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How Does an Art Auction Work?

Tulika Nair
Even if you have never attended an art auction, you would have some peripheral knowledge about the working of an auction. Information here aims at giving you the details about the working of an art auction.
An art auction, as the name suggests, is an auction in which the items that are put up for sale are artwork. An auction can be organized by non-profit organizations to raise money, but there are also some auction houses like Sotheby's or Christie's that function on a professional level.
Art auctions are generally unique in the sense that the artwork put up for auction are generally artist, movement, or period specific. But the process of auctioning remains the same. Here, we have shed some light on this process.

The Art Auction Process

The entire process of art auction works in different phases. For the convenience of understanding the process, we have divided it into 3 phases. Each of which is a vital part of the process, without which everything you worked for can fall apart. Along with these phases, it is important to know the specific terminology used for art auctions.


In order to have an auction, you need to have artwork that can be sold. Building a collection or the phase of acquisition is therefore very important. For professional auctioneers, this is a process wherein private collections are often offered for sale. Once a certain piece of art work is put up for auction.
It is up to the auctioning team to determine the authenticity of the art piece they have in their possession. As an auctioneer, it is important to have enough knowledge of the historical relevance of the piece at hand. After proper authentication, number the artwork. But all of this is a part of the organization process that is detailed further.


Once the authentication of the artwork is done, the pieces are stored in a safe place. They are cataloged into collections for the day of the auction. To get a catalog made, it is important to get photographs clicked of every item that is being auctioned. Catalogs are sent to collectors and interested buyers.
Often the collection that the auction houses has on offer can gain a lot of publicity depending on what is being auctioned off. For some of the artwork it is important to obtain certificates confirming their authenticity.
The base price of the artwork will also need to be decided on. This will depend on what the market trend is. It is important to be prepared with all the requisite packing and shipping material. There is also a need to advertise the auction and for this the use of images of the best artwork is essential.


If the auction is live, every buyer there has to be registered and given a number. If a buyer is interested in a certain piece being displayed, he will show his interest by raising the number he holds. If an interested buyer is unable to attend an auction, and still wants to bid for an item, an absentee form has to be filled and sent to the auction house.
Some auction houses have phone lines that prospective buyers can use to call in and place their bids. Many auction houses also ask buyers to provide them with a proof of payment ability for the item that they put a bid on. After the artwork is auctioned off, they are packed and readied for shipment after the final payment has been made.
When an artwork is being auctioned, the process starts with a base price or a reserve which is the minimum price that the owner will accept. The artwork is awarded, obviously, to the highest bidder. If an artwork fails to reach the reserve price, the art is not sold. Most auction houses charge a premium or commission for the artwork that is being auctioned.
While auctions can happen at any point of time in the year, you will notice that most auctions take place during the summer or the holidays when more people can attend the auction. Again the preferred day for an auction is generally on the weekend. While attending an auction, knowing the functioning of an art auction can be extremely helpful.