Five Key Steps to Sell Your Collection on the Secondary Art Market

Private art collectors often spend a lifetime building a collection of artworks that have both personal significance and tremendous value in the global art market. As they take stock of their collecting history, they often contemplate whether some of these works have appreciated in value. However, when it comes to selling work of art on the secondary art market, most are surprised to find themselves out of resources.

Whether moving to a new home, splitting up a collection in a divorce, preparing an estate for future planning, or simply wanting to enter the art investment game, selling artwork on the secondary market can be a complicated process if you’re inexperienced or lack many relationships in the business. While auction houses are the main resale venues, major galleries and online platforms also participate in the secondary art market, making it difficult for art collectors to gauge who to turn to. In fact, most private art collectors don’t even know where to begin when considering selling their work on the secondary art market, and wind up fumbling through the process with lackluster results. Because we believe the experience of selling works of art should be enjoyable rather than complex, we’re demystifying the process: These are the top five things you should do when preparing to sell pieces from your art collection.

Make a List

For many private art collectors, that first artwork purchase kicks off a lifelong obsession. Because art collecting is such an emotional, personal endeavor, it’s entirely possible that you’ve left the business of categorizing and organizing your works by the wayside. However, taking stock of the artworks within your collection is a vital first step when considering resale, and will additionally allow you or your advisor to make smart decisions when it’s time to place these works up for auction. Whether you choose to organize by room or by artist, by medium or by year, create a master list of the work’s in your collection and note important details such as the artist’s name, the year it was created, the materials and medium, where you purchased the work, and any other important notes you deem may be relevant for resale.

 "A Goodnight Hug" by Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt enjoyed impeccable provenance. Art Market Liaison was able to place the work for sale at Sotheby's and achieved a $4.5 million sale.

"A Goodnight Hug" by Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt enjoyed impeccable provenance. Art Market Liaison was able to place the work for sale at Sotheby's and achieved a $4.5 million sale.

Check Your Records

One of the most important concepts to grasp when entering the secondary art market is provenance. An artwork’s provenance describes its record of ownership, which helps establish its authenticity and instills confidence that the new buyer is purchasing the real deal and not a well-forged fake. In order to establish provenance, auction houses and private art collectors alike will demand a key set of documents that establish the artwork’s entire known history. This process can be simple or complicated depending on the age of the work, and whether each party along the chain of ownership has done their due diligence. While you can’t control how others have approached this task, you can begin streamlining the process for your future allies on the secondary art market. Gather any sales records, including invoices, certificates of authenticity, artist’s exhibition history, the artwork’s prior owners, and any relevant communications that may have taken place between you and your gallerist.

Know Your Worth

After you’ve made a list of your inventory and organized your provenance records, it’s time to assess your collection’s value for resale. Savvy private art collectors understand that aesthetic value and market value are two very different concepts, and only one will ensure your work receives the highest value at resale. While you may think that the stunning piece in your bedroom has tremendous value, you may be surprised that the obscure sculpture in your dining room is now worth 50 times more valuable than what you paid for it. Unfortunately, determining a collection’s resale value can be a tricky process. Research databases that list pricing records are cost-prohibitive and difficult to navigate. To begin, we suggest researching online sales records at the world’s leading auction houses to determine whether any of the artists in your collection have had major sales recently. Otherwise, this might be a good time to considering hiring an art professional who can accompany you on the journey and access this information easily.

Discuss with Family

Once you’ve organized and determined if any of the works in your collection have a resale value, it’s time to get real with your loved ones about their personal preferences as they relate to your art collection. Many private art collectors fail to include their children in their collecting process, and miss an opportunity to ensure that their collection remains valuable for the long-term. Upon consulting them, you may be surprised to find that they want to keep the work in the family or don’t care whether you sell. Whatever the case may be, it’s important that everyone who has a stake in your collection be brought to the table when deciding whether to sell any works - and if you have an estate or wealth management advisor, this would also be a good time to loop them in as well.

 No matter how stunning the piece - like this ceramic pitcher by the iconic Pablo Picasso we placed at Phillips Auction - the art won't sell itself. Working with an advisor will make the process smoother and transparent.

No matter how stunning the piece - like this ceramic pitcher by the iconic Pablo Picasso we placed at Phillips Auction - the art won't sell itself. Working with an advisor will make the process smoother and transparent.

Find Your Partners

Private art collectors often assume that the gallerist or advisor that they initially purchased a work from can later help with its resale. However, it’s usually a very different set of art professionals that will guide you on your journey to sell works on the secondary art market. Instead, independent advisors specializing on the sale side, auction experts, and other art specialists will be your allies in re-selling your prized pieces, as they have the greatest insight into where and when a piece will have the opportunity and market to sell well. For example, they’ll be able to research the market and determine whether your piece might be better placed in a domestic auction or abroad. Since they do most of the heavy lifting, they will also make the process more enjoyable!

Finally, if all of the above seems like a daunting, tedious task, then consider hiring an art advisor like Art Market Liaison. A savvy professional will be able to expertly guide you through the process of determining whether you truly are ready to sell your prized works to their next collector. If you're ready, get in touch!

Laura Raiffe