Eyal once said to me, “you never really appreciate America until you’ve gone from it for a while.” I would add, it is not until you see it through another’s eye can you see how it still could be the promise land.
One of our artists, Richard Hart, is packing up his house, studio, and family, putting a pin in his prestigious graphic design career in South Africa and immigrating to New York City. I slotted Durban into my itinerary so I can make some selections on works before they are crated and ship across the Atlantic. Also to help him out with a silent auction that he is planning.
There is a part of me that is baffled by Richard’s decision to move. Maybe in part is because I live in NYC and I have a different view on it. Maybe its because I have trouble imagining uprooting my entire family for my ambition. Or maybe the size of Richard’s courage is so daunting that I can’t wrap my head around it.
I asked Richard what prompted the move.
“I wanted to take the art thing seriously and I would like to short circuit the process as much as I can. There is only so far you can go here in Durban.” Richard replies.
I am impressed by the ambition.
A silent auction democratizes the process of art buying and is an interesting way to build a collector base.
There were a total of 40 lots available for Richard Hart’s silent auction. The event space divided itself into three different sections and I curated each room for maximum impact, with an eye of building towards a grand finale. Next to each work there is a bid sheet, stating the starting bid, an increment for each additional bids and an ending time. Richard and I discussed what is the minimum price he would be willing to let each of the works sell for before hand so we had a baseline to go on. Note in this incident, the starting bid is not the minimum price for each works.
We staggered the closing time for each room. There is a 5-minute warning given just before the auction ends. When auction has concluded, the winner for each lot is announced, simultaneously creating a sense of competition and celebration.
There were a couple of lots that did not reach the reserve price set (which was only known to Richard and I). We went back to the highest bidder and negotiated a deal for it.
We sold all 40 lots that night.
For the emerging collectors, the silent auction took a lot of the common stigma out of the art buying process. The simple step-by-step procedures made it clear as to what one must do in order to obtain the piece of art. There is no longer a sense of “am I insulting the artist by offering this much for it” or “showing my ignorance by asking for the price.” The competition is between bidders and not with either the gallery or the artist. As a gallerist, I was fascinated by the psychology at work in the room that night.
Staggering the closing of each room built excitement and by the time we got to the third room, the crowd was in a state of frenzy.
A key component in the success of an emerging artist’s career is building a collector base and I’ve come to believe this type of silent auction is a fantastic way to do so. Over night, Richard leveraged his community, his fan base and turned it into his collectors. Now these friends and fans are actively invested in the success of Richard’s art career.
However, in order for a silent auction such as this to be successful, one must “get over” themselves what the work is worth and should sell for. Selling prices can be unpredictable, sometimes more, sometimes less. Be reasonable on what the opening bid is and what you are willing to let the work go for. Having a collector and them actively engaged with you is far more valuable than works sitting idol in the studio collecting dust. It is akin to the novel in the drawer that never gets sent out publishers.
Don’t let the notion of where you should be prevent you from getting to where you could be.