Working with rare pieces of art is a dream for many people, but for those who work at an auction house, it’s also a reality. Today auction houses are at the forefront of the art market. On bidding floors collecting trends are made, with avid buyers travelling across the globe to bid on rare lots spanning centuries from old masters to contemporary prints.
If you have graduated with an arts related subject, or you are just someone who’s interested in learning more about the art world, you might be wondering about the types of career opportunities you can find at an auction house. Like most other fields, the art world involves a variety of different positions; not only the role of an auctioneer.
Here’s our list of the most common and popular auction house jobs available and what they entail.
The Administrator uses systems, processes and technology to ensure daily tasks are completed efficiently within the auction house. During a usually busy schedule the Administrator coordinates various activities from creating contracts, to shipping and logistics. This kind of role needs someone who has excellent time-management and organisation skills.
This role is not something for the faint hearted. An auctioneer is often seen presenting the objects up for bidding. They provide description of the object or product that’s up for bid and announces every bid coming in or one that is going, going, gone…. The auctioneer manages the entire bidding process and declares the winning bidder when the highest bid is not outbid. The role of an auctioneer is to also appraise and evaluate items to determine the starting price. This role requires numeracy, interpersonal and communication skills, commercial awareness, and a voice and the confidence to command a room.
This is often a great entry point position to get your foot on the auction world ladder.The cataloguer (or otherwise known as a researcher) researches and writes about items for sale. This person is fully involved in catalogue production, from the start to finish. For this type of role you must have a strong interest in art, excellent written skills and great attention to detail. The fast turn around of auctions is too fast for mistakes!
Client services handles client problems and questions in person, via email, and by telephone. They work on all the stages of bidding, buying, selling and locating lots for sales with the clients. To be a part of a client services team within an auction house you need to be a personable and professional person. Additional languages are a bonus with such a global clientele!
Other than the auctions themselves, auction houses throw lots of events to show off their most beautiful and treasured items. This requires a team of top events coordinating staff to plan the best parties in town. To fulfil this role you must have great people skills, be highly organised and willing to work flexible hours, while being able to be up on your feet for long amounts of time.
The registrar manages and organises the shipping of lots. Not only to the client once the item is purchased but also to the arrival at the auction house to be sold. The registrar works closely with all the specialist departments, shipping teams and companies, and client services. The registrar must have excellent time-management with all those orders coming in and out of the office and amazing organisation skills.
A profitable auctioneer business is about more than supply and demand. It’s about designing ways to entice new customers to engage with your products and to encourage existing customers to increase the frequency of their purchases. That’s where a marketing team comes into play. A high-quality marketing employee needs to be able to connect the auction house and it’s lots/ sales to their customers. Skills include a commercial awareness, being sociable and an ability to think outside the box to market a wide variety of items.
Lots of auctions means many lots. An auction house photographer will need to do their best to showcase the variety of objects in many shapes and sizes to the best of their ability. A million-dollar picture needs to look a million dollars after all. Auction house photographers therefore need to be prepared to have a busy schedule and have top notch technical retouching skills as well as being a pro at using a camera.
Specialists are in charge for business-getting, finding and appraising lots, leading cataloguing, developing and maintaining clients. Often specialists start out working as a cataloguer/researcher first. A specialist requires commercial awareness, great communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills.
Again, a great role to get started in the auction house business. The technician makes sure that everything arrives and leaves in one piece, working alongside nearly all the departments. This means handling, storage, packing, transfer and releasing of a wide variety of lots. She/he also assists in the sale room during sales and gives an artistic eye in the curation of the view. This type of role requires practical skills, strength when handling those heavier objects, alongside knowledge of art handling and conservation issues.
Working at an auction house is a great opportunity for those who are interested in the business side of the art world. To find out if this type of career is right for you, we suggest doing an internship in any of these departments and getting some first-hand exposure to what it’s like to work at an auction house.
Feeling inspired now? Check out what auction house roles are currently on the market in our careers page here.
Text by Peigi Mackillop