers.

    Rick "still only a buyer" Denney

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Quote Originally Posted by rdenney View Post
    The auction dealers I know still maintain a prospect list and still court their customers the same as do good gallery owners.
    Who are these auction dealers?

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    Re: Auction Houses vs. Galleries

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    Who are these auction dealers?
    They don't sell photography--they sell other art and art objects. Since I don't sell, and since I don't buy at the high end, they don't court me. But I have been to a couple of auctions here locally (northern Virginia) and observed their interactions with their favorite customers. I've made the same observations even with car auctions on TV, where very high-end custom restorations seem to sell to the same small group of collectors at each auction, and with the auctioneers and those buyers clearly on a first-name basis.

    My point was to reinforce something you said in another thread. When selling high-end stuff by whatever means, the role of the seller is to put likely buyers in front of the product. That is no less true for auction houses than it is for galleries.

    I don't remember the name of the auction house owner in California who calls my wife from time to time seeing if she wants to sell her signed Bev Doolittle "Forest Has Eyes" print, or buy another print that is coming up for auction. She has one gallery owner from whom she bought a different print who does the same thing.

    I haven't seen auctioneers selling works in the primary market, but then I don't see many high-end galleries doing that around here, either. I'm sure New York is different.

    Rick "whose local galleries won't show photography" Denney

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