Buying at auction can be a tricky experience. With a huge selection of Arab, Iranian and Turkish modern and contemporary art set to go under the hammer at Christie’s this month, we bring you our blagger’s guide to auctioning.

Before any auction, the pieces up for bid – known as lots – are displayed for public viewing so that prospective buyers can have a closer look. The public viewings for this month’s auction will be held between April 14 and 17, or, if you can’t make it down, you can view the lots online.

Some auctions can be split into two parts, with the more expensive pieces being separated from those more affordable. So make sure you’re not priced out of the market before you even start.

Those interested in taking part in the bidding will have to register themselves with the auction house using a form of ID. This is to ensure that if they win a bid, they take responsibility for it and cannot skip off.

Forget the subtle scratching of the nose; bidders are given a numbered paddle they will raise in the air when making a bid. The auctioneer must acknowledge the bid.

The auctioneer starts by introducing the piece, the starting price and the terms of the auction. Bids are invited from the floor, with the winning bid being confirmed by the banging of the auctioneer’s gavel.



Managing Director of Christie’s Middle East, Michael Jeha, on what to look out for when buying art under the hammer.

Fall in love with the artwork: “When it comes to buying art, choose with your heart and then buy with your head. Pick a piece that you love – that way you will always have something valuable to you.”

Do your research: “The Internet has made the art market more accessible than ever before and is a particularly useful tool for beginners. Christie’s has an online search engine called LotFinder, which allows you to browse catalogues packed with photographs, background research and previous sales history from its auctions around the world. There is also plenty of material at the auction as well, and it’s free.”

Develop your eye: “A common concern for new collectors is that they will make the mistake of paying too much or buying something on impulse. The best way to acquire real knowledge and develop your individual taste – or an ‘eye’ as it’s known – is to go and look at works of art before the auction, and talk to the experts. Auction houses will normally hold free public exhibitions before the sale of art, allowing anyone great access to all the art works that will be auctioned.”

Enjoy the auction: “There is a definite excitement about buying at auction. There are multiple styles and art works on offer that combine to make the process good fun. Auctions are a surprisingly easy way to start a collection; they also offer a practical and sensible way to buy unique objects for your home. Our Dubai sales are open to everyone, last about an hour or so and are very fast paced.”

It’s not about price: “You don’t have to be a millionaire to start a collection: art should be for everyone to enjoy. Collectors tend to cut their teeth by buying artworks for a few hundred dollars at auctions, dealers’ exhibitions or art fairs, and then, if finances permit, move up the scale as their knowledge and confidence increase.”

Stick to your limits: “Once you have browsed the auction catalogues – they’re also available online – and identified the lots you are interested in, look carefully at the price estimates published in the catalogues and fix your upper limit, to avoid getting carried away. Remember that you will always pay a buyer’s premium on top of your winning bid, and it can vary, depending on the price of the lot.”

Christie’s, Godolphin Ballroom, Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Tel: (04) 4255647.
Sun 2pm to 6pm, Mon 2pm to 10pm, Tues 10am to 1.30pm, Wed 10am to 1.30pm, auctions Tues and Wed 7pm, free.

This article first appeared in What’s On in April 2013