Over the past ten years, Australia’s art auction sales have amounted to $108 million. If you’re attending an auction as a viewer, then it’s all excitement and entertainment. Conversely, if you’re attending as a buyer, that too for the first time, you’re probably a bundle of nerves. At an art gallery, a simple “I’ll take it” is enough to make a piece yours, but at an auction house, you have to compete with people who are equally desirous of the works in the lot. Topping someone else’s bid requires discretion, courage, and confidence.
If you’re new to the exciting, dramatic sport of art auctions, here are some handy tips you can keep in your back pocket.
1. Get Familiar with the Jargon
Auctions are like poker games with their abundance of verbal and nonverbal cues. While nonverbal cues can be hard to spot, jargon is easier to recognise and understand. Look up online glossaries that explain terms like “as is” (selling a work of art with its imperfections), “gavel” (the hammer the auctioneer uses to conclude the bidding), and “absentee bid” (a bid placed by proxy). If you’re better with audiovisuals than text, consult a few videos that explain auction terminology or watch simulations and movie clips.
2. Enquire About the Dress Code
There is no dress code at an auction unless explicitly stated. You can show up in comfortable clothes like jeans and a t-shirt or business casual. However, if it’s a black-tie event, get your tux, patent leather shoes, evening gown, and pearl chaplet out of the closet. Flouting the dress code might result in denial of admission.
3. Get Your Documents in Line
To ensure everything goes smoothly, art auctions verify the documentation of registered buyers before admitting them to the venue. They will cross-check your name, date of birth, nationality, and document serial numbers. Be prepared to offer proof of funds as well. Unfortunately, paintings do not sell for a song, as enthusiastic as you might be about possessing one.
4. Peruse the Catalogue
You attend an auction to watch the drama unfold or buy a work of art. If it’s the latter, you cannot skip the catalogue. You need to know the purpose of the auction, the story behind the artworks that fascinate you, the artist’s background, and the valuation of the pieces. Equipping yourself with vital information will keep you from bidding impulsively on the wrong pieces.
If not the catalogue, do not skip preview day. On preview day, you can see the lot and decide what items are worth bidding on. Preview Day gives you an unfiltered view of the pieces, unlike a glossy, airbrushed print catalogue. What they look like on preview day is what they will look like when you take them home.
5. Conduct Yourself Professionally
Art auctions are ideal venues to mix and mingle with collectors, art aficionados, and maybe even the artists themselves. A well-groomed appearance, an amiable disposition, and polite conversation go a long way. Even if you return home empty-handed, a more experienced bidder might leave you a couple of tips.
Show respect for the work being auctioned. If it does not interest you, wait patiently for the handlers to bring out the next piece. Refrain from distasteful jokes and snarky comments.
Attending an auction is a unique experience. You experience the thrill of bidding on contemporary and aboriginal art, the excited murmurs from the viewers, and, hopefully, the joy of taking a beautiful work of art home. Reach out to the best Australian art auctioneers to know when the next event is.