Let the bidding wars begin

By Mary Corrigall Time of article published Apr 2, 2017

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They call it the candlestick wars. Two people who will never meet or see each other will engage in a nail-biting online bidding battle for candlesticks, or any other desirable object, on one of Strauss & Co’s online auctions.

“I’ve watched people battle over lampshades and artworks. When two people want something it can be quite a tussle and exciting to watch,” says Susie Goodman, general manager of the auction house, which pioneered and have hosted online auctions since 2013.

It has fast become a platform for lower-priced items that would not suit a live auction, rendering online auctions the ideal settings to buy high quality yet affordable art and other decroative objects. It is for this reason that Goodman believes their online auctions have become the go-to place for wedding gifts, triggering these so-called candlestick wars. Where once people could see their bidding opponent across a stuffy room during a live auction, technology has made it possible for people to bid against others anonymously.

“You will only know the number of their virtual paddle,” says Goodman.

You can outbid your opponent anywhere too; while in a queue at the supermarket or on a treadmill at the gym, as you get notified via SMS immediately that someone has outbid you, giving you the chance to increase your bid. You can also place a maximum bid for an item in case you are miles up in the air or at a movie when the auction is coming to a close.

Buying art online is on the increase internationally despite the global art market experiencing a decline, according to the 2016 Hiscox online art trade report. Online art market sales reached $3.27billion (R43bn) despite a decrease in global art auction sales in 2015, according to the report.

These international figures might reflect the potential for online art sales in South Africa, though the art market and auction scene remains buoyant here - Strauss & Co’s March auction achieved a record turnover of R70.6 million. Accessibility has proved the attraction. “Some people are intimated by the 12 million price tag for a (Irma) Stern at a live auction. You need to start somewhere and there is such variety and the pricing is good on an online auction.

“You can spend R5 000 and not risk R400 000,” says Goodman. Buying art online is less intimidating than doing so in traditional art spaces, agrees Julie Taylor, the founder of Guns and Rains, an online gallery specialising in contemporary art from southern African countries including Botswana and Namibia. “This might be the case particularly where people haven’t necessarily grown up in an environment with lots of galleries and museums. People outside of SA’s cultural capitals – Joburg and Cape Town – are able to access art too.

“We can take our brand to Bloemfontein or Pietermaritzburg. We have clients in Canada, Australia and Germany. There is a growing fascination with the African market, since SA galleries are showing more at international fairs.”

About 60% of Guns & Rain online buyers are international (the majority of those coming from the US), and about 40% are local (South African). Local clients have the advantage as they can inspect works - Guns & Rain offers this and Strauss & Co displays the works at either their Cape Town or Joburg offices.

“We offer a personalised service, we are approachable, people can phone us and ask us questions,” says Goodman. Perusing artworks or decorative objects in person doesn’t appear to be a barrier - Strauss offers condition reports and photograph all the objects extensively.

“It all comes down to trusting in a brand,” says Goodman. “Millennials tend to be more trusting than the older generation, because they have grown up in a digital world where online buying is commonplace,” says Taylor.

According to the 2016 Hiscox report, 19% of under 35-year-olds said they had bought their first art work online.

The upcoming Strauss & Co online auction offers a few art auction favourites at affordable prices – a 1995 Christo Coetzee work dubbed Black Profile is valued from R18 000 to R24 000.

Diane Victor’s undated Broken Head I could cost as little as R12 000, while a 1973 Walter Battiss titled Buck and Birds may not fetch more than R15 000.

Goodman is excited about the 2009 Candice Breitz photographic work X Libris South Africa valued at between R3 000 and R5 000 – this world-acclaimed video artist will represent the country at the Venice Biennale in May this year, which makes her work more collectable.

However, there is an extremely attractive Japanese Satsuma tea service from the early 20th century valued at between R1 500-R2 000 that might well ignite a bidding war. Strauss & Co’s forthcoming online auction of South African and International Art, Decorative Art and Books will close on April 9. Visit https://www.straussart.co.za/auctions/online Sponsored text.

Corrigall is an art consultant. www.corrigall.org

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