Berlin-based auction house Auctionata deals in fine art from well-known names like Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon. But their business model has a twist: Their auctions, which cost a fair bit of money, take place entirely online. And on November 29, the company is auctioning a Van Gogh drawing online. The 1888 reed pen and graphite piece The Plain of La Crau will be auctioned over the Internet in real time, with a starting price of $250,000.
Unlike the conventional eBay model, Auctionata's auctions take place in a short time span—in this case, over the course of a few hours—and are modeled more closely on brick-and-mortar auction house activity. Auctioneers show off items and conduct auctions via streaming high definition video, while viewers bid through the website. The company's studio in Berlin contains approximately $1 million in camera and computer equipment, and a television producer oversees the auction webcasts. CEO Alexander Zacke told Fast Company that the idea was to create a startup that auctions fine art over the Internet to a clientele that's used to conventional, in-personal auction houses.
"Users register online, and the auction room broadcasts a real-time HD stream of the auctioneer and auction with live bidding through the website, and users can ask questions in real time," Zacke added. According to Auctionata, the company's largest auction so far attracted 1500 participants and there's no limit on the number of people who could potentially take part in an auction; their goal for high-profile auctions is to attract 30 times as many bidders would attend a conventional fine art auction.
Van Gogh drew The Plain of La Crau while residing near France's Montmajour Abbey, a frequent subject of his artwork. The drawing was previously owned by Harold Hecht and his wife Gloria Hecht Dresser, a film producer best known for Apache, Marty, and The Birdman of Alcatraz; Van Gogh drew and painted several similar works as part of a series, but the drawing on auction at Auctionata is one of only a few not in a museum. According to Zacke, the drawing was bought to Auctionata by its consignor, Duffy Hecht, who "was impressed by our business model, saw the future and wanted to be part of it."
For Auctionata, which raised $20.2 million in funding in April 2013, Internet auctions for fine art are one of the easiest ways to reach the international market. The company's promotional materials emphasize the growing audience for fine art in China and the spending power of the Chinese audience. Since their 2012 launch, Auctionata claims to have processed over 50,000 requests for valuation and selling services covering a merchandise value of more than $132 million.
Auctionata, which currently holds one weekly auction, is at the vanguard of a new wave of web services catering to international audiences with money to spare. While Internet auctions on the eBay market deliberately targeted the mass market with great success, Auctionata is trying something different: Fine art auctions catering to wealthy buyers who cannot attend auctions in New York, London, Paris, or Berlin. While established auction houses are targeting these new global markets with branches in Hong Kong and Dubai, Auctionata's model skips the physical and goes straight for e-commerce transactions—a big change for a staid industry.