Minnesota has a new player to compete with high-flying auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Revere Auctions claims to be the first such company in the Twin Cities that specializes in the sale of fine art.
The auction house has been welcomed by local art connoisseurs, who say it provides new opportunities for collectors here, while helping to keep Minnesota-owned treasures from leaving the state.
“Communities the size of Minneapolis and St. Paul typically have an art auction house,” said Minneapolis Institute of Art curator Tom Rassieur. “It’s high time that the Twin Cities have one, too.”
Revere’s next live auction happens Saturday, featuring American Indian and decorative art.
Founded last December, Revere sells a wide range of art, from famed contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Frank Stella, to notable objects that otherwise might have gone to an estate sale, like the native pottery it will auction Saturday at its offices in Minneapolis.
“Christie’s and Sotheby’s do fine things in more the top end, and then there’s a huge gap in between, where it’s more specialized in serious art that is under the wires of the other places,” said Jim Billings, a Twin Cities art appraiser. “Revere Auctions is more specialized, and Sotheby’s cannot afford to deal with a certain level of things that take more research.”
Typically, artworks from estate sales are shipped to bigger auction houses, meaning many valuable art objects leave Minnesota, likely never to return. Revere founders Robert Snell and Sean Blanchet are hoping to change that.
“It’s been a frustration of mine and other people that this focused service has not been available in our community,” said Rassieur, who leads the Art Institute’s prints and drawings department. “Otherwise it’s going down to Chicago, and for many people that’s an inconvenience and a barrier to participating in auctions.”
The big three art auction houses — Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips — dominate 80 percent of the market, said Twin Cities area real estate mogul Ralph Burnet, who owns Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Wayzata.
“The auction business is really tough,” he said, “and that’s probably why there hasn’t been one in the Twin Cities.”
Bidding begins online
The cinematic image of people standing around and waving paddles at an old-timey auction house isn’t necessarily how business is transacted these days.
As on eBay, auctions are always happening online. The items being sold Saturday were posted earlier online. It’s called “timed, then live” — people can place online bids in advance, eBay-style. But live bidding won’t begin until the event starts at 10 a.m.
Most bidders participate online or by phone, but Revere still sets out chairs. Usually, no more than 10 people show up. Still, there can be drama.
In May, at Revere’s second auction, “a Korean vase was supposed to open at $8,000,” Blanchet said, “but a person in the back of the room who had flown in from New York City shouted out, ‘$20,000!’ hoping that would stop the bidding. It didn’t.” The piece sold for more than $40,000.
Another Korean work, an inlaid celadon maebyong vase from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), started at $3,500 and fetched a whopping $85,000.
Most of their consignments come from Minnesota, but Blanchet said that 20 percent of the Asian sale was drawn from collections in New Mexico, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
Revere is planning its next auction on Sept. 29. It will include an early 1980s Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, a French Cubist/Modernist nude by Henri Hayden and a painting by California abstract expressionist James Suzuki from a Minnesota collection.
Revere negotiates a commission from the seller. Typically, the more valuable the object, the lower the commission. For lower value objects, it’s usually around 25 percent. The auction house also takes a buyer’s fee of 25 percent or so.
Noel Swanson, a private dealer of antiques, paid $127 on eBay to buy a 19th-century, 11-by-11-inch tile that fell from a building in Iran. He sold it for upward of $9,800 through Revere.
“I think Revere is a big deal because I don’t have to send stuff to New York anymore and wait days or weeks for them to return my e-mails about whether or not they want it,” Swanson said. “Rob and Sean come to my house — that’s a huge advantage.”
As it goes with the secondary market, the only people involved who don’t see direct benefits are the artists themselves — although it may help their work rise in value. Revere wants to benefit artists, too, so in a smart publicity move, its partners are donating 1 percent of total auction proceeds to various Minnesota cultural institutions.
The Art Institute’s Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) received $2,288 from Revere’s inaugural auction in March. The museum’s Asian art department will get about $3,000 from the May sale.
Proceeds from Saturday’s auction will go to the Minnesota Historical Society.
“The gift provided by Revere allows us to continue to produce shows,” said Nicole Soukup, MAEP coordinator and assistant curator of contemporary art at the Art Institute. “It allows artists to take that next step.”