Uncovering Myths about Auctions

1 May 2021

Uncovering Myths about Auctions

Having worked at Christie's for nearly a decade, Anna Povejšilová has extensive knowledge of Impressionist & Modern Art and its market, as well as the art of the Central and Eastern European region and its collectors. Anna has recently relocated to Prague to join the newly established Kunsthalle Praha and lead its membership and development initiatives.

You worked at Christie’s for many years. Did you come across any myths about auctions?

Many myths surround auction houses and auctions, and perhaps one of the most prevalent ones is that an auction house is an exclusive place that is accessible only to a select few. In fact, the opposite is true! Prior to the pandemic, all pre-auction exhibitions were completely open to the public for free, and anybody was welcome to come and make the most of this small viewing window when the works were on display before changing hands and possibly disappearing from the public eye for a long time again. I always encouraged everyone to make the most of this fantastic opportunity, and very much hope that such enjoyable spontaneous exhibition visits will soon become an everyday reality again.

What do you like most about live auctions? Will this model return after the pandemic, or will the hybrid models we have seen in the past year remain?

I love the excitement and adrenaline! Months and sometimes years of work culminating in one short event when so much is at stake for everyone involved. Works of art changing ownership, the emotions of the families that are parting with them, the thrill of those who get to enrich their collections with them, and the great privilege of those who get to witness the process and be a part of these transitions – all of it is exhilarating.

I do think we will see live auctions again once the circumstances improve because they are such special events, however I also believe they will always be ‘hybrid’ to an extent. We have become so much more connected technologically over the past year, and while we all miss in-real-life encounters and cannot wait to experience them fully again, the advancements we have made are irreversible and, in many respects, practical.

What advice would you give to someone who is getting ready for their first auction?

Once you have picked a work you love, try and get as much information about it as you can so you can make an informed decision. Don’t be shy to speak to the auction house specialists – they know the works on offer inside out and adore discussing them, so they can give you all the details on provenance, condition, pricing and more. Once you have considered all the information at hand, it is also helpful to think about your maximum bid. While you may not end up sticking to it to the dot, it is good to keep a limit in mind to avoid getting carried away, which may easily happen in the spur of the moment, particularly if you are just starting out with buying at auction.

What has been your most memorable auction experience?

There have been so many unforgettable moments, but one of the most momentous for me was telephone bidding on a painting by David Hockney with a dear client and friend. We were both incredibly invested in the process as he had wanted a Hockney painting for years and we had spent a lot of time looking for the perfect one for him. When it finally appeared, he instantly fell in love with it, so we discussed it in detail and strategised about the bidding process at length. The auction was nerve-wracking and electrifying, and I almost did a happy dance in the saleroom when we won the work. Stories like these, when one gets to play a part in shaping someone’s collection and shares the joy that comes as the collection grows and evolves, are what makes auctions so magical.

Photo by Jan Rasch & John Cairns.