Auction houses reach out to new audiences

The global art market is booming, and art auction houses, once perceived to be the preserve of the elite, are attracting new, more varied audiences. These changes can be seen in recent advertising for both Bonhams and Christie’s, which offers a more open vision of the modern auction house.

The global art market is booming, and art auction houses, once perceived to be the preserve of the elite, are attracting new, more varied audiences. These changes can be seen in recent advertising for both Bonhams and Christie’s, which offers a more open vision of the modern auction house.

It feels as if record-breaking sales are happening almost weekly in the art world at the moment – just yesterday Christie’s announced that a Francis Bacon painting sold earlier this week to an anonymous buyer was the most valuable painting it had ever sold in Europe. At £42 million, the Bacon work comes in at only 44th in the list of the most expensive paintings sold worldwide, however (The Card Players by Paul Cézanne is the most expensive ever sold, for £162 million in 2011).

This interest in acquiring works of art is not just for the super, super rich, however. There is a broader interest in buying and selling occurring and reflecting this shift, auction houses are becoming more open than ever before. This friendlier, trendier attitude can be seen in recent advertising for London auction house Bonhams which is currently on display in tube stations and on taxis across the city.

The campaign is simple yet striking. Created by Identity Design, alongside in-house designers at Bonhams, it features the names of different art movements – Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art – imaginatively written in white lettering on a black background. The designs are accompanied with a tagline – ‘The future of auctioneering’.

More reminiscent of advertising for galleries such as Tate than what we might have previously associated with an auction house, the campaign makes no mention of prices or even specific artworks. Instead it simply suggests that Bonhams is a destination for art fans. The campaign follows the launch of Bonhams’ new headquarters in London, which the company describes as the “world’s first 21st century auction saleroom”, with an emphasis on new technology and customer service.

Christie’s has also become more outward-facing of late, with an elegant new ad campaign created by BBH London. Featuring print and poster work as well as a stylish overhaul of the auction house’s website, the Christie’s campaign introduces the staff that work at the company around the world, as well as some of the artists whose work they sell.

The tagline for this campaign is simply ‘The Art People’. Artworks do feature in the background of the photographs (perhaps as they might appear in your luxury home), though Christie’s’ people themselves are placed at the forefront. While very different in tone to the Bonhams work, the campaign is similarly fresh and eyecatching.

Both campaigns are suggestive of the continuing emergence of a new era of auction houses, designed to serve a younger, more fashionable audience. Judging from these ads, it looks like the current art boom is here to stay.

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