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Home & Garden

The Art of the Art Auction

Capera Ryan of Christie’s demystifies the process.
By D Magazine |
Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Think you need a seven-figure art budget to take a seat at the world’s esteemed art auctions? Not so, says Capera Ryan, the newly appointed deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas. Here, she dispenses some insider intel suited for any auction newcomer looking to cast a bid. (And, in case you’re wondering: No, you don’t get to keep the paddle.)

Can anyone attend?

Yes, auctions are open to everyone. You just show up and register. 

Must you have a high-dollar budget to work with?

We have items starting as low as $800. We can also work with clients and/or their designers, if they’re looking for a certain item within a set budget.

When and where are the sales?

The U.S. sales happen in New York; other big sales sites are Hong Kong, London, and Paris. Somewhere in the world, there’s an auction going on every day of the year. Big sales seasons for New York are in the fall (October and November) and spring (April and May). A week before the auction, pieces are available to preview online. 

How does one get started?

We have over 100 expert departments—jewelry, paintings, handbags, furniture, watches, wine, you name it—so it depends on what you’re interested in collecting. If you’re looking for a certain bottle of wine or a certain watch, a specialist in that area can locate it for you. Individuals can call me, and I can connect them with one of our experts. 

What does it cost to enlist one of your experts?

It’s free!

If you find a piece you love, how does the bidding work?

There are several ways to bid: by telephone, in person, you can leave an absentee bid, or you can bid over live-feed Internet. In the back of our catalogues, there is an absentee form you can send in; you can also go online and fill one out there. 

What can first-timers expect when they walk into their first serious art auction?

It really depends on the auction; sales can be more formal or casual, depending on what they are selling. You can walk into a sale that is standing room only. It can also be a smaller crowd with people leaving absentee bids, or doing the majority of the bidding on the telephone and Internet.

How long does a typical sale last?

Generally, a lot is sold every minute, so it really depends. There could be 70 lots or 300-plus lots.

Is seating assigned?

If there’s an open seat, it’s yours. 

What will people be wearing?

You’ll see everything. It’s the art world—anything goes!  

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