Monday, July 30, 2007

Sleazebag Dealers Open Thread

File this one away in the Tough Love category.

What is a sleazebag art dealer, though? Who deserves that label?

Having begun our gallery in Williamsburg, where a majority of the spaces there are run by at least one artist, I've heard again and again artists-turned-gallerists confess to feeling very differently about the artists-dealer relationship than they had before they opened their spaces. They realize with time that running a gallery is a risky and very often thankless task and that dealers are not the only ones in the business willing to take advantage of other people. This awakening, IMO, is to be expected...walk a mile in anyone's shoes and you'll gain a new-found respect for their position.

Having said that, though, it's clear to me from the tales I hear from artists who are friends that there are some sleazebag dealers out there who seem to have forgotten that the 50% of the money they take in is not theirs. How quickly a gallery can pay an artist for a sold work may vary from time to time (cash flow problems are a never-ending bane in any small business), and each gallery has to work out with its artists what to expect in terms of payment schedules, etc. When in doubt, a frank discussion with one's dealer is always appropriate, IMO.

But those are not, to my mind, the sorts of things that deserve the label "sleazebag." Abuse of established payment schedules may lead to that being the case, but merely needing to establish some system is a reality.

What I believe warrants the label, though, is the sort of behavior that's led to the creation of a new website:
Crying Lost Art.
Almost every artist has such a story. The gallerist can't find your work; either lost it or sold it under the table, and won't negotiate a reasonable amount to cover the loss, the tragedy and the trouble. Sometimes shit happens and life goes on, other times the dealer is a sleazebag. Often artists loose considerable sums of valuable art and time. And it's very hard to fight it in court or in the press. In the end they'll always get away with it, either going bankrupt or simply by calling you a "problematic prima Dona" and letting everybody in this tiny art world that you are a risk. Just because you asked for justice. This site is for those that are not millionaires, artist that can't afford a good lawyer. This is your site, post pics of your lost work and tell your story. Maybe someday the art press will decide to push this problem so common in our profession. The artist shouldn't have to pay for a dealer’s idiocy. Artist make the dealer, is not the other way around. Please, send you stories and pics to: anonymous collaborations are welcome...
I was sent a link to this site by one of the first artists to have their work listed on the site, Pedro Velez, who is also a talented writer who wrote for a while back. I won't republish the particular charges here, as I'm not in a position to judge the situation, but I will note that I trust Pedro wouldn't have taken this step lightly.

Although I have mixed feelings about this Hall of Shame approach, I do understand the frustration many artists feel when faced with recouping funds from a dealer who isn't responsive to their appeals. To be clear, I have no respect for any dealer who would lie to an artist about what they've sold or lost. Inventory mistakes can happen without malice, but upon being asked, it's the gallery's responsibility to sort out where a work is and pay the artist pronto if it's been sold, damaged beyond repair, or cannot be located. It's entirely unacceptable for a gallery to suggest they don't know what happened to the work and try to leave it at that.

To avoid situations where both sides are sure they're right about the whereabouts of a piece (but one is obviously mistaken), even for artists who are represented by a gallery, I suggest some form of documentation trade hands each time work is taken into inventory. Either a consignment form or inventory database printout. Something. I'll be honest, we don't always do that (we do for any artist who's in a group exhibition or otherwise not represented, but tend to work less formally with those in our "stable"), but as we get busier it's clear that we will need to.

But what if you have documentation and the dealer still won't give you the work back or pay you for it? Then you're unquestionably dealing with a sleazebag, IMO. As the blurb from Crying Lost Art notes, taking a dealer to court can be costly (although you can always consult Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts or similar organizations). Also, as noted, the art world is a small place, and dealers know each other and talk (yes, we do), so if you're the only artist complaining about a particular gallery, your odds of winning your case in the court of public opinion may not be all that high.

That's why the best advice I can offer if you're faced with what you believe is a sleazebag dealer is to meet individually with other artists who have shown in that gallery and subtlety probe about their experience. If you find others in the same boat then approach them about acting together. One artist complaining about a dealer might be (mis)interpreted as a Prima Donna, but several with the same story will turn the tide and convince other artists and dealers that there's a problem there, if they go public. But approaching the dealer with plans to go public together might make that last step unnecessary. A dealer's reputation is the most valuable asset they have. If that doesn't work, then at least the funds from several artists will go a lot further in court costs than those of one.

But what if no other artists report your experience or none are willing to join forces? I guess the Hall of Shame idea might work. I'll be checking back to find out.

And now I'll turn the keyboard over to you. I'd ask that you refrain from naming names (unless you're signing your own [anonymous accusations are accepted on Crying Lost Art, but I strongly discourage them for this context]), but have you had similar experiences (from either the artist or dealer end of things) and how did you resolve them? Any advice to others faced with this situation?

Labels: open thread, sleazebag dealers


Blogger fisher6000 said...

This has happened to me. Nothing happened, the Sleazebag went bankrupt, life went on.

The problem here is that the existing power relationship makes doing anything direct about this kind of situation difficult.

It's like being a renter in NYC. Sure, there is such a thing as housing court, but the housing shortage (and therefore the balance of power) makes it impossible to use. Landlords just don't rent to people who have used housing court to sue a landlord.

This is not because landlords (or gallerists) are inherently sleazy. It's about the balance of power and minimization of risk. Dealing art is just as risky as letting a stranger live in your apartment. And just like NYC rental apartments, there are so many artists wanting representation that there is little reason to deal with an artist who has caused trouble in the past.

I think that the best way to deal with this kind of situation is to create lots of reasons for dealers to take the trouble to deal fairly with you in the future. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Create enough of your own weather and be responsible enough for yourself that the power relationship changes and you're more than just another artist. Become irreplacable.

Then use that power to do things like require a contract that meets your approval before you hand over any work, or have a meeting in which expectations for how work and checks are handled are clearly discussed.

I also think it's important to warn people about your experience with that dealer, but I think it's important to do that in a more subtle way than a website. Not because the sleazebag who stole your art doesn't totally deserve it, but because it's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

7/30/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a special place in heaven reserved for you, Edward.

I have been talking about starting the exact same blog as "Crying Lost Art", mine was to be "Empowering Artists", because so many of my artist friends and I feel so powerless in this system.

In my experience/discussion with others, a bad dealer is often considered better than no dealer, especially as the art world relies so heavily on art fairs, where artists may only gain exposure through a dealer.

People often say "just find another dealer", but I find that many dealers are always holding out a potential carrot: they are "working on that museum show for you", so you don't want to piss them off by asking for the third time about that piece that sold six months ago that "the buyer is making payments on". I often feel as though I am in a dysfunctional relationship, and it affects me the same way being in a bad personal relationship does.

I have known some sleazebag art dealers, who consistantly do not pay artists, "lose" work, etc. The best way to find out about them is to ask around, but they are always going to have artists from out of town coming to them without any knowledge of their history, just happy to find a place that will show their work.

I wish that collectors were privy to this information, some of them would be shocked about how artists are being treated.

I am off to Crying Lost Art to tell my story. Thanks again for the info, Edward.

7/30/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Fiona Ross said...

Ed, what should a gallerist do (or at least offer to do!) if artwork is significantly damaged by the gallery while it is being shown or moved?

7/30/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

I'm in the middle of a situation right now that may qualify as presleazebag, and I'd love a dealer's perspective. I'm in two galleries in the Northeast. I've shown at gallery 1, and sold there. We raised my prices after the show, and I let gallery 2 know what the price level is weeks prior to her upcoming show.

Last week gallery 2 informed me that even though she knows the prices have to be constant between the galleries she wanted to lower my prices by more than a third because I am new in her gallery. I told her I would check with gallery 1 to see if he thought my prices were too high. His response was an emphatic "NO!" (I did not tell him why I was asking until after he answered.)

While I was speaking to gallery 1, gallery 2 sold one of my paintings for about half of what it should have sold for. I still have all the paintings in my studio, so I could halt the deal from going through, but I don't want the crazy primadonna label.

What is the best, most professional course of action, from a dealer's point of view? Help?!!

7/30/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, what should a gallerist do (or at least offer to do!) if artwork is significantly damaged by the gallery while it is being shown or moved?

We once had a piece damaged in transit back from an art fair and we bought it outright from the artist, then had the artist repair it (it's now part of our collection and looks great). This was the best way in my opinion to maintain trust with this artist, but it wasn't cheap. Other dealers may have other ways to deal with this (feel free to share).

If the gallery cannot afford to buy the piece or the piece is very expensive though, the gallery should submit a claim to their insurance company to reimburse you for the damaged work. If the gallery doesn't have insurance (and you should be certain to ask that before working with a gallery and be leery, within reason, of such galleries), you might have to work out some other arrangement. In the end, you should be able to recoup what that piece would have brought you had it sold.

There are very well meaning galleries with limited budgets who would be screwed if a major piece was damaged on their watch (i.e., their insurance would skyrocket, they don't have that much insurance and couldn't afford to buy it). There can be good reasons to work out something with them (i.e., you like and otherwise trust them, the damage was clearly a regrettable accident, etc.). There can also be ways to feel better about such mishaps without bankrupting the gallery. Talk about it openly with the gallery. Stand your ground, but work out a payment schedule or something.

Art is often fragile. Things will happen. When they do, take a deep breath, stand your ground, and understand the gallery most likely feels really awful about the damage. Then work out how you're going to be compensated. Perhaps it's as simple as the gallery paying you to repair the piece or (if it's a photograph, for example) paying to reprint it, or whatever.

Do avoid making them feel that they've lost your trust, unless that's how you want them to feel. Every artist out there has damaged their own work in their studio (I've yet to meet one who hasn't). Keep how that can and will happen in mind when working through how you'll be compensated if the gallery is equally as human.

7/30/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

While I was speaking to gallery 1, gallery 2 sold one of my paintings for about half of what it should have sold for. I still have all the paintings in my studio, so I could halt the deal from going through, but I don't want the crazy primadonna label.

What is the best, most professional course of action, from a dealer's point of view? Help?!!

I haven't had that experience yet, Rich. I keep in constant contact with other galleries working with our artists and we discuss pricing on a regular basis, making sure we're on the same page. Slight variations will occur, but nothing as drastic as you experienced.

I'm hesitant to weigh in on what you should do here, as I would need a good deal more information to decide. I would suggest you ask Gallery 1 to call gallery 2 though. This is something they can and should be able to work out between the two of them. Let both know you're hesitant to let it go for the price Gallery 2 sold it for and ask them to agree on a course of action for you. This might piss off Gallery 2, but it sounds like you have more to lose by pissing off Gallery 1.

7/30/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Pedro Velez said...

I would like to thank you Ed for taking your time with this issue. I do agree that no one deserves the "sleazebag" tag and I have edited it out of the site.
I also want to make clear that this site is not run by myself alone, there are other people involved.

And I will have to agree with anonymous:

"I have been talking about starting the exact same blog as "Crying Lost Art", mine was to be "Empowering Artists", because so many of my artist friends and I feel so powerless in this system."

thanks again.

7/30/2007 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Fisher6000, you ROCK.

I have been both a responsible, struggling artist and a responsible, struggling art dealer, and Fisher's advice is right on. Low self-esteem on either side of the fence creates all kinds of problems; if someone does not behave professionally, WALK AWAY.

I don't understand the notion that 'it's better to have a bad dealer than no dealer.' Why? Working with irresponsible, unreliable people is a definite dead-end situation, and nature abhors a vacuum. By having no dealer, you are opening up space in your life for a good one to come into it.

Plus, there's the whole 'guilt by association' phenomenon. Working with known flakes can subtly taint your reputation, even if your own behavior is irreproachable. I speak from sad experience.

7/30/2007 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for opening this nice big can of worms, Ed.

As artists, we can do much to protect ourselves by producing an inventory sheet—ideally one with small pics, like an exhibition checklist—signing and dating it and having the dealer sign it too. A copy for you, a copy for the dealer. Since most of us work without contracts, this is a basic contract. If you work with more than one dealer, the visual inventory lets you know what dealer has what work, and when it was delivered (and accepted by the dealer). It lets the dealer know what work of yours s/he has. And if you stay in regular contact with your dealer, you’ll know which work has sold.

That said, the problems I’ve had have not been with inventory but with a few dealers who take forever to pay. I don’t want to get to the point where I feel like a collection agency working on my own behalf. It’s hard enough to make the work; I don't want to have to be reduced to begging for payment. Ed is right: have a conversation with your dealer to understand what her/his payment schedule is. Immediately is perfect for me, but I understand that gallery bills may only get paid once a month, so 30 is acceptable. Stretching it into 60 or 90 days is not. I’m not a vendor delivering widgets on an industrial payment plan. Sometimes a dealer, usually a small, struggling dealer, will say, “I’m waiting to get paid by the collector.” If that’s true, s/he cannot continue to sell to that late-paying collector, or s/he must have a serious conversation with the collector to make clear that the collector’s $10,000 mad money translates into an artist’s health insurance, mortgage payment and business expenses. Sometimes we artists have to take a stand: at the very least, we don’t want our work to be sold to that collector any more. At the very worst, we cannot continue to show through that dealer.

7/30/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Ed, I have to echo Anon's remark about a special spot in heaven for you! Thank you for your advice. Gallery 1 is the bigger and better gallery, and if I have to anger someone it should be the person whose actions are questionable.

Another factor -- for good or bad -- is the painting sold by gallery 2 is similar in size and subject to the highest-priced painting of mine in gallery 1, so there's a close, obvious comparison.

I'm off to talk to gallery 1. Thanks again!

7/30/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Special spot in heaven hehe :-O

We love you long time :)

7/30/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If that’s true, s/he cannot continue to sell to that late-paying collector, or s/he must have a serious conversation with the collector to make clear that the collector’s $10,000 mad money translates into an artist’s health insurance, mortgage payment and business expenses. Sometimes we artists have to take a stand: at the very least, we don’t want our work to be sold to that collector any more. At the very worst, we cannot continue to show through that dealer.

Joanne, that strikes me as a tad bit rash actually. There are very good collectors who you want to collect your work who buy so much art they pay galleries on a 30-day or more schedule. There's very little the gallery can do about that (i.e., they don't want to lose that business and you as an artist should want to be in some of those collections). I'm pretty up front with such information with our artists when a collector, for whatever reason, takes a while to pay (i.e., I tell them this person will likely take a while to pay...that's the point at which they can back out of a sale if they want [not down the road], but they should consider being patient in most instances). It's not at all practical to push such collectors sometimes, and if (as we do) the gallery holds onto the work until it's paid for in full, I'm not sure how the artist is anymore disadvantaged than if the work was sitting in inventory. For work that would otherwise have sold to someone else, that's another matter. Galleries can usually use that information to prod collectors to pay more quickly, but again, doing so can backfire and is sometimes not worth it.

In other words, being paid on time is your right, but dictating terms to important collectors can hurt your market (like dealers, collectors talk with one another).

I understand the dread and lost studio time having to get on your dealer about payment represents. I'm not entirely guiltless in that regard, though (bills add up, fairs want their money way ahead of time, etc, etc.), and so I'm sympathetic to both sides. As always, open communication is the best avenue here.

I would like to thank you Ed for taking your time with this issue.

You're entirely welcome Pedro...I hope this situation works itself out quickly for you. e_

Bambino...I have just two words for you: be have.

7/30/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Pedro Velez said...

I don't really want to comment so much yet because this site is on development as we speak but...

1. CLA is not a site against dealers. I've had great experiences with dealers. I believe in the "system and the art market."

2. I believe that the CLA will have a positive outcome, mostly with the development of open forums and discussions just like this one. Specially for younger artist.

3. I still collaborate with Artnet and other magazines. Mostly about the Puerto Rico art scene.

7/30/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a mid-career artist who's taken a road somewhat less traveled, and shows primarily outside new york. . . it's sometimes better to just get the work out there, usually early in one's career, and especially if the chances increase exposure to the work. lost works are horrendous to think about, but sometimes that's just the cost of doing biz. maintain a scrupulous archive of images. this is much, much easier to do now than it was in the past. chalk it up lost works to simple experience, neither good or bad, but just that, experience, and move on. worry about larger issues later, when it matters more and the financial value involved is much greater. big picture remains, get the work seen. if the quality is high enough, people will remember it regardless of what happens with shady dealers and shitty circumstances.

7/30/2007 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Ed, for your considered response. Of course, there are shades of gray here, and you;re right to pointout the rashness of my reaction. Actually, I'm very patient with the emerging collector who needs to pay in a couple of installments.

But the folks with the big bucks who operate in total disregard for the artist are whom I'm talking about. It's when a 30-day plan stretches into six months or more. And it's not because they don't have the money but because the sum, whether $1000 or $20,000 is so insignificant to them that they'll get to it when they get to it. That cavalier attitude toward money has a very big effect on the folks at the other end of the financial food chain.

In a related story, I work with a dealer who has a client who routinely asks for a 30% "courtesy." "Sharpen your pencil," he tells this dealer."I'm coming in," The guy is a billionaire, for chrissakes. Acquiring art is a sport. This wonderful dealer reminds him (repeatedly) that the the "game" he's playing impacts the ability of the artists to meet their basic expenses and won't capitulate to that kind of discount.

"But it's no fun if I can't bargain for the best possible price," says the collector. That's the attitude I'm talking about, whether it's about timely payment or chiseling the retail price to satisfy a Monopoly mentality. (Bear with me; this is this is my particular bugaboo. Well, one of several.)

7/30/2007 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's when a 30-day plan stretches into six months or more.

Oh. No, that's totally unacceptable. It's fair at that point (or well before then) to let the collector know you're gonna sell that work to someone else.

I've never had a collector take more than 6 weeks to pay, but I have waited that long. In the end, it's not a "game" per se, but it is and should be fun for the collector. There are ways to make even reminding them to pay enjoyable, though...once it stops being enjoyable (i.e., and enters the realm of nagging), you can be sure they'll move on. Patience is paramount. As one collector reminded me recently, she doesn't "need" to buy art.

7/30/2007 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard about a site called
It launched 1/2007

7/30/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Poppycock! Collectors need art like heroin. I know I do.

Walk a mile in my shoes - you dont like it you'll have my shoes and be a mile away. Thats a good one right? I can tell that one while railing lines in the back room. Lets go! Baby needs a new pair of shoes!

"Never let them see you sweat", as Nero once said at a dinner party. Or maybe that was George Washington. Makes a great tag line though. I'll put it on a painting for 2gs no problem - I like to keep the prices low and the quality lower.

The thing about reputation seems real - high school that is. I allways found it ludicrous that one should be judged by the company you keep. You can't pick your relatives but sometimes your friends are whoever has the cash. And we love cash!

7/30/2007 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Edward,

I worked without a dealer for 20 years, got lots of great reviews, shows, and sales on my own, but my career was not where I thought it should be, given the feedback I was getting. I had sent packets to some really good dealers and none were interested. A dealer new to the scene finally approached me. I liked the work they showed in their gallery, did not like the fact that the owner was an artist who showed his/her own work as well, but I thought, “better than nothing, this will get me started”. Almost immediately, evidence began mounting from various sources that, while the dealer might not be malevolent, he/she might be inexperienced, flaky, and/or not taking his/her medication.

The dealer put me in my first (minor) art fair, showing a painting that marked a major change in direction for my work. I did an additional press release about the piece that garnered unprecedented media coverage… over 200 newspapers around the world, all the major and minor TV networks… the kind of attention every artist dreams of. The dealer jacked up the price of the painting, the painting got bid up in excess of the asking price (also covered by the media), then, after the fair closed, the deal fell through. For about two weeks, it was the easiest painting in the world to sell, but the dealer was inexperienced and did not know what to do. They were ashamed and told me not to tell anyone. The painting is still sitting in their gallery 8 months later.

Six months ago, a collector emailed me, telling me how happy he was with another painting he just purchased through the gallery. The gallery never mentioned it, and after a month, I asked the gallery about the painting, and they said he was paying in installments, and they would send the money when he had completed payment. I have mentioned it several times since, and I am ignored. The dealer is not very direct in speaking about anything. My established friends in the art world told me that I should leave the gallery, but my dealer has connections to a museum, and, to appease me, told me he/she was working on a show at the museum during a major art fair. If the museum show happens, it would finally put me on the map after two decades of hard work. I am not in position to look for additional/substitute representation as my work takes a long time to make, and I have to get a few more new paintings under my belt so I have a complete body of work in this new direction. I feel as though if I had a “real” dealer when all of this happened, I would be in a very different place right now. I feel as though the opportunity of a lifetime occurred, and now the opportunity has passed, and it has become a fiasco because I trusted the wrong people.

I have lost many nights of sleep over this, and I am just trying to forget about it until I hear about the museum show, and concentrate on the new work.

Edward , your $100 therapist fee is in the mail.

7/30/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are all business questions.

What to do?

Somehow artists think that what they do has nothing to do with business... . On the contrary. Blame the academics (art) and universities (art schools) that are teaching only leftist politics and shit passing as theory most of the time. Blame the artists that every time you try to talk the business aspects of art run from you like from the plague.

Invoices. Consignment agreements. Show lists. Labels. Photos. Letters. Emails. Insurance. Inventories. Art law. All of these are very important. You have and need to do and keep copies of all of them.

The problem is most artists think they should have a personal relationship with a(their) dealer and that is wrong. You don't have to love your dealer. Never love a dealer. IT IS A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP. Period.

Artist need to grow up once and for all. These same questions are answered in many books and manuals.

Report your work as stolen. Go to the police. Then find one of the many list of stolen artworks. Unless you report it you don't have any rights in the future over that art work. Tell the dealer you are going to do that. Give him 30 day from the day you write THAT letter to this person that screwed you. Period. Wait and see.

Unless you start behaving like an adult, "TROUBLE" is going to follow you everywhere.

Grow up people. The art world is like every other world.

7/30/2007 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The problem is most artists think they should have a personal relationship with a(their) dealer and that is wrong. You don't have to love your dealer. Never love a dealer. IT IS A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP. Period.

well, there is that end of the spectrum on thoughts on this...

I wouldn't advocate starting from such an aggressively self-protective point, myself, but I do think remembering that things can evolve to the point that you might have to get that harsh (i.e., and therefore artists should document things to protect themselves) is important. But if you start there, you might miss out on some of the good things the right dealer/artist relationship can bring...not that you have to want those things, but just know certain dealers do and not being open to them will decrease their desire to work with you. Other dealers are all business. Find the match that's right for you.

None of this means you cannot have a very good business relationship with your dealer AND a strong friendship, though. As with any business relationship, certain practices serve to keep everyone doing the things that enable the degree of trust that enable friendships to develop.

7/30/2007 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous TRISTAN said...

"These are all business questions."

Sometimes the artists are the adults and some dealers are the ones acting like irresponsible children. How many times have some of you asked your dealer for a consingment letter and he gives you the roll of the eyes... declaring you a problematic artist right there....

Good dealers give you consingment letters, serious dealers don't want you to be their child (or their father!) Good dealers want to have a business relationship and make lots of money.

Dealers are an important part of the equation. I did the Grand tour this Summer and the most satisfying componet was for sure Basel (well, maybe Artempo....).

Artists don't like courts and lawsuits...Although the world is crazy about lawsuits, artists and courts don't generally mix. If it is the last resort, yeah, artist should go public, sue or get some kind of release.

I had a problem with a dealer like the one discussed here, I didn't even have a consingment letter. I told the dealer I was going public and I got a consingmentt letter and a written compromise to get paid by a specific date. The date passed , invoices followed and the dealer didn't pay. Some mention in the press and a letter from a lawyer made him pay in the end. Actually when I remember the whole thing I would have prefered to slap the bastard. It was not a mony issue for was more about old fashioned respect.

A consingment letter is very important. If a dealer does not want to give you a consignemt letter don't give him your artwork. As simple as that.
Self-abandon and trust don't mix very well between artists and dealers.

On the other hand, I am surprised why always in matters like this, artist are so politicaly correct, so mature... What happened to some good, old fashioned, violent artistic actions???
How would someone like Artaud or Buñuel react to something like this???

7/30/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I work with several dealers. Some I'm very close to--I consider them friends; we've even gone on vacation together--with others I enjoy a warm and respectful professional relationship. In no instance to I keep anyone at arm's length. I like and trust them all (though I still maintain inventory lists) or I wouldn't work with them. Life is too short for sleazebag relationships of any sort. I'm not being a Pollyanna; I've turned down relationships because the chemistry was wrong.

If you feel you must have only a chilly, distrustful relationship with your dealer, that's your choice. My feeling is that we're all in this together. The artist as enemy is an outdated concept.

But if it's a bad relationship, as with any bad relationship, get out as quickly and as bloodlessly as possible.

7/30/2007 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did a "strictly business" business relationship get interpreted as cold and aggressively self protective? I don't want to be friends with my dealer, but its not because I'm either cold or a.s.p.--more like its just because I don't want to be their friend--its a BUSINESS relationship. I'm not friends with everyone II do business with and neither are most people.

7/30/2007 07:24:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

My experiences with galleries have been uniformly positive. When I was working at White Columns in the early 90s, though, there was a male collector who would "buy" art and not pay for six to nine months. We had to BEG him to pay. I sent him literally eight letters "reminding" him to pay. Since he bragged he spent a quarter of a million dollars per year on art, I wonder if everyone had to beg for the money.

A good gallery is worth its weight in gold. Rich people all too often like to fuck with poorer people.

7/30/2007 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Even major U.S. dealers do this stuff. A friend of mine showed with a Major LA dealer 5 yrs ago and has never been paid. She doesnt live in the U.S and doesnt know what to do about it.

7/30/2007 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you guys noticed that the CLA is not so much about naming the names of corrupt dealers, is more about mourning lost pieces, like a wake... or even a sort of divorce party.

7/30/2007 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Report your work as stolen. Go to the police. Then find one of the many list of stolen artworks. Unless you report it you don't have any rights in the future over that art work. Tell the dealer you are going to do that. Give him 30 day from the day you write THAT letter to this person that screwed you. Period. Wait and see.

Unless you start behaving like an adult, "TROUBLE" is going to follow you everywhere.

Actually, I don't think that this is adult or businesslike behavior.

Business is all about trust. People who act so aggressively self-protective show me that they do not trust me--but more important, they also display that they are very aware of every possible angle from which they can screw me. I run from business transactions that feel like this.

It is important, though, to think about everything in terms of keeping your own integrity and taking care of yourself. You can do this by having a conversation with your dealer instead of the police...

7/30/2007 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I feel as though the opportunity of a lifetime occurred, and now the opportunity has passed, and it has become a fiasco because I trusted the wrong people.

I am really, really sorry this happened to you, anon. What I see in your story is that YOU did an AWESOME job--YOU did the art, YOU got yourself the publicity, YOU have managed your own career incredibly well, without the kind of back-up that a lot of artists get. You did not screw up by trusting the wrong people; you gave someone the benefit of the doubt, and they just weren't competent or experienced enough to back you up properly.

I think it would be inappropriate and patronizing of me to give you any advice. I've been in similar situations, and have had to let go of expectations and regrets, but it can take a long, long time. I just wanted to say that it sounds like you're doing everything as well as you possibly can by focusing on the new work, and that I feel for you.

7/30/2007 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Oh, and business is not incompatible with trust and friendship, but they're not the same things. I sign contracts with friends in a business situation, to insure that we remain friends for the duration of the transaction, and ever afterward.

And trust isn't something you bestow; it has to be earned. But you have to be willing to allow people a chance to earn it.

7/30/2007 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous tristan said...

A conversation with your dealer...

A conversation with your dealer is great when your dealer is a serious and honest business person. This is all about having a problem with a dishonest dealer. Not all dealers are dishonest. If talking with a dealer solved the problem, there would not be a problem.

CLA is obviously about a reality that happens after you have spoken with your dealer, and he /she does not take upon his/her responsibilities to pay for the money that he/she ows you because he/she lost or destroyed your artwork.

CLA is not about crying because you had a bad relationship with a dealer, it seems to be about exposing a problem that is extremely abusive, apparently happens all the time and almost everybody reacts to it very lightly. THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE CASE. If someone smashes your car or your house or brakes"by accident" your child's arm, of course you are first going to have a talk with the person, but if after that talk that person acts like if nothing serious has happened, then it requires a tougher reaction from your part.

7/30/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tristan is right.

7/30/2007 09:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You. Some of you understand.

I repeat: Grow up.

You do NOT drop off an artwork in a gallery without somebody signing YOUR (studio inventory )receipt (photo part of the document) at the drop off moment. Period. No ifs or buts. (As a matter of fact, for insurance purposes, yours and the gallery's, this the best proof, you jump to the front of the line in case of any claims. Most galleries are under-insured.)

Your work is labeled in the back?

You have to learn to walk away from a (bad) dealer or any situation.

7/30/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had good and bad dealers- one sleazeball in NYC who wanted $5000 up front to show and I gave it to her- I never got the show but I gave her 5 pieces of my work that I never saw again- OUCH! I worked with two other brand new dealers- one in Boston the other in VT- both were ok but the prices were too low and it was killing me to sell my work so cheap and I pulled out- I have doubled my prices promoting my work and finding collectors on my own and through other artists and selling directly out of my studio- but I still want a gallery- now a friend of mine has opened up a gallery in NYC- so we will see how it goes...

7/30/2007 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, thanks for this post. Nice way to wake up a sleepy summer art crowd.

Until recently, i worked for a sleazebag dealer on the UES. I was there for a number of years and finally left because the owner wasn't paying living artists, estates or dealers in an either respectable or consistent manner.

It is generally assumed that the arts and antiquities market is the largest unregulated market in the world. With that free flow of capital comes a lot of bottom feeders. Or it certainly attracts that behavior.

As to advice to others and in agreement with much that has been said before: your relationship with the gallery is business. Treat it as such. Paperwork is only as good as the paper it's printed on. If you're not willing to push back against a thieving dealer then a paper trail won't do much more than keep your warm winter fire as bitter as possible.

The two most effective tools against people like the ones i used to work with were: to be noisy and underfoot as much as possible. most people and institutions give up fairly easily. Be the problem and they will pay you your money not because they owe you but because they want to get rid of you. Secondly, insist on frequent and if possible quarterly accounting. By that i mean not only a invoice of where and at what price merchandise is accounted for but also either you or your assistant goes to the warehouse and verifies that things are where they say they are.

I'm afraid to say that sleazebag dealers are likely to continue.

7/31/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I see a ton of great stories on this comment section, why don't you post them at the CLA? Are artist really that afraid? Maybe that's the problem, artist don't take action, we are all talk. And those sleazeballs know it. I encourage artist to make use of the CLA.

7/31/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CLA is not easy to post on, the "badgalleries" site is a bit more direct.

7/31/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

The democratizing power of the internet is only beginning and starting to show itself already.
Thanks for posting the link, Ed.

7/31/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The CLA is not easy to post on, the "badgalleries" site is a bit more direct."

1.Yes its easy, just send the info to

2. The more the better, CLA or Badgalleries.

7/31/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

And trust isn't something you bestow; it has to be earned. But you have to be willing to allow people a chance to earn it.

I think this is true with friends too. I don't understand the friends/not friends thing.

7/31/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pretty Lady.

I have a friend who I thought "had it made". She is an established artist and shows with a very well-known NY gallery. She has been with them for over a decade, the gallery has made lots of money from her and she is still very productive & interesting, but she has been treated badly for a while now and it is to the point where he does not give her the shows he promised, often does not return her calls, etc. She is in her 50's and afraid she is too old to make a move, and is afraid to confront the gallery owner about it.

When you have invested so many years into your career, the thought of "disappearing" from the art world if you leave a gallery is terrifying. I know there are DIYers, (I was one for most of my life), but a whole new level opened up when I gained entree through a gallery to an art fair, and so many people were exposed to my work.

7/31/2007 09:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a qestion...Is it legit/moral or ethical to return artwork to the gallery, not the artist, after giving a deposit and being sole owner of the piece for over a year? The collector has been quoted on the press saying that's his piece. Let's say the work goes to an art fair as a project and the response is not to the liking of the collector. Can he return it just like that? Does the piece goes down in value after an act like that? Should the artist be informed of this "strange" transaction before it happens? When the piece has traveled, Who should cover the shipping costs? The gallery, the owner, the artist?

very complicated but it has happened...that's the reason I ask. It;s very tricky.

7/31/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anybody has an answer for this question?

8/06/2007 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Hans Engel said...

Please visit to see our stories and the effect of collective knowledge and collective action. It is certainly my view that the internet is the great equaliser in situations like this and the more we artists talk to each other the more power we will have. Keep up the good work.

8/08/2007 10:05:00 AM  

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