WORDS: ANNE SCHAUFFER IMAGES: SHUTTERSTOCK

Recently in London, an artwork relegated to the owners’ spare room was auctioned for a few hundred thousand pounds. The owners had stashed it away and had no idea of its value.

We hear these stories but the reality is that most people don’t know where to begin if trying to ascertain whether the personal artwork in their home has any value.

Alistair Meredith, an art specialist at Strauss & Co Fine Art Auctioneers and Consultants, is well aware of how the art world can be daunting. “We work hard to dispel that,” he says. “The auction world is totally transparent and not an intimidating space at all.” Meredith says what people see in the movies – large, silent New York galleries with intimidating staff — has created a daunting image of art exclusivity.

“We run live and online art auctions, have road shows where the public can bring artworks to be valued, and we respond happily to emails requesting valuations or opinions,” he says. “Just provide us with a photograph of the artwork, its dimensions, and the artist’s name. Sometimes it’s near impossible to value – say, an 18th century artwork with no signature.”

Valuation

How do they arrive at a valuation? “We rely entirely on auction precedents and are very objective and market-related; we try to find similar work sold on auction (in terms of the artist, size, medium and condition) and those results determine broad objective guideline figures for that particular work.”

An art auction is a simple, transparent process. “Each piece has a clearly stated guideline price. You choose how high you want to bid. If you win the auction, you pay the hammer price (and a stated premium) and it’s yours. What the work sells for is up to the market (everybody in the auction room or online). It’s very down to earth,” he says.

Meredith says it’s a myth that you could inadvertently bid on an item by unconsciously scratching your nose during an auction. “You have to register before you bid, and you’ll be given a bidding paddle. When you bid, the auctioneer will ask you if you intended to do so.”

Inside track

The South African art market has exploded over the last decade. “There’s been huge interest in local art from South Africans, expats and, increasingly, the international market,” says Meredith.

“We’re always a little hesitant about speaking about art as a pure investment because nobody has a crystal ball, but the more research you do, the better idea you have of an artist’s trajectory. Read up and speak to dealers, art galleries and auction house specialists. But buy art you love and enjoy it every day on your wall as it appreciates,” Meredith concludes. Sound advice.

The auction world is totally transparent and not an intimidating space at all ALISTAIR MEREDITH, ART SPECIALIST, STRAUSS & CO FINE ART AUCTIONEERS AND CONSULTANTS