Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s International Chair of Contemporary Art Europe

by leslierankowfinearts

It is a privilege and a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Board Director and International Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe. I admire Cheyenne enormously not only for the depth and breadth of her knowledge but also for her unfailingly attentive presence and guidance during the most harried preview week of a sale.

I am delighted to have her insights on the auction process and encourage you to ask any questions on topics we did not cover.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR THE COLLECTOR WHO IS JUST STARTING TO BUY ON THE SECONDARY MARKET?

Come and look! Don’t be shy about speaking with us. Approach any expert in the department or any of the auction house staff. We are here to help and we have a lot of information on the work.

We can provide comparisons in terms of price and previous auction and private sale records if that is most helpful. We can explain how the work is positioned in the context of the artist’s oeuvre, how it fits into the arc of his entire body of work.

THAT’S SUCH EXCELLENT ADVICE.  AS AN ADVISOR, I ACT AS THE LINK BETWEEN THE SPECIALISTS AND THE CLIENT. YOUR RESPONSE MADE ME REALIZE THAT A PERSON NEW TO THE AUCTION PROCESS WOULD NOT AUTOMATICALLY SEEK OUT SOMEONE IN THE DEPARTMENT. I CERTAINLY RELY ON THE EXPERTS TO ENRICH MY KNOWLEDGE OF A SPECIFIC WORK AND PROVIDE BIDDING GUIDELINES.

HOW DOES A POTENTIAL NEW BUYER DETERMINE THE CEILING TO BID ON A WORK AND HOW STRICT SHOULD IT BE?

People do need to make up their minds as to what extent they will go after a work. The determining factors include:

a) price comparatives

b) the quality of the specific work

c) the rarity of the specific work to the market.

One should be very strict with oneself and yet maintain a certain flexibility. Some pieces warrant going beyond one’s initial limit at least an increment or two. There is a lot of frustration when one is the underbidder on a work when you have a sense, in retrospect, that one more increment would have made the difference.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE “AUCTION MAGIC”?

Auction magic is that unique and wonderful moment when everything combines to offer a great work of art that has not been in the market before. There is the discovery of its existence, the documentation of the great history of a work, a great collection or perhaps it was bought at Leo Castelli in 1964 and has never been exhibited or catalogued or changed hands since its original owner.

Another important factor is that the owner will agree to an attractive estimate, one that will encourage bidding.

MORE TO FOLLOW- CHEYENNE HAS GENEROUSLY ANSWERED MY QUESTIONS ON ADDITIONAL AUCTION-RELATED CONCERNS. LUCKY US!