Freeman’s offers roughly two-dozen auctions each year, on average about two each month. The Modern & Contemporary Art department hosts two independent sales in a given year, the first in the spring, and the second in fall. We’ve outlined the process of consigning pieces for auction, and a small glimpse at what it takes to assemble a catalogue, which brings us to the main event: the week of the sale. While the auction itself lasts for only a few hours, the days leading up to it are packed full of activity, both for us and for the public.
Typically five or six days before the auction, we’ll open an exhibition of all the works offered for sale. These are held in the main galleries of our Philadelphia headquarters, although occasionally, some lots may be taken to our Wayne location, or further away, to New York, or even abroad. A lot of time goes into designing the preview space, hanging all of the art, and making sure each item is labeled clearly for any interested viewer. These exhibitions are always open to the public, and we encourage as many people who can, or are interested, to come by. Auction previews are a great way to view the lots up close, in a more informal setting than a museum—where else can you see a Warhol or a sculpture by Picasso these days without buying a ticket?
Exhibitions also give interested bidders the opportunity to speak with a specialist in person, since we’re always on hand for the duration of the preview for just such instances. The exhibition week is generally kicked off with an invite-only evening cocktail party, where we welcome our consignors and clients for an early preview in advance of it opening to the public. Occasionally we’ll host gallery tours for small, private groups, which are led by one of the specialists in the department to give insight into either a specific lot, or the specialist’s overall impression of the sale. Sometimes we’re able to welcome guest lecturers, experts in the field who are gracious enough to come speak to an invited group of guests.
The day of the sale
The final culmination of months (and months) of hard work has finally arrived. Clients have several options when it comes to bidding in the sale: live in the room, with a numbered paddle; on the phone with a representative who will bid on your behalf; by leaving absentee bids, also known as commission bids, prior to the sale; or through our own online bidding platform, Freeman’s Live. (One of our favorite post-sale statistics is review is the location of all of our bidders. Though we certainly have a good number of local clients, our buyers come from all over the United States and the world.)
Then comes the (hopefully) intense, competitive bidding. After which, the sale concludes, and we take a deep breath and pat ourselves on the back. And then start the cycle all over again, beginning with bringing in new consignments for our next sale.
Here are a few helpful hints for navigating some of the terms you’ll hear on the day of the auction: