Working in an Auction House

Imy Clarke - On behalf of Alchemy Recruitment, January 27, 2016

Working in an auction house can be the perfect place to build a career in art. There are many auction houses around the world, with institutions such as Christies and Sotheby’s as the most famous, which all have different requirements and specialties, but there specific job requirements that all have something in common.

Good organization and communication, as with any job, are important, but more than anything working in an auction house is about being an arts specialist. As a result the ability to conduct extensive research, catalog and indentify quality and authenticity are essential. Auction houses around the world value qualifications in Art History or Fine Arts, with exceptions made only for supporting roles of finance or technology. Foreign languages can also be incredibly useful as the larger auction houses communicate with buyers and institutions around the world to sell and procure items.

Typically within an auction house there are two main career tracks: specialist and business. The specialist side is where true knowledge and expertise of art and antiques is essential – all property for auctions must be research and catalogued, finding the item’s provenance, history and any other documentation. The business side is not considered quite as glamorous, but it is essential – contracts, shipping and logistics, inventory and even finance are all controlled by this side of the auction house where those employed must have absolute knowledge of the auction process.

Auction seasons are often cyclical and defined over short, intense periods of time. The industry is wholly about style and aesthetics, even down to the dress of employees. Much like the fashion industry, it’s an area where you have to look the part, especially when clientele find themselves in the Forbes 400. There is no room for error – the slightest typo in a catalogue or a misunderstanding of an items quality, history or authenticity can dramatically reduce an items value. There is zero tolerance for mistakes.

Auction houses are vibrant places, with larger houses having divisions devoted to everything from contemporary art to jewelry to wine. While starting salaries aren’t often attractive and jobs are located in cities with a high cost of living such as London or New York, with skill and patience a great career can be developed. For those wholly devoted to and consumed by art, there is no greater career path.

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Posted in categories: Auctions
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