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Feb. 25, 2008 

Art dealers have a new outlet for their wares with Artnet Online Auctions, a long-planned service launched in beta on Feb. 25, 2008. The new auction platform went live with works by about 20 artists, ranging from Berenice Abbott and Ilya Bolotowsky to Wayne Thiebaud and Andy Warhol. On the first day, several lots had garnered heated bidding. Most of the auctions run for a two-week period.

Online art auctions are by now familiar to everyone, but it’s worth rehearsing here a few of the advantages. For one thing, sales have a much shorter lead time than at your typical bricks-and-mortar auction house. For another, bids can be placed at the convenience of the buyer, at any time and any place during the duration of the sale. And, typically, the costs of a consignment are less than at the big auction houses.

In Artnet Online Auctions, in particular, sellers pay a one-time listing fee of $25 per lot, and a 10 percent commission on any sales. The buyer pays no auction premium. At major auction houses, the costs can be considerably higher.

Most sellers on Artnet Online Auctions are members of Artnet’s online gallery network. One top lot in the initial selection, Bolotowsky’s Square in Three Blues (79-109), a Neo-Plasticist painting made in 1979, is consigned by the Gary Snyder Project Space in New York City. The estimate for this work is $30,000-$35,000 -- but by the end of the first day, no one has registered an opening bid, which is set at $18,000.

Though members of Artnet’s gallery network, the sellers can adopt aliases. A dealer identified only as CAC from Florida consigned Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Il Bagno Turco (1971), a color silkscreen of a nude odalisque playing the mandolin printed on the artist’s trademark reflective stainless steel. Originally published by Ariete Grafica in Milan in an edition of 150, this work is a rare example and in exquisite condition. The work is estimated at $22,000-$25,000, and awaits a starting bid of $13,000.

A lot that has seen more activity is a Warhol Marilyn from 1981 -- a special, 12-inch-square silkscreen produced in conjunction with a Warhol print retrospective at Leo Castelli Gallery in SoHo. A number of these were signed by the artist at the opening, and a lively market has emerged for them. After opening at $10,000, the lot garnered ten bids, and now stands at $14,500.

"It’s still climbing," said Artnet print expert Deborah Ripley, who helped organize the Artnet Online Auctions launch. "But it has already met its reserve. It should make $30,000," she said, optimistically.

What’s more, several previous auction sales for this work can be seen by checking the "comparables" linked to the page for this lot. At least three other examples of the work -- some more faded than others, but all from the same print run -- are listed, with sale prices ranging from $27,400 to more than $39,000. All lots on Artnet Online Auctions feature this easy-to-access "comparables" page, which can be quite convenient for bidders.

Another interesting fact with the Warhol Marilyn: the consignor of the work -- who goes by the name Tennis -- bought it from Artnet in 1999 in the company’s first venture into online art auctions, for about $3,500, and has had it on his wall ever since. It turns out to have been a profitable acquisition.

Beta-testing allows for the discovery and correction of any bugs in the process, of courses. Presently, the lots are missing the alert indicating that the auction reserve has been met, a bug that should be taken care of in the next few days, according to Artnet auction head Erica Ventley. In addition, Ventley expects to be posting new lots on a regular basis, with perhaps a dozen more works going up for auction before the end of the first week.

In addition to the aforementioned specialists, Artnet has other auction experts on staff, including Lori Yarotsky in modern and contemporary art, Christopher Sweet in photography and Ann Lydecker in prints.

For more detailed information on Artnet Online Auctions, see the "help" page, here

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