'Auction Fever'

The rise of the auction model and Menzies Art Brands

As the art market has grown into a multi-billion-dollar global industry – with an annual turnover of about $60 billion – art auctions remain one of its focal points, to the extent that not even the current global pandemic has upended them. Sky rocketing prices can largely be attributed to the auction model’s highly allured and tense sale environment which, combined with time pressure, generates an excitement and fierce competition scientifically documented as ‘auction fever.’


Although the auction model is deeply rooted in tradition, the idea of ‘Art as an Asset’ has accompanied the rise of Contemporary Art. Following Sotheby’s innovative marketing strategy the once rather tedious events for professionals became glittering celebrity-filled evening events. Sotheby’s invested in new technology, introducing telephone bidding and satellite links, and names such as Monet, Picasso, Pollock and Warhol set new price records.


As auction houses re-invented themselves as luxury goods companies in the 1980s, art developed as an alternative investment, shaping the market by trends in the broader economy. In the 1990s, the patronage of British collector Charles Saatchi, followed by the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, reinforced the rise of contemporary artists. This period also marked Australia’s entrance as a serious competitor in the global art scene, with the founding of both Deutscher-Menzies in 1997 and Lawson-Menzies in 2001 by the late Rod Menzies. In 2004, Menzies Art Brands was officially formed from the combining of both companies, competing directly with Sotheby’s and Christie’s, until Christie’s departed Australia in 2005.


Under the leadership of Executive Chairman Rod Menzies, the auction house achieved its most successful sales on record in 2007, turning over $64.4 million to Sotheby's $51.4 million. This period also marked a host of controversies, with Menzies’ cut-throat tactics revealed through the sale of more than 1500 works, many more than the few disclosed thought to hold a financial interest by the auction house. Despite this, Menzies Art Brands remains a prolific force in the Australian art market, having set a new Australian art record in 2020, with the $6.136m sale of a major painting by Brett Whiteley.


June 1, 2022