Visual Arts Centre

Welcome to the first installment of Art Buzz – a series of blog posts where we bring you interesting news about the Art world to you! Have you ever wondered what are art auctions and how they work?

In films and televisions, art auctions appear to be for the elite, the wealthiest group of people in society, accompanied by the ever-enthusiastic auctioneer. But is this true in real life? Auctions are public events that anyone can participate in. The being said, for there are also auctions that are private – reserved exclusively for the more well-established collectors, gallerists and guests. Usually, auction houses publish an online catalogue of the available works so that you can take a look at what is up for sale and at the same time find out the history of the work and the artist – to generate an estimate of the value of the work.

Bids usually goes up incrementally. If the final price of the work falls below the minimum selling price, the reserve, the work will remain unsold.

It is always good to visit the auction house when they have presale exhibitions. It is then where you will be able to speak with a well-versed professional on the work, get advice and view the exhibits to find something you love. During some pre-sale exhibitions of some auctions, some auctioneers will allow visitors to examine the works up close, and in certain cases, even touch them.

Auction houses are one of the best places to buy mostly authentic pieces of art. You will also be able to stand in front of a piece of work. The visceral power of viewing an piece of art provides one an experience that is different from viewing a work from a computer screen. You will be able to feel the emotions, the tension and the power of an actual piece of art at an auction house.

Key Terms used at Auctions

  1. Auctioneer –  the Host of the auction session
  2. Gavel – the tool used by the Host to tap on the podium to signify the successful sale of a work.
  3. Paddle – (or a card) is provided to every bidder once he has registered for the auction. This bid paddle is used for the purchase of any art work during the auction. In some cases, your bidding number is written on it.
  4. Specialist – on-staff experts trained in the field of art. They help in the logistics of the auction, to acquire works, assess their value and to contextualize the pieces of art seen in auctions.
  5. Estimate – is the rough guess of how much a piece of work could auction for.
  6. Catalogue – a book produced by the auction house to showcase the works available for the auction. These catalogues are usually sent out to people who might be interested in purchasing works, such as gallerists and collectors.
  7. Telephone bid – made via phone calls, some collectors prefer to remain anonymous or if they are unable to make in it in time for the auction, they call in to make such bids, made in real time.
  8. White glove sale – when every lot in an auction is successfully sold.
  9. Bid – the amount of money one is willing to pay for a work.
  10. Base price – (reserve) the minimum price that the owner will accept.


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