The high end art market is dominated by three main auction houses, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg. These three powerhouses have existed for centuries. When choosing an auction house from these three for your art, it’s important to take a variety of factors into consideration.
Obviously money is an important factor in selling your art. Many auction houses’ success has stemmed from their guarantees, which ensure that the seller receives the amount of money they expect for their art regardless of how much it is is sold for at the auction.
Guarantees, however, can lead to conflict, especially when the top three high end auction houses are trying to work with a limited number of the same collectors. Remember that money is not normally the deciding factor when collectors are choosing an auction house. Clients often place more importance on personal relationships and the auction house’s past record.
Personal relationships are one of the most important factors in choosing an art auction house. These days, clients have a lot to be worried about: dips in the economy, terrorist attacks, and talk of price fixing. They’re looking for an art auction house that is reassuring, personal, and professional. In a consignment based industry such as art auctions, networking and word of mouth referrals are extremely important. Each of the auction houses have different connections with sellers, clients, and fields.
Each of the three high end houses have unique specialties. Sotheby’s is known for their expertise in American furniture and photography, while Christie’s specializes in European furniture, as well as books and manuscripts. While to an extent Phillips is still establishing its business, the auction house seems to be focusing on Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary art. Phillips now also includes one of the top automobile auctioneers, Bonham & Brooks. The best auction house will have a specialty that matches your art.
Past performance is another important factor to take into consideration when selecting an art auction house. Christie’s is one of the world’s top art auction houses. In 2000 they had $2.3 billion in sales! Sotheby’s, on the other hand, has won 20 of the top 25 single-owner sales. These included the estate sales of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It’s important to choose an art auction house with a track record that matches your goals.
When selecting one of the top three high-end auction houses, you need to consider their financial guarantees, the relationships you’ll be able to build, their field speciality, and past track record.