Sotheby’s New Tradition – a Dutch Auction Model

Sotheby's Recently Announced Changes in an Auction Process: a Dutch Auction Model Instead of the English Auction System.

Jun 30, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Sotheby's 2023 Auction
Sotheby’s, NY, photo by Ajay Suresh via Flickr


Sotheby’s, just as any influential institution, sticks to some traditions. For this auction house, it is the English auction system. The bidders in that scheme challenge each other to raise pricing or secure a transaction if there’s minimal interest. Now, with the change in the economy, and the development of a new NFT program (Gen Art), the auction house is turning to the Dutch model.


Vera Molnar to Create Digital Art for Sotheby’s

Sotheby's 2023 Auction, Magritte Surrealism
Sotheby’s auctioneer during the March 2 ‘Now’ Evening sale in London


In a Dutch bidding, the auctioneer states the item’s maximum possible value prior to gradually lowering it. This goes on until the piece on auction reaches its lowest price, or someone bids. Sotheby’s chose Vera Molnar, an innovator of early generative art, who is 99 years old, to launch the fresh endeavor. She started using digital programs to create art in 1960s.


Throughout the NFT mining boom of 2021, Molnar discovered a fresh audience. This enabled her to show her work at the Venice Biennale in 2022. Sotheby’s also displaying her work “Themes and Variations”, which you can acquire from July 26, on the Sotheby’s digital art website. Through a new Gen Art Program, a few artists per year will get a chance to present their work.


everydays nft beeple
The First 5000 Days by Beeple, 2021, via Christie’s


Art Blocks teams created the platform and Web3 software. By employing the software, buyers will be capable of to purchasing pieces totally on-chain in addition to using a Dutch auction mechanism. Sotheby’s gave Art Blocks recognition for inspiring them to try out the Dutch bidding format, which they now use in their personal arena.

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Could the Dutch System Be Better?

Donald Trump
Clark Mitchell, Trump Digital Trading Card.


Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s Head of Digital Art & NFTs said: “Art Blocks built a whole new ecosystem with a new type of collector who are passionate about generative art. Collectors are also very used to the process in which they purchase these type of artworks, which is the Dutch auction model that has been a very successful format for Art Blocks and generative art sales.


In the summer of 2021, Art Blocks’ creator and CEO, Erick Calderon, first started adopting the Dutch auction concept to quell the hysterical bid that took place on his site. “This originally came into play when we would have editions of 500 or 1000. Also, we’d have 20,000 people in our Discord on the day of a drop asking questions”, Calderon said.


Clark Mitchell
Clark Mitchell, Trump Digital Trading Card.


“While not everybody from that Discord community was there to purchase artwork, there’s a clear imbalance between the supply of art and potential demand”, he also added. Only experienced collectors were likely to participate because the highest offered was made clear to collectors in advance. Furthermore, although appearing contradictory, Dutch auctions often produce better sales.


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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.