Auctionata’s Remaining Inventory Heads to a Fire Sale as the Once-Prominent Art Startup Winds Down

The bankruptcy of the online auction startup enters its final chapter.

An Auctionata live auction in progress. Photo courtesy Auctionata | Paddle8.
An Auctionata live auction in progress. Photo courtesy Auctionata | Paddle8.

A large portion of Auctionata’s holdings is going under the hammer in Berlin and Cologne this week, marking perhaps the final chapter in the company’s tumultuous five-year history. The sales, which come five months after the German online art auctioneer began insolvency proceedings (the German equivalent of bankruptcy) in January, offer new insight into Auctionata’s business model—and eventual demise.

More than 1,500 lots from the bankrupt startup, ranging from fine wine to porcelain to Modern and contemporary prints, have been consigned to the Cologne-based auction house Van Ham by a major creditor. They will be sold in six separate auctions over three days (June 28–30).

A much larger portion of Auctionata’s remaining inventory is being sold through the Berlin-based auction house Historia, which acquired the web and naming rights of the insolvent company from the insolvency administrator in May. Historia also holds the exclusive right to negotiate the sale of Auctionata’s remaining consignments.

Some of the items have already been integrated into existing auctions and sold, according to Historia’s chief executive Christian Gründel. He was unable to put an exact figure on the number of consignments because many of the works are still being cataloged and negotiations with consignors are ongoing.

The process has not been without difficulties. The main problem, Gründel explained in a phone call with artnet News, is that “Auctionata marketed themselves with their ability to achieve top prices that were totally unrealistic.” Now, Historia is “strongly correcting a lot of prices,” he said. He estimates that around 50 percent of the consignors have agreed to Historia’s lower estimates.

Furthermore, Historia was forced to send back a large number of artworks and antiquities consigned by dealers due to similarly inflated expectations. Auctionata “courted several dealers to consign their inventory, and their asking prices were accordingly high,” Gründel said. “That was the problem with Auctionata.”

These developments illustrate the fragile, house-of-cards nature of some corners of the auction business, where one collection can be leveraged to attract loans or other consignments. Indeed, in order to consistently guarantee attractive lots and secure high-profile consignments, Auctionata periodically bought a number of collections via a subsidiary, a representative of Van Ham told artnet News. These acquisitions were largely refinanced through a third-party individual (identified by Van Ham only as a pawnbroker).

Now, those objects are also headed to the auction block. Since both Auctionata and the aforementioned subsidiary filed for insolvency, the third party has invoked its right to liquidation and decided to consign its entire inventory to Van Ham. “These items were the collateral for one of the primary creditors of the insolvent online auction house,” Annika Norpoth of Van Ham told artnet News. “Collateral in this case means that the pawnbroker was acting as a middleman.”

Van Ham’s six auctions are being billed as a clear-out “final sale.” Auctionata’s bulk buying strategy has allowed Van Ham to offer the majority of lots at estimates below €500 ($558). The total estimate for all six sales is between €530,000 ($591,000) and €1 million ($1.1 million). Most of the highlights are fine art prints, including works by Alex Katz, Robert Longo, A.R. Penck, Barbara Hepworth, and Salvador Dalí.

It’s an inglorious end for Auctionata, an ambitious auction house that sought to revolutionize the online market and raised more than $100 million in venture capital. The company tried to reinvent itself multiple times: First by offering a live video stream of sales, then through a surprise merger with (and subsequent separation from) Paddle8, then by hiring a new CEO. But the auction house ultimately failed to find enough outside investment to remain alive.

A spokesperson for Auctionata did not return a request for comment. Auctionata’s insolvency administrator could not be reached.


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