Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Ring side

Is there anything more fascinating than watching Webb’s and Art + Object slug it out with sales claims? (all of you who said ‘watching paint dry’ might as well stop reading now). Earlier this week Webb’s, in a carefully worded claim, pitched $1,516,529 as the total of its “November auction season.” Now this could mean a lot of things but let’s take it as meaning the total sales from their latest auction plus stuff that was under reserve on the night and sold in the following days. Art + Object, on the other hand, have so far claimed “over $1,150,000 transacted under the hammer.” This includes buyer commissions but presumably not follow up sales. Ok, so it looks as though the two auctions brought in close to the same total depending on how generous they were with seller’s fees. Both auctions had to pass in or let go subject to the seller's approval a large number of works. We'd estimate around 80 percent for Webb’s and just over 50 percent for A+O. But auctions are in large part theatre so perceptions are as important as the numbers. From what we heard  in spite of the closeness of the results Webb’s was felt to have had a disappointing night and A+O a good one. Webb’s Chairman Christopher Swasbrook has promised major changes to the auction business and has already given the Webb’s tree a good shake. If last week’s auctions show anything it’s that winning in the auction business is a lot more complicated than getting first to the finish line.