15 Dec 2007

Tips for buying at an auction

At the recently held Christie's Hong Kong auction of Asian contemporary art, N S Harsha topped the sale of Indian works. Harsha's 'Mass Marriage' fetched $6.4 million, which is a new record for the artist. Other Indian artists such as Atul Dodiya, TV Santosh, Ravinder Reddy and Subodh Gupta also performed exceedingly well. This is a good sign for Indian contemporary art.

International auctions usually feature well-established names along with a select group of promising artists. Continuing with our series on whether to buy from an auction, here are a few tips that will help you buy from one.

Tyeb MehtaApart from the big auction houses there are several smaller ones that also organize art auctions on a regular basis. The amount of money involved in these is generally more reasonable. In fact, some of these are organized to raise funds for a charitable cause, and in such cases a portion of the sales are donated towards the charity. Why should you buy at an auction? According to gallery owner Renu George, “auction houses are able to predict future trends, so even if you buy at a higher price at an auction, chances are it will appreciate in the future.”

Before the auction event, a catalogue is distributed to prospective bidders. The catalogue, lists out the works (name of the artist, title, size, medium, provenance, etc), lot numbers, and estimated selling prices or ‘reserve price’. This will give you an idea, which works to bid for. It also gives you time to crosscheck and get familiar with the artist’s credentials and track record. Before the auction there is a viewing of the works that is organized for the prospective bidders (unless it is an online auction, but these too sometimes organize an exhibition). It is usually a good idea to physically check out the artwork and not bid on the basis of the catalogue alone.

It is important to predetermine your exit price. It is very easy to get carried away during the auction, and to keep bidding in the heat of the moment. However, if you set your limits it will help you enormously.

(Published in Financial Times)
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