While a gallery’s strength comes mostly from its tight-knit interpersonal network, an auction house’s selling strength comes from its size—both in terms of staff and potential markets.
“We have about 60 selling departments,” said Molly Ott Ambler, the head of Impressionist and modern art for the Americas at Bonhams. “We’re proud that we can offer different selling venues to a work of art.” McLaughlin articulated a similar sentiment in explaining the appeal of consigning to an auction house: “If you have something that is not sensitive in any way, [auctions] can be a great avenue because of the broad audience.”
Consigning a work to sell at auction gives you access to all the amenities that big firms offer. That means a large, sales-focused staff, departments geared toward distinct types of art, robust marketing, and the opportunity to reach more remote markets.
Ambler said her main concern when considering potential consignments is what the market is seeking at that moment, and how the work will fit in with the collection she’s building for the next auction. This is where a larger, sales-focused staff can come in handy—in building their auction checklists, most firms will only consider works they’re confident will sell, and they’ll also focus on ensuring that your piece isn’t in direct competition with any other pieces up for auction. “If we know there are going to be 12 works by Picasso, for example…we know, look, this is as many as the market is going to absorb,” Ambler said.
A bigger staff also means dedicated marketing departments. In addition to the usual print and digital catalogues sent out in the months before auctions, Ambler mentioned specialized events, presale exhibitions, and an ever-growing digital presence.
“We have a following on all of our Instagram channels, and we do WeChat for our Asian audience,” she said. “We make videos, specifically of sculpture so that you can see works in the round, and we also do editorial videos and email blasts.”