Introduction to Auction Houses

Auction houses serve as dynamic hubs within the art world, often dominated by major international players and organised into distinct departments, each serving as a specialised entity. Navigating this multifaceted landscape requires a keen understanding of the diverse roles and structures that define these businesses.


The architecture of an auction house typically revolves around specialised departments. At an entry level, roles such as junior cataloguer or sale coordinator serve as the foundation. Cataloguers engage in vital research, contribute content for sales catalogues, and provide crucial administrative support. Meanwhile, sale coordinators adeptly project manage each sale, overseeing documentation, consignments, and seamless shipping arrangements to ensure the smooth delivery of auctions.


The size and scope of these departments depend on the scale and profitability of their respective sales. The highest-grossing departments may boast dedicated teams focused on specific sub-categories or collector niches. In contrast, smaller departments may comprise just one or two employees, often led by a head of department who handles responsibilities that, within a larger team, might otherwise be delegated, such as collection valuations and pre/post-sale client communications.


Beyond the specialised departments, auction houses also encompass a spectrum of business-centric roles crucial to their operations. This array spans from communications managers, entrusted with overseeing PR and marketing campaigns, to business directors, who steer sales strategies, financial management, and business development.


It is crucial to recognise that the seniority, scope, and remuneration associated with roles in this space, even those with seemingly identical titles within the same organisation, are contingent on various factors, including the department’s size, profitability, and the overarching vision.


Ultimately, auction houses, with their intricate tapestry of departments and roles, present a wealth of opportunities for professionals aspiring to excel in the art world. From foundational roles in cataloguing to strategic positions in business development, each role plays a vital part in the seamless operation of these complex environments. By charting a course through them, individuals can forge a fulfilling career path within this vibrant and ever-evolving sector of the art industry.


SML and Auction Houses


With auction clients worldwide, SML has vast experience in matching candidates with distinctive businesses, unique for their size, operating models (online versus offline), specialisations, or global presence. Working on auction hires is always a delight due to the palpable passion shared by both clients and candidates for objects (their historical journeys through the hands of previous owners) and people (colleagues and collectors with their own stories told through their areas of expertise or interest).


Useful Resources

Image Credits

  • Katrin Bolovtsova
  • Pauline Loroy