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Fine Art Auctions – A Guide to Navigating Them

Fine Art Auctions – A Guide to Navigating Them

This isn’t Ebay, folks.

With more and more people possessing disposable income and looking for ways to spend it, fine art is becoming an increasingly popular means of beautifying the home. While many of these pieces are purchased from art galleries in cities across the globe, the most prestigious works are sold at auction to the highest bidder. Concurrently, if you’re thinking of purchasing a piece of fine art, it is important to understand the complicated process that goes on behind the scenes.

The largest art auction houses are Sotheby’s, Christies, Lyon & Turnbull, and Bonhams. In any given year, billions of dollars worth of art can cross the counter at each of these famous institutions. Each house holds several auctions a week, with inventories ranging from furniture to random pieces of Americana to fine art. This article will serve as a basic primer to the process of purchasing the latter.

The first step is finding an item that you’re interested in. Most auction houses have online catalogues and schedules that you can sort through to determine when items come up that you might want to bid on. Once you’ve found something, you can either purchase it in person, through a proxy, or via an absentee bid.

The most exciting way to purchase that perfect piece of fine art is to attend the auction itself. There’s nothing quite like the high-octane atmosphere of bidding, and making that split second decision to raise your paddle and subsequently the price. This also ensures you complete control over the process, and the ability to react quickly to other bidders offers. Once the last bid has been placed, the auctioneer will allow a short amount of time to pass before awarding the highest bidder with the piece.

If you can’t make it to the auction house, other options abound, however. Most houses will happily accept “absentee” bids. Simply obtain a form from a catalogue or website and return it via fax or post with the maximum price you are willing to pay for a particular piece of fine art. You can also use these forms to register for telephone bidding, by which a representative of the auction house remains on the line throughout the auction acting as the middle man between you and the auctioneer.

Once you’ve been announced as the winner of the auction, it’s time to pay for your new prized possession. In most cases, credit cards are accepted, though not all locations accept plastic. For higher priced items, most auction houses request that you pay through your bank with a cashiers check. You may pay immediately, or request an invoice, after which you are given an allotted amount of time to make payment.

Purchasing fine art at auction is a great way to explore the art world. If you’re lucky and do your research, it’s entirely possible to come across a steal. The auction itself can also provide a great story to accompany the beautiful new piece hanging over your mantle place.