PRIVATE SALES OR AUCTION: EXPERT BARRETT WHITE ANALYZES THE OPTIONS

by leslierankowfinearts

BARRETT, WELCOME BACK.  THANK YOU FOR OUTLINING YOUR ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL HISTORY IN THE ART WORLD. I, FOR ONE, AM ALWAYS INTERESTED IN HOW WE END UP WHERE WE ARE, THE CHOICES AND DECISIONS THAT LEAD US TO OUR PRESENT POSITIONS.

CONSIGNING A VALUABLE AND CHERISHED WORK OF ART FOR SALE IS A DELICATE PROCESS, AND EVERY SELLER, WHATEVER THEIR PERSONAL AND FINANCIAL SITUATION, WANTS TO BE CERTAIN TO MAKE THE BEST DECISION AND REALIZE THE MOST FOR THE WORK THAT IS BEING PLACED ON THE MARKET.

I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IF YOU WOULD WALK US THROUGH THIS IMPORTANT ANALYTICAL  PROCESS.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT ARE THE MOST ACTIVE PRIVATE SALE AREAS AT THIS TIME? I WOULD ASSUME THEY PARALLEL CURVE OF THE AUCTION MARKET ITSELF.

Yes, they do. Impressionist and Modern, Post-War and Contemporary and Jewelry. In recent years, there has been a strong sense of entrepreneurial engagement with the market on the part of collector. It encouraged us early on to engage in the market beyond the auction process. We offer our clients access to top collectors around the world through our extensive global network and this access gives us the opportunity to meet a client’s sale requirements and achieve the best possible price.

HOW DO YOU ADVISE A COLLECTOR AS TO THE BEST VENUE FOR SELLING A WORK?

One of the essential differences between auction and private sales is that at auction you are publicly leveraging the company’s platform, Christie’s as a brand, if you will, and the advantages of the auction process itself. We position the picture in a sale to maximize its attention and value. We view the sale as a whole as well as the individual work and the context of the auction itself has a real impact on the results of a single lot.

Great pictures do well in whatever sale they are placed, as you know, but a strong auction can provide a good picture with momentum and a bump depending on the market on a given day. In the vast majority of consignments, the decision to sell privately or at auction is ultimately the seller’s and comes from their unique set of circumstances and their tolerance for risk.

Private sales offer discretion, expediency and control. Our job is to lay out the pros and cons for someone if they are not certain about the direction they wish to take or to accommodate their requests if they want to do things in a certain way. We try to ascertain their tolerance for risk and reward. It depends very much on the circumstances of the individual client, their comfort level, and any personal timing or scheduling considerations that affect the client. By selling privately, they may not get the upside but also not the downside.

AND BY THE DOWNSIDE, DO YOU MEAN THAT A WORK THAT IS BOUGHT IN (didn’t make the reserve) AT AUCTION IS “BURNED OUT”?

By downside I mean two things. First, at auction the estimates are intentionally conservative to encourage bidding but there are instances in which the works sell at or below their low estimates to the disappointment of the consignor. Then, of course, works that fail to sell at auction are burned. That being said, it isn’t the stigma it used to be as the idea that a work has been “burned” has been allayed by the globalization of the market. After the sale we work directly in a private capacity to speak with people who had bid on or expressed interest in the lot, we can recommend placing the work in a subsequent auction after an appropriate amount of time, and we have the advantage of the global market.

BARRETT, I WOULD LIKE VERY MUCH TO KNOW THE POLICIES, PREREQUISITES  AND MARKETING APPROACH THAT THE PRIVATE SALES DEPARTMENT TAKES IN ACQUIRING WORKS FOR SALE AND IN SELLING THE WORKS. I LOOK FORWARD TO EXPLORING THESE SUBJECTS WITH YOU AND APPRECIATE YOUR TIME AND EXPERTISE.

UNTIL THEN…