Saturday @ Phillips

In an attempt to stay young ‘n’ trendy, Phillips de Pury has launched a new

auction series called Saturday

@ Phillips. The idea is that it’s an entry-level auction, for people who

don’t have hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars to spend on high-end

art and design. Instead, the work is generally in the $1,000 to $5,000 range,

and the target audience definitely includes people who have never bought work

at auction before.

The next Saturday @ Phillips auction is on September 16, and it includes a

couple of gorgeous Hiroshi Sugimoto photographs (a movie

theatre and a seascape)

estimated at $700–$900 and $1,000–$2,000 respectively. I’ve long

been a fan of Sugimoto, so of course when I saw those I briefly pondered whether

I should even perhaps bid on them myself.

Certainly someone who knows what they’re doing might be able to pick up something

of a bargain at the auction. My favourite jeweler, Jill

Platner, has four pieces in the auction (1,2,3,4),

and it’s pretty easy to phone up or visit her

store and find out what they retail for. If you buy a $5,600 necklace for

the mid-estimate price of $4,000, for instance, you know you’ve got a pretty

good deal.

The Sugimotos, on the other hand, are a little trickier. For one thing, there’s

clearly a big difference in value between the photolithograph of the movie theatre

and the silver-gelatin print of the seascape: the movie theatre is from a smaller

edition than the seascape, and it’s a much larger print, but is still the cheaper

of the two. Most people who buy at auction are educated sophisticates, who know

what they’re buying, know what they think it’s worth, and bid accordingly. But

the new crowd at Phillips might well not really fit into that category: how

many of them even know what a photolithograph really is? (I certainly

don’t.) What’s more, Phillips is presumably trying to attract the kind of people

who are scared off by the opacity

and malpractice endemic in the art world, which means that they are much

less likely to be able to work out what the "going rate" is for such

Sugimotos, or which other, similar, Sugimotos might be on the market at the


In any auction, the size of the winner’s

curse is highly correlated with the degree to which the bidders have incomplete

information about the value of the item they’re bidding on. In other words,

the more bidders there are, and the less they know, the more that the winning

bidder is likely to overpay. Saturday @ Phillips is an auction series which

seems designed to maximise the number of bidders and at the same time attract

bidders who know relatively little about what they’re bidding on, compared to

most of Phillips’s clients. A recipe for crazy bidding.

If you are confident in your own valuations, then, Saturday @ Phillips might

be a good opportunity to pick up the kind of art and design which is often overlooked

by the auction houses. But you have to be prepared to drop out of the bidding

with no regrets, since there’s a very good chance that a lot of the work for

sale will go for overinflated sums.

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3 Responses to Saturday @ Phillips

  1. David Sucher says:

    I don’t get “If you buy a $5,600 necklace for the mid-estimate price of $4,000, for instance, you know you’ve got a pretty good deal.”

    Who would be saying it is a $5,600 necklace? The auction house. No? Are they a fair-witness?

    Wouldn’t the logic be that it’s in fact only a $4,000 necklace? I mean these auctions offer fairly ‘perfect’ markets. No? In fact my impression — and I could well be wrong — is that auction prices are very often _higher_ because of the emotional atmosphere etc etc…I mean that’s why rich people unload their stuff through the auction process — they have a good chance of getting more than market. Right?

  2. Felix says:

    My point is that Jill Platner necklaces can be found at the Jill Platner store, on Crosby Street. So a necklace which you pay $4,000 for at Phillips would cost you $5,600 at the shop.

  3. David Sucher says:


    I’d never heard of Jill Platner.

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