Art Under The Hammer

What better way to really get to know the art world than by reading our Shorties! These little snippets of art world wisdom 
cover topics ranging from art fairs, auctions, to the relationship between artist and collector, written by leading journalists from around the world.

Up for discussion today; we look at how the auction house can be both a blessing and a curse for collecting contemporary art.

It can be difficult to acquire works by promising and in-demand artists in galleries, particularly if gallery owners prefer to place them exclusively in prestigious collections. Auctions, however, are a more democratic affair: everyone—as long as they have the money—can bid. Traditionally, works with one or more previous owners are offered, which means the secondary market is not necessarily the place to discover new artists. This is the task usually reserved for galleries, which often develop the careers of their protégés over long periods. But if and when a certain price level and corresponding popularity are attained, auction houses enter the picture, taking on the works of these artists and increasing their value. Phillips, an auction house that specializes in contemporary art, regularly brings new names into the game. At Christie’s, young artists are introduced to the auction market in First Open auctions, which, since 2014, are not only held in New York but also in London and Hong Kong as well as online. Similarly, Sotheby’s has introduced promising talents for several years under the auction title Contemporary Curated. If the hammer price far exceeds the estimate in the catalogue, or if demand is very high, these artists might also appear in the high-priced and media-intensive evening auctions. But investors have become more wary of creating short-term price bubbles for young shooting stars, whose price levels can heat up too quickly in the auction room, as was the case a few years ago with Jacob Kassay, Lucien Smith, or Christian Rosa. But investing in young artists whose prices have rapidly crossed the 100 000-dollar mark with an eye to future returns is a risky financial endeavor. It is difficult to predict whether an artist has the power and potential to build a compelling body of work over the decades ahead and to remain a permanent presence in the public eye.

Anne Reimers is a London-based art historian and journalist, reporting since 2006 on art auctions, fairs, and exhibitions in the British capital. She is also Senior Lecturer for Visual Culture and Fashion Theory at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Rochester, England.

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