The Secret Codes of World-Class Art Auctions, Demystified

A reporter, a former auction house chairman, and an art advisor help us pull back the curtain.

Oliver Barker conducting an evening sale at Sotheby's.
Oliver Barker conducting an evening sale at Sotheby's.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

Get your paddles ready: New York is about to kick off what may be the biggest auction season ever. Over the next two weeks, as much as $2.6 billion worth of art is expected to be sold across glitzy evening sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips. The offerings include a sage-blue portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol that could bring in over $200 million, a billboard-size Basquiat that could fetch $70 million, and Richters, Picassos, and Rothkos galore.

Auctions are the most public and visible part of the art market—but they are also among the most misunderstood. There’s a ton of behind-the-scenes preparation, psychology, and game theory that goes into pulling off a successful sale. It is a game—and to succeed as both a seller and a buyer, you need to know the rules. We called in Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin to help us decode the complex sociology of auctions.

 

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