While auctions usually only last a few hours, they often take many months to put together. Auction houses need lead time to market their sales, print catalogues, photograph the pieces, and even get the works authenticated, if required. As such, the deadline to submit a work to most traditional auctions is somewhere between a month and a half to three months before the gavel is going to fall, depending on the sale and the auction house.
Submitting work well in advance of this deadline can be an advantage. Earlier on, auction houses tend to be “less selective and more open,” said Richard Wright, founder and president of the auction house Wright. “Every auction house builds their auction from zero.”
Scott Nussbaum, Phillips’s head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, New York, notes that consignors generally are not coming to his auction house with the sale they hope to offer the piece in already selected—and that’s okay. Having conversations between consignor and auction house early gives more time to determine if auction is even the best route to ensure a favorable result (sometimes a private sale is preferable), and, if so, which sale the piece will be offered in. Nussbaum said there are plenty of opportunities year-round.
“I think there’s this common misperception that the auctions are only every so often and that if you miss a deadline you have to wait a long time,” he said. “The fact of the matter is we basically have an auction every month somewhere on the planet.”
Indeed, when working with an auction house like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or Phillips, all with multiple auctions in most categories at their locations across the world, consignors should ask where a work will be put up for sale (London? New York? Paris?) and why. Getting the answer right, as with many of these questions, will ensure the best possible result.
“What we factor in most is where a piece will do the best and where the best returns will be for the seller,” said Scott Niichel, co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sales in New York. That is often the location closest to where the work is, but it can sometimes be the location closest to the location of a potential buyer. If an artist has a regional market, then the auction house will make sure it is offered there, for example.