Chicago Auction House Roundup by MK Meador

August 16th, 2010

When I set out to purchase my first piece of art after moving to the city, it never occurred to me to look outside the art gallery scene. That first fine art buy, as it just so happened, was not bought but won in a west loop auction house. It didn’t hurt that I worked there to begin with, but the fact remains that it had never occurred to me that this was a place that an average person of average means could pick up art. I soon learned that the city of Chicago is home to three auction houses, each with its own history, character and special area of focus. The following is a brief overview for each of the three houses: Wright Auction, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, and Susanin’s Auctions.

Wright Auction

The so-called slump may be slouching along, but Richard Wright and his eponymous Wright Auction has maintained a fantastic auction schedule. They have their work cut out for them this summer and if you look at the calendar of upcoming sales, they boast and auction schedule that appears to be nonstop for weeks to come.

The founder, Richard Wright began his work as a career collector with flea market flipping in Boston. In an interview with the Design Glut, Wright recalls how he was tipped off the world of collecting through an ex-girlfriend and together they trolled antique markets and fairs outside of Boston.

Nationally, Wright is a specialist in furniture but it is wonderful to see the recent estate from a private Parisian collector featuring an eclectic mix of contemporary furniture, decorative art and fine art. Here is Wright Auction Specialist Michael Jefferson discussing the upcoming sale:

Living Contemporary: a private Paris collection from Wright on Vimeo.

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers

Leslie Hindman, who began her career as a gallerist but switched to auctions when she realized the absence of mid-range auctions in the midwest. She launched her first auction house with a skeleton crew and small space in 1982.

She sold her original house to Sotheby’s only to have the auction giant sell off her branch a few years later. She reopened her Chicago Auction house in 2003  on Aberdeen Street and became neighbors with Oprah and Harpo Studios. In 2007, Hindman bought a old floral warehouse on Lake Street and the entire company was crated, transported and re-installed, now with room to grow.

Leslie Hindman features two departments unique to her house alone: the couture sales and the Marketplace sale. Abigail Rutherford has managed the couture auctions from the beginning and does a remarkable job of picking outstanding pieces with intriguing history.

For the beginning collector, Hindman’s Marketplace sales are the best place in Chicago to get started. The concept behind marketplace is the more affordable auction-within-larger-auction house and here the lots are valued at $5,000 and under. Many of the fine art lots are appraised in a rather affordable $200-$500 range.

Susanin’s Auctions

It may be well known in the art circles in Chicago, but Sean Susanin got his start working for none other than Leslie Hindman herself. He broke with Hindman and set out to start his own auction house. Don’t let the clunky website deter you, Susanin’s is a full-service auction house and accepts a range of consignments varying from furniture, fine art and jewelry. At least once every month, Susannin’s also offers a “Discovery Day” where would-be consignors can stop in for a free appraisal. The month of July has two days: on July 9th and July 30th.

The common link between all auction houses and a little known tip for art hunting is that each house has a preview day, once if not twice a month. An incredible amount of work is put into each and every one of the previews. The best news about the sale previews is that they are free and open to the public typically two or three days before each auction takes place. The city of Chicago has a storied relationship with the auction industry and the art scene in the Midwest would not function without each house’s efforts. As for my first fine art auction winning? It was a pair of etchings by the artist Peter Takal, which I was lucky enough to win for a mere $50.

Be on the lookout for Chicago Art Magazine’s upcoming series – Hot Lots: Chicago Auction News

Wright is located at 1440 W. Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60642.

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is located at 1338 West Lake Street.

Susanin’s is located 900 South Clinton Street.

-MK Meador

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