I’ve been characterized by names (both good, and bad), but now I have been “recognized” by another blogger for my observations and opinions on how the auction process works in the art and antiques industry. Perhaps I should also have the additional titles of Mr. Antiques Show Vendetta and Mr. Dealer Vendetta. My criticism and comments toward all the players that make this industry have dubious qualities are meant to give my insight into the methods of operations of all participants that should be exposed and discussed.
As a dealer, I do have a vested interest in the performance of my business as it operates in the environment of this industry. I also see things in a perspective that might be a bit different than most, as a 3rd generation diversified dealer that crosses into many specialist fields, and clients that also buy from auctions and shows. I don’t just get a perspective as a dealer, but talk to other dealers to understand their issues, expenses, and stand alone challenges. I see how auctions work and don’t just accept their approach; many auctioneers I’ve spoken too feel the conundrum of sellers demanding unreasonable (secret) reserves on their property and competition from other auctioneers and the overhead of operating. I attend shows to see how they function to showcase merchandise with the show promoter’s marketplace approach. All three have symbiotic relationships within the industry and offer different approaches with different requirements.
However my new title of Mr. Auction Vendetta seems like the wrong classification for my comments toward auctions. My “vendetta” towards auctions is not to eliminate them, but expose their methods of operation. Whether I do or don’t purchase or consign to them isn’t the point. As a dealer who puts his money into inventory, I want to buy as cheap as possible, and even with a 25% buyer’s premium there are still profitable purchases to be had at auction. My criticism of auctions, show promoter, and dealers is centered on price transparency. Whether it’s the auctioneer’s ability to employ sham bidding, or a dealer not putting a visible price tag on an item, it is the industry’s image and functionality that suffers and leads to the public’s wariness and mistrust of all participants. Knowledge about a piece is one thing but price disclosure gives the buyer fair notice as to what he is up against, while the seller should give all comers the price point to start the process (of auctioning up the price from a disclosed minimum or a dealer reducing down from a disclosed price tag).
Perhaps a more appropriate title for me should be Mr. Antiques Industry Criticism. I don’t want just auctioneers to be singled out (although the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly is the 800 pound gorilla in the industry). But there is room for improving the environment of transacting business in this industry and only a deluded person would deny that fact.