Tips for Success at Your First Art Auction

Posted March 28, 2017 by in Home

Going to an auction can be a really exciting experience – the thrill of the competition, the exhilaration of winning an item, the speed at which everything’s done… It can, though, if you’re new to the scene, feel a bit intimidating. What do you do to make a bid? Can you keep up with rapidly-changing prices and all the old hands?

If you follow these five tips, you won’t be guaranteed success, but you won’t go into your first art auction completely green and quaking in your boots.

Find out the lot number of each item before you go

When it comes to artwork, you will probably be more tempted to find out the name of the piece and the artist, as well as some other details about it. That’s all great, but what you really need is the lot number. This helps you to work out roughly when in the proceedings your wanted piece will appear, so you don’t have to hang around and get overwhelmed. It also helps you to ask for condition reports…

…ask for condition reports

When you’ve found the artworks you’re most interested in, you can ask for condition reports from the auction house. Most auction houses sell the works as seen, so you won’t be able to return your purchase due to a condition problem or issue, especially if it’s only minor.

A condition report will list any damage or unusual characteristics that the artwork has, and having these reports helps you to decide whether to go for, say, your first favorite or bypass it and go straight to your second choice.

Make sure you have the right time and date

You might be scratching your head at this, what with being a proper grown-up adult and all. However, many auctions these days are divided into morning and afternoon sessions, as well as maybe over two days. If this is the case, then you’ll need to know which session or sessions your targets will be appearing in – if you miss them, that’s probably game over!

Find out if there’s a buyer’s premium and if so, how much it is

If you’ve never been to an auction before, then you may never have heard of the buyer’s premium. This premium is a charge placed on the price of the item on top of the hammer price (or the winning bid) for the lot. The winner has to pay this premium, and it goes to the auction house, not the seller – it’s a kind of commission, basically. Most buyer’s premiums are between 18% and 25%, so you need to know, as you’ll have to factor it into your budget before you start bidding.

Make sure you register to bid

You also need to know what the bid registration process is at the auction you’re going to. Some auction houses merely ask that you register before your lot comes on. Other houses ask that you give your banking details before you’re allowed to bid, while others let you register online.

Tips for Success at Your First Art Auction

Now why would you even go to an art auction in the first place? Especially on a budget? The older you get, the less you’ll want to rely solely on IKEA and Target prints for decor. If that’s all you have, your home can lack authenticity.

I bid $40 on a piece of art at a gallery about eight years ago. It was a charity auction, so all of the money was donated to a good cause. To my surprise, I got the piece and I now have a beautiful piece of work in my home.

The artist charges way more than $40 for his work, but due to it being a charity auction, I was able to afford it. If you want real artwork in your home, consider attending a charity art auction. 

Have you ever attended an art auction? Let us know in the comments below!

*This article was contributed.