Nail your art auction bidding strategy

How to play it safe at online art sales

In the right place at the right time

So, let’s assume you have chosen a piece to bid for online, registered for the auction beforehand and connected to their bidding floor system right when the auction begins. I believe it is really important to be there right from the start of the auction especially when you don’t have that much experience with this or that auctioneer or commissaire-priseur as they call these folks in French.

How much time does the auctioneer leave for bids to come? How fast he/she decides to skip the lot if no interest is shown? How do the bidders (offline and online) behave? Do they tend to underbid or the sale is quite active and most of the lots exceed their estimates?

Well, now you have a general idea of how everyone is acting today at this auction and how some really interesting pieces are trading and what are the markers for trash items. It is now your turn to tune up.

Everything is set for the bidding. At Sotheby’s HQ in London
Pre-auction fuss at Drouot in Paris
May the best one win! Bidding floor at Sotheby’s HQ in London
  1. or stay hesitant and wait until the last moment (second or third «Fair Warning!» depending on your self-assurance and alertness) to place the next bid. Act like you don’t care actually or have strong doubts. This is a better strategy if you have a strong opponent who has definitely set his eye on this lot just like you did.
Examining lots in flesh before bidding — priceless
  • My congratulations if you finally end up with a deal. You already know how to act further from this article. But please, don’t get discouraged if you missed the mark or the painting sky-rocketed well over its highest estimates (art market players do their homework too and it is highly likely that you are not the only one to spot the hidden gem in the auction list). Even famous art dealers often go away with nothing. You will nail it the next time, I promise.

Behaviour rules for offline bidding are basically the same except for that you have to be way more experienced and confident to hit your target in style.

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Marina Viatkina

Art | History Writer & Collecting Advisor → marinaviatkina.com | Founder of Smart Art — Art History Escape app → getsmartart.com