Auctions: the ins and outs of unsold goods

As a terra incognita within the art market, unsold goods have long stayed in the shadows. But they may be set to live a second life. This month, Art Media Agency, in partnership with Auction After Sale, is publishing an unprecedented report on this topic. A foretaste follows… Until today, unsold goods have remained relatively overlooked by the media when talking about auction sales. Journalists, experts and researchers have only scantily broached the topic. As a direct consequence of this oversight, the art market faces a lack in knowledge — as well as tangible results — concerning this reality. Several reasons explain this silence: first of all, the negative image evoked by unsold goods. One need only look at the words used to describe the phenomenon — namely “burnt” works — to understand this. Such unflattering parlance refers nonetheless to a reality that is inherent to the distribution means offered by auctions. Things are gradually evolving, with the issue becoming more urgent, and after-sales procedures gaining in popularity. In France, a number of auction houses fought for the liberalisation of the nation’s 2000 and 2010 legislation, which struck them as less favourable than their overseas equivalents. Today, while after-sales sales are gradually authorised across the globe, they do not seem to be an opportunity capitalised on by a majority of auction players. If the situation is evolving — despite great resistance from the art market —, then this is also because auction houses are looking for new sources of growth, and several players are slowly getting involved with a market whose potential is increasingly apparent to them. Over the first six months of 2016, the turnover “lost” due to goods failing to sell totalled 4.3 billion euros worldwide — a figure that would have been reached if lots had sold for...

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