Success of First Greenhouse Auctions Event Supports a New Way to Collect

Liz Catalano
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For art collectors looking to make a difference with their purchases, Greenhouse Auctions offers a fresh model. The online platform launched in 2020 amid growing critiques of the auction industry. Built to address some of the problems that traditional auction houses face, it advocates change through transparency and community empowerment. The first online Greenhouse Auctions event was held on December 2nd, 2020. It featured a selection of fine art created during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Greenhouse Auctions reports a strong turnout for the early December sale. 60 bidders from around the globe participated, drawing an 85% sell-through rate by value. “The strength of the Greenhouse Auctions model was affirmed by the incredible range of collectors that participated in yesterday’s sale and their extraordinary enthusiasm for the works offered,” founder Shlomi Rabi said in a press release. “I could not be more pleased with the outcome and look forward to building on the success of our first auction with many more to come.”

Nick Farhi, Homes That Morph, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.
Nick Farhi, Homes That Morph, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.

As the platform stated in an October Instagram post, “This past year has accelerated shifts that had already been in place in the art world. Greenhouse Auctions was designed and built to address these shifts.” An exclusively-online presence, green carbon footprint, and mission-driven business model are all characteristics that define the young auction house. Transparency is another underlying principle. Artists and galleries directly provide the listed works, establishing a clear and documented provenance. That also means every piece the auction house sells is new to the market. 

Each artwork has an estimate before the bidding begins, like in most auctions. However, the final price is kept private between the buyer, the seller, and the auction house. This policy protects the seller’s market and aims to prevent the immediate flipping of works from up-and-coming artists. After the auction, the winning bidder negotiates shipping and handling costs directly with the seller, which Greenhouse Auctions hopes will prompt lasting relationships between collectors, gallerists, and artists.

T. Eliott Mansa, Marching and Singing with Yesterday’s Coffin on Their Heads III, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.
T. Eliott Mansa, Marching and Singing with Yesterday’s Coffin on Their Heads III, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.

17 rising and established artists participated in the inaugural Greenhouse Auctions event. The catalog offered works across multiple categories created during lockdown. Among the first lots was T. Eliott Mansa’s Marching and Singing with Yesterday’s Coffin on Their Heads III, a mounted sculpture made of plastic toys, stuffed animals, shells, and other found objects (USD 7,000 – $9,000). The assemblage is completely covered in black acrylic paint. Inspired by both American roadside memorials and West African ritual figures, Mansa created the piece in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Also among the participating artists was Michal Helfman with Four Portraits from Lockdown Ladies. The Israeli artist began drawing her socially-distanced friends while in quarantine, executing drawings in oil pastel. The set of four sheets had a combined pre-sale estimate of $12,000 to $15,000. A piece from New York-born artist Nick Farhi was available as well. Homes That Morph is part of the artist’s delicate vessel painting series made while working from home ($10,000 – $12,000; pictured above).

Michal Helfman, Four Portraits from Lockdown Ladies, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.
Michal Helfman, Four Portraits from Lockdown Ladies, 2020. Image from Greenhouse Auctions.

Shlomi Rabi had two decades of industry experience before launching Greenhouse Auctions. He formerly headed the Photographs Department at Christie’s and was previously Phillips’ head of photography sales. The new auction house grew from Rabi’s desire to uplift marginalized voices. “From day one, it was vital that Greenhouse Auctions empower all participants, from the artists selling their artwork to the collectors looking for new ways to directly support them,” Rabi told Hyperallergic

Socially-minded collectors will also note that Greenhouse Auctions donates part of the seller’s fee to a scholarship fund for art history students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization that has distributed over $300 million since its establishment in 1987, will distribute the funds. This charitable partnership promotes diversity not just in auction catalogs but also among curators, directors, and future industry leaders. A donation from the first Greenhouse Auctions event has already been placed. 

“Greenhouse Auctions sprouted in the midst of an economic avalanche, and its mission from day one has been to create an inclusive, inviting, safe space for those in the art world who are often left out,” Greenhouse Auctions posted in November. “Those who choose to create, promote and sell art for the beauty and sincerity of it.”

The events of 2020 have already started to change the auction world and the broader art market. Read Auction Daily’s recent interview with art advisor Elisa Carollo discussing her 2021 art market predictions

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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