BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors

Bidders and Buyers

by Christiane Meixner

Throughout the last twelve months we have repeatedly introduced you to our so-called Shorties: concise texts about collecting that have made the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors a lively travel companion. One at a time, we presented them here on the Blog to discuss subjects that make the art world such a manifold, controversial and inspiring place at once.

Today, we have the last one lined up for you, covering an institution that is frequently responsible for art news headlines: the auction house. Also in 2014 we have witnessed some skyrocketing auction sales, such as Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards that went for 71 Million Dollars, or Barnett Newman’s Black Fire I that was sold off for 84.1 Million. If you want to know more about the way auction houses dictate prices and to understand why they are considered "kingmakers“ in the art world, read on below.

Auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s are important players in the art world. The sensationally high prices their houses see offered for paintings and sculptures make the most dramatic entrance into the public mind. In 2010, a bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti was auctioned for nearly 75 million euros; nearly 100 million euros was paid for a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 2012. These two record sales at Sotheby’s London and New York, respectively, pack a financial punch which contemporary art is simply not yet able to match. Nevertheless, both of these auction houses are considered “kingmakers” in contemporary art. If multiple collectors compete for to the same lot, prices quickly surge. The auction house price can thus signal an immediate increase in value for the entire oeuvre of an artist’s work. It also thereby dictates new gallery prices. Indeed, the power of the auction house has solidified in recent years—but not without its critics. “Art auctions were originally a purely intermediate trade, forming the main shopping source for the art market,” writes Dirk Boll, European director at Christie’s, in his book Art for Sale, which recalls the origins of auction houses. The audience has changed completely. Meanwhile, in many cases, the only bidders who can keep up with private collectors are large galleries, often in order to stabilize prices of their artists. When Damien Hirst decided, in 2008, to auction off 223 of his works at once at Sotheby’s in London, his gallerist Jay Jopling bid on them. Such a market does not tolerate failures. As a consequence, auction houses sometimes guarantee some sellers fixed sums for works in demand. If the high price deters buyers, the works go into temporary storage. These methods may be contentious, but auction houses provide critical information on the valuation of an artist’s work on the market.

Christiane Meixner has been working as a freelance art critic since 1986 for a variety of magazines and newspapers. Since 2008 she has also served as a freelance editor of Der Tagesspiegel’s ”Art & Market“ section.

Insiders (67)

Wilhelmina Jewell Strong - Sparks

Founder of BiTHOUSE Projects - BAAR Art Journey


Collector behind the ARNDT Collection

Sandra Guimarães

Director of Museum of Contemporary Art Helga de Alvear

Grazyna Kulczyk

Founder of Muzeum Susch


Interview with Georgie Pope and Eleonora Sutter, Co-founders

Kamiar Maleki

Director at VOLTA

Gallery Weekend Berlin 2022

Tokini Peterside

Founder and Director, ART X Lagos


Founding Director of the Athens Biennale

Boris Ondreička

Artistic Director of viennacontemporary

Maribel Lopez

Director of ARCO

David Gryn

Founder and Director of Daata

Fondation Beyeler Audiovisual Broadcast

Fondation Beyeler and Nordstern Basel present Dixon x Transmoderna

Gary Yeh

Founder of ArtDrunk and Young Collector

WATCH: The Best of the BMW Art Guide

Where will you travel next to explore art?

Maike Cruse

2020 Gallery Weekend Berlin

Touria El Glaoui

Founding Director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Johann König

Messe in St. Agnes

PArt - Producers Art Platform

A crisis initiative to help artists directly affected by the pandemic

Barbara Moore

CEO of Biennale of Sydney

Unique Collector’s Item

by Independent Collectors

Alix Dana

Fair Director at Independent

When Collectors are Able to Commission

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Juliet Kothe and Julia Rust

Initiators of Collection Night, Berlin

Marie-Anne McQuay

Curator of Wales in Venice, 58th Venice Biennale 2019

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

Two extraordinary art collectors

Heather Hubbs

Director at NADA

Every Art Collection Needs Space

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Collecting Art with François Pinault

Rudolf Stingel at Palazzo Grassi

A Common Ground

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Caroline Vos

Director at Amsterdam Art Weekend

Hidden Collections

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Nicole Berry

Executive Director of The Armory Show

Daniel Hug

Fair Director at Art Cologne

The Role of the Art Fair

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Peter Bläuer

Director at LISTE

A Brush Against Nature

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Ilaria Bonacossa

Director of Artissima

Excessiveness, the Latent Danger of Collecting Art

by Independent Collectors

Jo Stella-Sawicka

Artistic Director at Frieze

Florence Bourgeois

Director at Paris Photo

Where Artists Can Work More Playfully

by Christiane Meixner

Specifically Commissioned

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Manuela Mozo

Executive Director of UNTITLED, ART Miami and San Francisco

Important Museums and Private Collections

by Christiane Meixner

Susanna Corchia

Director of the Barcelona Gallery Weekend

Emilia van Lynden

Artistic Director at Unseen, Amsterdam

Carlos Urroz

Director at ARCOmadrid

Shoe Smudges Streaked Across the White Walls

by Christiane Meixner

Amanda Coulson

Director at VOLTA Basel

Douwe Cramer

Director at Singapore Contemporary

Art and Architecture – Attractive Allies

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Jo Baring

Curator of Sculpture Series, Masterpiece London

Anne Vierstraete

Managing Director at Art Brussels

Nanna Hjortenberg

Director at CHART

The Crucial Role of the New

by Independent Collectors

Makers and Believers

On Art History’s Most Famous Patrons

The Past is Back

And collectors are buying it up

Are Artists the Better Curators?

On the diminishing boundary between professions in the art world

The Digital Museum

On the importance of the museum’s web presence

The Man in the Middle

On the curator’s private and public engagements

A Private Matter?

On the importance of physical space for the value of art

Off the Wall

How museums contribute to the worth of artworks

Where to Go Next?

The fragmentation of Manhattan’s gallery scene

To Buy or Not to Buy

Collectors on their experiences of letting an artwork slip away

How to Pass On a Passion

On long-term challenges for new private museums