Morgan O’Driscoll on Bringing Online-Only Auctions to the Irish Art Market
In 2013 and 2014, Morgan O'Driscoll Fine Art sold more art than any other Irish auction house.
Morgan O’Driscoll is one Ireland’s foremost auction houses, specializing in Irish art and antiques. With both a live salesroom and online auctions, they have become one of the leaders in the Irish art market. The auction house’s namesake speaks with us about why he opened his own auction house, and why their Off the Wall online sales have become such a success.
Tell us about your background in art and what led you here.
I grew up with art—my parents collected 19th- and 20th-century art, and an uncle had an auction house. I loved the buzz of the saleroom, and, having no talent as an artist, took degrees in auctioneering in Dublin and from Greenwich University, London. In 1994, I opened my own firm, Morgan O’Driscoll Fine Art in Skibbereen, and now have offices in Cork and Dublin. In 2013 and 2014, we sold more art than any other Irish auction house.
What do you need to be a good dealer?
An eye for good art and the ability to not only recognize, but also nurture fresh talent. A flair for marketing (including social media) is crucial, as is a thorough understanding of the current market, particularly in relation to helping clients build cohesive collections—and expanding their horizons.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? What has surprised you the most?
The sale of a Sean Scully watercolor, Untitled, for a record price (€142,000) was a highlight. Biggest surprise is the impact of the Internet—it has given the Irish art market the biggest boost in its history.
How do you feel before a sale? Do you have any pre-sale rituals?
Anxiety, anticipation. Before every sale, I disappear for 10 minutes to get in the zone.
How would you describe the atmosphere of an auction house sale? How has this environment changed over the years?
At its best, it is pure theater—for nail-biting drama, there is nothing to beat a fierce bidding war. What has changed is the demographic, from largely local trade buyers to the dramatic rise in global private buyers.
Why do works by the same artist bring such different prices?
Whether it is an early work executed before the artist has matured, or from a period judged to be the artist at the height of his powers. The medium also matters (oil fetching premium prices), as does size.
Bids are increasingly from all corners of the world. What can you say about this trend?
I’d say it is set to continue as collectors realize the benefit of IT innovations such as online 360º viewing—ideal for sculpture. In 2011, we were the first Irish auction house to introduce online-only sales. Called Off the Wall, they regularly sell 90%+ (March’s sold 96%)—to buyers on five continents.
What are your favorite museums and/or galleries?
In Dublin, the National Gallery; in London, the Tate; in New York, the Guggenheim; and in Paris, the Musée D’Orsay.
If you could have dinner with any three artists, living or dead, who would you choose?
Andy Warhol, because he revolutionized the way people see art; Sean Scully, because I adore his work; and Banksy, because he’s picked up Warhol’s baton by delivering art within everyone’s sightlines.
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