Friday, November 16, 2012

The morning after the day before

This morning’s Dominion Post announced “A Grahame Sydney painting has sold for a record price at an auction in Wellington.” Well, not really at auction. At auction the Sydney painting stalled at $125,000. It was the following day in an art dealer type negotiation that the work was sold for $160,000. Given the commissions involved it looks like the auctioneers extracted a further $24,000 from the top bidder who had already got up to $136,000 on the night (who knows if Sloanes took a further commission hit to sweeten the final sale).

No wonder most auction houses are easing their way into art dealer territory with what they call (in a kind of Victorian way) private treaty sales sales outside the auction process. It’s a rock and a hard place: lower estimates (the sellers don’t like that) or cut-price deals when the public auction is over. Given the high demand for fresh-to-market items and risk that a work can become badly tainted if it doesn't sell at auction the first time round the choices are not easy.