Lots of Thrills
Lots of Thrills
Celebrity auctioneer Edward Rising will be in Beirut to oversee Artscoops’ Middle East Modern and Contemporary Auction on March 11th. He talks to our team, ahead of the event, about the drama, unpredictability and passion that sales produce
Ask auctioneer Edward Rising what his role requires and he’ll tell you that along with plenty of professionalism and energy, a good head for figures is a useful attribute.
“While an auctioneer’s primary task is to sell items fairly to the highest bidder, it also demands an element of entertainment; I have been known to jump up on chairs,” he confesses. “And then, of course, there’s the ten percent increments. When you hit the big numbers, like moving from one million (£1m) to one million, one hundred thousand (£1.1m), they can catch you out early in your career.”
Rising, who will be in Beirut in March to preside over Artscoops’ Middle East Modern and Contemporary Auction, recalls how, in the early days, he used to spend bus journeys memorising the increments.
“The auction house gave them to me on a piece of paper and I knew I had to learn them by heart. You have to be able to move through them without even thinking during an auction,” he explains. “Nowadays I also train auctioneers and I always tell them, just like actors have to learn their lines, you must learn your increments.”
Not entirely seriously, Rising adds that the drama of an auction room makes it the ideal working environment for would-be or failed actors. “That’s how I chanced upon the job,” he admits. “I was helping backstage at a theatre in the hope of entering the acting profession and very quickly realised that a lot of actors were out of work. So I took a job as a porter in an auction house.”
While that first job was unplanned, Rising quickly became fascinated with the auction world, drawn in by the tension and excitement of bidding and sales. By the time an auctioneering opportunity came up, he knew it was what he wanted to do.
From those early days, his career has taken him to the world’s top auction houses, including Sotheby’s, where £1m bids are far from unusual. Today, he works as a freelance auctioneer, overseeing a broad range of sales worldwide.
Career highlights, he says, include being reunited with a 14th-century Mamluk gilded and enamelled glass bucket, formerly known as the Rothschild Bucket, which sold in 2009 at Sotheby’s for £1.6m. After presiding over the sale, Rising was delighted to come across the bucket on show at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha during a recent trip to Qatar.
Having overseen Artscoops’ first live auction a year ago, he is equally thrilled to be presiding over the second event at Le Yacht Club Gallery on March 11th. “I’m already on a diet in preparation for the trip, that’s how much I love Lebanese food,” he jokes. “And, of course, the people are lovely too.”
Recalling last year’s sale, he says he was struck by the passion and honesty of the audience. “I felt that the people were bidding because they genuinely loved the pieces, which doesn’t always happen,” he says. “Sometimes, buyers are thinking about art primarily in investment terms or whether a piece is currently fashionable.”
As to just what an auction can achieve, perhaps Rising’s anecdote of a charity event at which a flight in the back seat of an RAF Red Arrows aircraft was up for grabs best sums this up.
“The organisers called me up somewhat apologetically to say they’d had to put a reserve of £15,000 on the Lot and they clearly weren’t expecting it to be met,” he says. “But when the Lot came up, we had 25 minutes of bidding, with the flight eventually going for £1.5m.”
As Rising points out, “You don’t need hundreds of people in a room to get a good price, just two bidders who both really want whatever’s up for sale. It’s all part of the drama and beauty of an auction.”