Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult

Richard Polsky, whose book I Bought Andy Warhol I thoroughly enjoyed and who writes regularly for artnet.com on the art market, has posted two columns recently (one, two) designed to help collectors navigate the current climate. While I appreciate his advice overall and recognize the reality of the few items I find objectionable, it is hard to imagine Mr. Polsky offering a couple of his suggestions if he were running a brick-and-mortar space himself, as he used to. Indeed, for the benefit of new collectors who may not have been around long enough to become as jaded about it all as apparently Richard has, I thought I'd express a bit of counter-opinion and in particular explain why two of Mr. Polsky's recommendations are paradoxical.

In the second column he suggests both, that a collector ingratiate themselves with the right dealers:
Buy the program. Imagine if you had bought one work from every show at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery in Los Angeles during the late 1980s. You would have ended up with a Robert Gober (and a sink, no less), a John Chamberlain, an Eric Fischl, and a Robert Ryman. Ingratiate yourself with a dealer who has picked winners in past eras, such as Paula Cooper, or more recently David Zwirner, James Cohan, Adam Baumgold and Zach Feuer, and watch your art portfolio soar.
AND that they consider going around a dealer to buy directly from an artist's studio:
Buy directly from an artist’s studio. Some artists are extremely loyal to their dealers. Then there are those. . . . If you choose to work with an artist who sells direct, be aware that most of them like to be paid in cash. You’d be shocked at some of the big names who will bend the rules to pick up spending money for vacations, greens fees and fancy restaurants. Remember, I’m not advocating that you do anything illegal. Just be cool about it so neither the artist or his dealer are embarrassed. Under certain circumstances, some dealers are willing to look the other way when an artist makes deals on the side, such as Andy Warhol’s arrangement with Leo Castelli.
"Just be cool about it"?

In case it's not obvious, in the current climate, when galleries are closing left and right, there is nothing at all
cool about cutting a dealer out of a sale. To borrow a phrase from the hysterical new film "In the Loop"...things right now are not "easy, peasy, lemon squeezy" for art dealers...rather they are "difficult, difficult, lemon difficult." Mr. Polsky should be embarrassed to offer such advice under the current economic circumstances.

For new collectors who'll think I'm just biased about this, let me say, first, you're right...I am...my team and I work our asses off and don't appreciate people encouraging collectors to think it's cool to rip us off, and second, many of the world's top collectors do NOT build their collections through such methods. In fact, a collector who has been consistently ranked in the top 200 collectors in the world, who never sells any of the work in the collection, agreed to be interviewed for my book and was crystal clear on the subject:
"No real artist should ever sell out of his studio unless he has no gallery. No real collector should ever encourage an artist to do it either. Galleries do a lot for their artists, and artists should respect their relationship."
So while I would agree with some of what Mr. Polsky suggests (and quibble with other bits of it), his advice on ingratiating yourself with the right dealers will indeed become much more difficult, if not impossible, for you if you're known to buy directly from their artists' studios. Don't assume that whatever deal Leo worked out with Andy is easy for other dealers to do in this climate.

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63 Comments:

Blogger zipthwung said...

Well I;m a believer in ecological thinking, so no, bad. But also, many artists don;t have galleries, so buying from a studio sounds like a great (though more time consuming and riskier) alternative to paying someone to curate your tastes.

But doesn't the art world love risk?
Award prestige value for the collector/adventurer?

Whaddyathink about the gallery that opened its doors to the first twenty that showed up each weekend?

$20*20*4 = $1600
covers sandwiches from bottino and office supplies.

Then you take 20% of sales

One person sold 10g in a weekend.

2g*4 = 8g

might cover rent?

The person who sells the most gets a show.

My take is that artists might have someone buy their work to get the top artist show. I think this happens a lot (like hiring a PR agent to get you into a magazine).

I'm not saying the top sellers in this scheme are doing this, but it's not beyond the pale.

Front loading your audience with friends is a time honored practice in music, art and theater. What is deeply disturbing is the idea that a Chelsea gallery would lower itself to first come first serve and "pray and spray" buying as a curatorial concept.

What next? Street fairs where just anybody can put up their art? Macrame? Tie Dye? Crocheting? Whirlygigs? Wind socks? Jars of clover honey? Sopresata? Prosecco?
Stella Artois?

7/28/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ED-

As touchy a subject as this is for you. As an artist, I tend to side with the interests of artists. So, if an artist can make a sale of a work which was not shown in your gallery then by all means they should be allowed and encouraged to do it.

Exclusivity agreements are a bogus ownership mechanism which galleries hang over artist's heads.
Just because an artist is represented by a gallery, should not mean taht they are entitled to making a cut off of everything they sell.

I admire and respect the work that galleries do for artists, but due to that fact that a gallery supports artists in such a limited range (1 solo show a year if lucky) artist should be allowed to make a sale of their owm if the opportunity presents itself.

I don't think Mr Polsky put it in quite the right way, but I think he raises an interesting question. Maybe this discussion warrants further interest in some ethical guidelines being established among participants in teh art market.

---Rev

7/28/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Rev,

The context of the situation was clear in that Polsky is encouraging collectors to go around a dealer, rather than through that dealer, to buy the work of artists they know are represented by that dealer and save money by intentionally cutting the dealer out. This shows a total lack of respect for the work a dealer does, and is independent of collectors who knew artists before representation or other such situations..

How often an artist has a show is irrelevant to this situation if that gallery is willing to exhibit their new work in their office or take collectors on studio visits or send out jpegs of new work or take the work to art fairs or even just keep the artists' work on the website up to date. They are still promoting that artist, year round.

I'll be direct: my artists send the people who approach them about buying work through me. I respect them for it, I try to work hard for them, and I believe we'll all benefit mutually from it as time goes on. If an artist isn't interested in that relationship, they're not right for our gallery.

I'd point you (or other artists who feel as you do) to this post on what it costs to promote an unknown artist. It's important in my opinion that artists understand what it costs to keep a gallery running, understand that their dealer may not cover their costs in any given exhibition for that artist (especially now), and understand that should that gallery go out of business because each of its artist is only siding with their own interests and making whatever deals they can for themselves, such artists will find themselves unrepresented again.

But I tell you what. You do what your conscience tells you is the right approach. Just be sure and let any potential dealer know BEFORE they offer you representation that you intend to sell to their collectors behind their backs. OK? The rest will sort itself out.

7/28/2009 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any artist selling work out of the studio for less than market price (ie what the gallery is selling the work for) would seriously jeopardize their market.

Not a professionally smart thing to do if you value your work, and the the work the gallery does for you, that you pay for with their cut.

But, an artist should be able to sell work out of the studio. Just don't ever sell it for less than market value. ITs sleazy of anyone trying to take advantage by buying the work for less than what it sells for in the gallery. ONce the sale is made, less whatever discount or special consideration has been made, then the gallery should also get a cut, that would only be fair.

7/28/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"The notion that a crash is good for critics or art, and damn the commercial side all to hell, is an infantile response to the complex interdependency of the system, in my opinion. He wants something new, anything new, but won't offer what that should be or why it's better."

-Edward Winkleman on David Hickey

Predatory buying sucjks.

But lets not blame the collector only!

Close the parasitic art schools that saddle students (poor artists!) with loans.

Educate artists about unscrupulous galleries (no pay to play!)

But DO organize the art world to the functions of art school and the gallery - namely, studio practice, nurturing new ideas and practical training in business as well a strong curatorial vision from within a scene - what some people call tribes or even enlightened monarchy.

This could be done in several ways - I think Third Ward is a step in the right direction - I'm not endorsing Third Ward specifically, but pouring money into community building organizations (local) rather than migratory institutions (college populations/nebulous art funds/transnational events) might create a more focused and interesting art scene over all.

The scene which galleries depend on.

Unversities are for training, not for manufacturing.

This idea of Incubators is not new - small towns build business incubators all the time (read: inexpensive gallery space).

At the root of all this of course is the collector, who needs to lead rather than follow, and the artist, who needs to fill fill their guts and then march in the army. The slash and burn mentality of the hedge funder (Goldman Sachs specifically) is wrong in the long term.

Sure there are plenty of folks making stuff on their own, but artists aren;t all good at business or organizing (try making good art and doing business well), surely the curatorial and arts administration programs are aware of this? Where are the organizers? Or is everyone an artist first?

7/28/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing about an artist selling "out the back door" s/he and the collector keeping it hush hush from the dealer: well, it won't stay a secret long. People talk. And that can damage trust.

I recall in the last big art market crash (early 90's), the assistant of a successful painter with a top notch gallery whispered about a stack of canvases that were secretly being sold direct, at substantial discount. I was sworn to confidentiality, but the art world was smaller then, and people just know. Perhaps it was the very tough market situation, the artist was strapped; but he wasn't with the gallery much longer after that. Don't know if these backdoor sales had anything to do with it, but It can't have helped.

7/28/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ED--

There is no doubt in my mind that you earn your cut of every sale that you make. Your artists are very lucky to have a dealer such as yourself acting on their behalf.

Unfortunately, not every dealer balances their intersts with those of their artists as well as you. It sometimes seems that artists must advocate for themselves and in certain instances make their own survival a priority.

In some cases, I honestly belive that a gallery has no business making a percentage off of certain sales that an artist generates themselves.

It seems that anymore it has become a privelage for an artist to be in a gallery, but dealers don't always see it as a privelage to work with the artists that they do.

I just take offense to the notion that a dealer is entitled to a percentage of all sales under any condition. In some cases I think it is approipriate for a dealer to take less--consistent 60/40-50/50 rules should not always apply in every circumstance. Aferall the actual production of the work amounts to 100/0!

---Rev

7/28/2009 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If things are bad for dealers and galleries, just imagine how bad and horrible they are for the majority of artists. Some years ago we talked about the uncomfortable idea of regulating the arts...now, it seems the bad economy (and the desperation of artists and dealers alike) is pushing the art world to consider for new set of ethical questions. It should be interesting to see how it evolves.

Pedrovel

7/28/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Mr. Polsky is a buffoon, a carnival barker seducing the rube but not the Rubells. He is the Jim Cramer of Artnet talking Mad Money to hew heights of sophistication governed by the motto "Greed is Good"

By his own admission he's a flipper, a speculator in art, and that's just fine but take him for what he is. He is not a critic or connoisseur but a valueator stalking the art world social circles.

This is not to say he's always wrong, but is is easy in hindsight to say, "if you bought one piece from every show at the Punky Gallery in 2002" you'd be rich today. The world of financial advisors is full of touts with "systems" which look good on paper but which don't work in the real world because they use hindsight, meaning one way or the other they require reading the future, and that is not presently possible.

So why does Polsky write this crap? Well, for Artnet I suppose it has some entertainment value, a diversion with morning coffee. What's that? Polsky is a private dealer not a gallerist who a person with a gallery and rent and advertising and staff to pay. So what? Let's entertain the crowd (read collectors/clients) put his name in print and make it sound like he's on their side with witty pieces of advice.

FYI, Warhol and Castelli. Warhol did a lot of portrait commissions and they were most likely sold directly out of the Factory. Warhol was smart enough (actually brilliant businesswise) to realize that it was better for Castelli to sell paintings from the Disaster Series because Castelli validated these paintings within the world of high art, increasing the demand for the commissioned portraits.

It is disingenuous to use this one extraordinary example to validate the activity (buying direct in order to avoid the gallery commission) in all other cases. Furthermore, he states Remember, I’m not advocating that you do anything illegal. Just be cool about it so neither the artist or his dealer are embarrassed. Just what could be illegal here? The artist breaking a verbal or written contract with another party? Tax evasion?

Funny thing, the person potentially getting screwed here legally is the artist, not the collector, or the gallery.

Rev said " As an artist, I tend to side with the interests of artists. So, if an artist can make a sale of a work which was not shown in your gallery then by all means they should be allowed and encouraged to do it.

Exclusivity agreements are a bogus ownership mechanism which galleries hang over artist's heads."


I disagree with the word "ownership" as it's used above. A gallery-artist relationship is more symbiotic. Why does the artist have the chance to sell the artwork at all? directly out of the studio? Is is a result of only the activities of the artist, their own promotional efforts? Who got them in the last art fair? Who bought the ad in Enquirer?

Who is going to be there to sell an artwork in the future?

This is a question of deciding what commission is is mutually acceptable in the case of an artist generated sale.

This is not a question of proving your shit doesn't stink, if an artist really thinks that, they should sever his gallery connections entirely and go it alone. Life is sweet.

7/28/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

It's ridiculous to think that artists who have worked hard to get into a New York (or any big-city) gallery would then jeopardize the relationship by selling out of their studios. It's not just unethical and disrespectful, it's stupid and self defeating.

If you're represented by a gallery, work through the gallery. (And if you're a collector who acquires work through the galleries, work with the galleries.)

To be fair, though, there are gray areas even in New York. Suppose an artist has been included in one or two group shows with a good gallery but has no formal representation with it. As a result the artist is still doing open studios and participating in shows at non-profit spaces. If there's collector interest in work that was not shown at the first gallery, I would think the artist is free and clear to proceed--particularly if the artist maintains a web presence and has been making a promotional effort.

Here's another, removed from New York (as most artists are): Suppose the gallery is Portland, Maine, and the artist lives in Portland, Oregon. The artist should be free to sell out of her studio in her region, where she is presumably working hard to build name recognition and a career.

Neither of these scenarios is on a professional par with the situation you describe, Ed, but these are the kinds of gray areas where many artists find themselves.

7/28/2009 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why has this conversation stalled, just when it was getting interesting? I was expecting a great debate...

Artist, Dealer, Collector and the battle of wills.

---Delucci

7/28/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

It's not just unethical and disrespectful, it's stupid and self defeating.

Sorry, but in spite of my sympathy with the symbiotic relationship idea, there are some other factors which come into play here. The world is not black and white, it is grey-goo, no rule is always applicable except for "The artist must survive to work another day" Raw Darwinian sentiment at play here.

7/28/2009 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To be fair, though, there are gray areas even in New York.

Yes, as in most things. This is why it is very important for artists and dealers to discuss in detail what each believes representation means and to keep an open dialog to ensure new situations are discussed with mutual respect of each other's needs as they come up.

If things are bad for dealers and galleries, just imagine how bad and horrible they are for the majority of artists.

Straw man argument. How much harder does it get for artists if their gallery is forced to close? Working together to get through a recession is the best approach, not circling the wagons and protecting your little piece of the pie until it too has disappeared.

I just take offense to the notion that a dealer is entitled to a percentage of all sales under any condition.

Another straw man argument. I noted above what the clear circumstances here are.

In some cases I think it is approipriate for a dealer to take less--consistent 60/40-50/50 rules should not always apply in every circumstance.

No one is arguing any differently.

Aferall the actual production of the work amounts to 100/0!

Bullshit argument!

The "work" that leads to an artist even having a market, even achieving the name recognition that would bring the sort of collectors who seek to cut out the dealers, very often entails a wide range of very expensive things a gallery does to get an artist to that point; many, many, many hours of thankless tasks; and very often a huge leap of faith and high degree of risk on the part of the dealer. With no guarantees it will ever pay off.

You should own up to your current gallery that you don't value their work and get the hell out of there.

7/28/2009 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ok, Delucci, How was it getting interesting? What's to debate? Ethics? Aesthetics? Who's connected to who at the hip? Are artists in a symbiotic relationship with collectors too? What about sociality, does that count?

7/28/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YEA!! this is what I'm talkin' about... I love these type of exchanges. Rather than a bunch of monlogues, people are actually addressing one another and talking about seriously interesting issues.

(Nice participation by Miss Mattera and ED is sparring with Rev, George layed the smack down on Polsky and Zip is even making some sense within the context of the post... good work all!!)

YOUR BLOG IS THE BEST ED!!!
and you don't even get paid for it?

---Delucci

7/28/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Let's be real, Polsky is talking about those artists whose dealer would not even dream of letting go, not bashing in on the emerging gallery.


But overall I almost feel compassion for artists whose primary audience are these art market speculators. I want to make sure that in my art practice these people are not coming unto me.
Don't call us we'll call you.

Cedric Casp

7/28/2009 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Another point which is being ignored here is what happened to the "waiting list?" I mean, no artist in their right mind would front-run their waiting list, would they?

7/28/2009 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: Perhaps I am unethical

As a collector, I love studio visits, so I often set them up with the artist myself. In these circumstances, I'm interested in the art, not the business. I sometimes go through great lengths to contact the artist without the intervention of the gallery.

As I said, I'm interested in the art, not the mediation of a gallery. In some cases, I have purchased directly from the artist. If they wish to contact the gallery, that is entirely up to them. However, I make it clear that I want their work and I think it fair that they get the money, since it is their work and their work alone which I am interested in.

There is no doubt that galleries serve a great purpose in the careers of many artists. Nonetheless sometimes I think they operate to the financial detriment of some of the artists whom I wish to support.

Therefore, how is it wrong for me to want to go directly to the source? Afterall, as previously stated; it is the art that I am most interested in, not the BS political marketplace.

---Alienated Collector

7/28/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Weren't the famous Vogels, subject of a doting recent film, guilty of doing a lot of studio sales? (It was mainly Herb; Dorothy says she often left the room while the negotiations were taking place.) The film did portray the couple as a bit meshuginah, but it also put them forward as some of the great supporters of 20th-century art.

I have purchased work both from galleries and from artists selling direct, and in gallery situations always at the prices asked unless the dealer offered a discount. A lot of artists are offering their works direct now, whether through Etsy, Beholder, their own websites, etc. My question is: what are the ethics of buying if it's the artist who is choosing to offer his or her works direct, not the collector "going around a dealer"?

7/28/2009 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George--
you seem to be quite engaged, so I think that you might be prescribing to the notion that this conversation is interesting. No?

I just happen to like threads that generate interactive commentary as opposed to diatribes and over philosophizing.

---Delucci

7/28/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Therefore, how is it wrong for me to want to go directly to the source?

It's not. The only ethical question here would revolve around the agreements an artist has with the gallery. I don't have to say any more, the ethical issues are varied but fairly clear. If a collector writes a check to an artist for an artwork, then it is the artists responsibility to adhere to their agreements with other parties. This is outside the responsibility of the collector.

7/28/2009 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Therefore, how is it wrong for me to want to go directly to the source? Afterall, as previously stated; it is the art that I am most interested in, not the BS political marketplace.

If you really feel it's OK for the artist to insist you get invoiced through the gallery but want nothing else to do with the gallery than that, that's fine. Encouraging any artist not already willing to do so to cut their dealer out, so you can save some money, however, is not fine. It is unethical.

If you're about "the art" though, it should be noted that for many types of work it's difficult to create the kind of environment in an artist's studio that a gallery can provide. Perhaps you don't like that kind of art, but it's hard for artists making installation-based or experiential work to set aside enough space in their studios for very long at all, or re-create it when a collector is coming over, or even clear away their work space to where you can see the work in a well-lit clean space at times.

I'd also note that buying one or two works from an artist in a manner that makes them lose their gallery is not really helping that artist as much as it is merely helping yourself build a collection for less. Being about "the art" in my opinion goes hand in hand with being about what's helpful for "the artist." I personally believe many galleries are not "BS political marketplaces," but earnestly enthusiastic contexts for whom "the art" is also paramount. Maybe you're just not visiting the right galleries.

7/28/2009 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You present many good points ED. For clarification, I don't ask artists to discount their work, I simply want pay the money straight to them, as my primary interest is in supporting their work.

Seeing as how I have not worked with you before, maybe things would work quite differently with your particular approach to dealing.

I however am primarily interested in paintings and I've seen far too many galleries represent paintings as little more than commodities to be speculated upon. That approach is unethical in my eyes, so I just choose to by-pass the gallery and see what's really happening in artists the studio.

Even as I recognize myself to be a collector, I fancy myself a patron.

---Collector's reply

7/28/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

one could argue that the artists studio is more honest than the gallery space. Before the retro-trend nineties, a good collector could go into any Thrift store and pick out a gem. Now much of what is "retro" and affordable is a replica.

In the same way, replicas of art exist in many galleries. Again, a good collector can tell the difference, but how much easier is it to detect (see my "gut" link above) the small differences that differentiate a a real Vuitton from a fake when presented with the sweat shop it was manufactured in?

Or does labor count for anything these days?

Most artist earn nothing from their work, so I think it is understandable, if deplorable etiquette for artist to hoard bagels from the craft table.

Still, a good dealer might offer a small stipend, or at least a couch to sleep on, ITE. No? Les Miserables need not be tempted with the sovereighn loaf!

Morality is a luxury.

7/28/2009 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Alienated Collector says: "I'm interested in the art, not the business."

Yeah, but I'll bet you like the studio discount.

Reminds me of the call I got a while ago from a collector who said he was eager to see my sudio and process. "I like to see where it all gets made." I didn't know him--a red flag for artists, by the way--and chat, chat, chat, the truth comes out when he says, "I make it my policy to never pay retail."

Dude, go to Loehmans.

Ethics aside (and, George, yes: ethics), I don't want to have to clean up my studio every time someone wants to come calling. I don't want to deal with sales tax, checks, delivery. Cash? For all I know it could be fake. I don't take credit cards. I am not set up for business. I also don't make my own paints or build my own panels. I want to focus on what I do best.

BTW, Delucci, I haven't been called Miss in some years. I prefer Sir. (Only kidding. No title is necessary, but the inclusive M. or Ms. is OK)

7/28/2009 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Mat Gleason said...

DEALERS: If you have an artist under contract, occasionally show up at the studio unannounced with a digital camera to log the inventory. Artists will only try to get away with what they think they can get away with.

If a man not paying attention to his girlfriend, she will be looking for a new boyfriend. Why should a dealer's artists be any different?

There are too many art dealers who take 50% for doing little more than turning on the light switch. They deserve a culture of collector end-runs.

7/28/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Joanne, I don't want to have to clean up my studio every time someone wants to come calling.

LOL, people aren't real insiders unless I don't clean up the studio for them. I have a visit tonight, a first timer, so groan... But for my buds, never. I can make a mess faster than anyone since Francis Bacon -- Now see ,if I sow that seed I'll never have to clean up;-)

7/28/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got an idea, it's probably a bad one, but sometimes those can the best...should someone be willing to take the risk.

With all of the empty gallery space in Chelsea, surely there is some collective group of artists who could rent a space and provide an alternative approach to dealing. A hybridization in which the artists market the work directly.

If 12 artists shared the space, they could alternate each moth and occupy a portion as their studio, while they exhibit their work in the fron half.

This would give collectors a chance to see the studios as well as the gallery context. Of course things would have to be planned out well in advance, but if handled properly this could present a truly unique expereince.

There are some pretty interesting young artists in Brooklyn that should give this a try. Maybe a few of the artists featured in New American Paintings should band together and take over a space. Breathe some new life into the stuffy business world of Chelsea.
This could be a great revolution in dealing or a colossal mistake...whatever the case it's worth a try. I know that it would be my new favorite gallery.

---Delucci

7/28/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Delucci,

Sounds a bit like a coop gallery or something like AIR (now in Brooklyn) which has been running since the 70's (as I recall)

Also, a project like 7Eleven could be interesting as a group show venue.

7/28/2009 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

DEALERS: If you have an artist under contract, occasionally show up at the studio unannounced with a digital camera to log the inventory. Artists will only try to get away with what they think they can get away with.

...OR...just work as hard as you can for your artists, try to keep the dialog open, work to build trust, and then earn the same loyalty you hope to get in return. I suspect you'll find this much easier and more productive.

There are too many art dealers who take 50% for doing little more than turning on the light switch.

Tsk, tsk, Mat...such sloppy reasoning.

Even if all a dealer were willing to do is turn on the light...for them to actually take that 50% they still need to actually SELL the work...for them to actually SELL the work, they need to pay for the space in which they've turned on that light...they'll need to have advertised so that people know they're there and they'll need to have done a wide range of other very expensive things that facilitated convincing someone that an object they don't actually need is worth parting with serious cash to possess...something, quite frankly, that if it were as easy as flicking on a light to do, many, many, many other people would be lining up to open galleries.

It amazes me that people assume the sales happen all by themselves. If the dealer really isn't doing any work...stay with me here...then there will not be any sales to split, 50-50 or otherwise.

7/28/2009 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Mat Gleason said...

Sales by name artists happen by themselves. That is why the dealers are clamoring to poach them rather than work to break new ones.

7/28/2009 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Sales by name artists happen by themselves. That is why the dealers are clamoring to poach them rather than work to break new ones.

Am I on candid camera here?

OK, so who thinks the kind of dealer who merely flicks the light on is the kind who wins the affections of a name artist that has their pick of galleries...raise your hand?

7/28/2009 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Uh ed, did you read the NYT? Apparently the new model for sales is to have the artists out on the street selling, so there is no need for the galerist to do anything but phone the NYT and order sandwiches (roasted peppers, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella would be great right now as I am sitting outside) which you can pay an intern to do for free.

If Chelsea is so expensive why not go to the Lower East Side? Williamsburg? If this economy does anything it will metastasize Chelsea, or is that Balkanize? Vulcanize? I dunno, I just wrote another cover letter. Does anyone else think K-NYFA kind of sucks as an "arts organization"?

7/28/2009 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Mat uttered, Sales by name artists happen by themselves Which is a paraphrase of "Good art sells itself" and the famous utterance of MFA grads, "Good art will win out."

None of them are true, worse "name artists" exist because at some point in their careers someone else worked very hard to make their work visible. LA guys will remember Nick Wilder and Irving Blum working in the early days to establish a "name" for a "name artist"

Frankly I could care less, but I think it is a disservice to spread around this kind of misrepresentation for young artists who are the most likely to believe it, to their own detriment.

7/28/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will happily flick the lights on if: Sophie calle, Tara Donovan, Dana Schutz, Ahmed Alsoudani, Chuck Close, Peter Doig and Elizabeth petyon want to step on down to my gallery.

The gallery is tentatively called: You made it, so hand me your coat tails.

I am on the phone with Peyton right now!

7/28/2009 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ED
this post begs the question, have you ever had any of your former artists go around your back on a sale?

7/28/2009 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Comment from Elsewhere -

"While I'm neither an artist or a dealer, I do believe I have some insight into why this gallery closed. I'm a young (30) collector in another state and I frequently come to NYC to meet with gallerists and to purchase works for my small and humble collection. One of the artists I collect is a well known professor at Columbia and I always catch the MFA shows, to see her student's work.

This past year, one of the graduates, whom I really liked, signed to __________ and I made repeated attempts to find out what pieces were available for purchase and to set up a viewing, all to no avail. So, I gave up.. I felt very bad about the whole situation - because I really liked several of the artists they represented.

While I'm clearly 8000000 miles away from being an uber collector like the Norton family, I always acquire 4-5 solid pieces per year, I enjoy difficult to display or "challenging" pieces, and I'm a voting member on the contemporary acquisitions board at one of the Nation's top 5 modern/contemporary art museums. If the gallery had been better organized and responsive, it could have been a great relationship for all the parties involved.

Months after this, I received an email from the artist inviting me to their show (note it was from the artist and not the gallery) - needless to say I decided not to go. In retrospect, I should have just reached out directly to the artist but, at the time, I assumed they were just as indifferent as the gallery."



"_______ should do a better job with those he hires-- I came to the gallery with an appointment to see work for a possible acquisition (_________'s work).

The group making all the purchasing decisions was made up of five college students. The gallery attendants made one bad business move after another--they obviously prejudged the group and gave us dismissive attitudes the entire time we were there. My favorite was when they ushered us into a tiny (very hot) back room to watch videos without anyone there to answer the groups questions.

Meanwhile the group went on to spend their budget of $60,000 elsewhere!"

7/28/2009 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art dealers take too much and think too much of themselves. Without the artist, there's nothing for them to sell in their little boutiques. If an art dealer is doing a lot for an artist, promoting, selling, paying, etc., then the artist is loyal in most cases. Oftentimes, the art dealer uses the money from sales of an artists' works and doesn't get around to paying the artist for a year, if at all. These gallerists forget that all the money coming in is not theirs. 50% is too high. Recently, gallerists have been out sourcing their sales to consultants, and asking the artist to split the commission of the consultant on top of the gallery fee. Many artists are now often getting only 30% of the money for the sale of their works... This is obscene. This article talks about all the work that the art dealer does, sacrificing and taking risks.. what about the artist? burdened with huge student loans, trying to make enough money to eek out a meager living while believing passionately enough in what they are making to continue making it, sometimes with hardly any light at the tunnel.

Ideally an artist - gallerist relationship can be one where there is mutual respect and admiration: each doing something the other can't imagine being able to do, both grateful, both honest..

Now that galleries are closing in droves, hopefully the really dishonest galleries will be shaken down. The art market attracts a lot of thieves and shysters, just like the banking industry...

It's a wonderful thing: a professional and honest gallery. There are a FEW of them.

If they play fair, we play fair. 50 percent is a lot. Most galleries don't take on and promote artists who aren't starting to soar and pick up hype already. Gallerists find out if their collectors want to buy the work of some artist and then the galleries fight over that artist. The truth is that the artists have to make their own career first, usually. Most gallerists are parasites, just drinking and partying all the time.

7/28/2009 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I like that story anon- its got all the ingredients -pathos, mainly.

Startlingly, some smaller galleries affect the same attitudes as larger "blue chip" galleries.

Normally I am unruffled - attitude denotes insecurity, in my experience, though it can seem to verge on hostility towards "the public".

I too remember being led into a hot room as part of a class trip (emphasis on class, man) to see an artist's film - one of several long works in an opus as yet to be completed - I guess air conditioning is unnecessary to the truly devoted....well I survived, but still, air conditioning is important, even if you can't afford it - get a fan or simply warn people out of common courtesy.

Self defeating behavior is not just the province of the "crazy" artist (Don't take on artists who don't have day jobs! Don't show at galleries that don't have cash reserves!).

But all this could be solved by contracts - mom and pop handshakes don't work 100% (did they ever?)

1) Does the gallery own the sales rights to all the artists output? For how long?

2) Does the gallery keep the exclusive right to sell the work/percentage if there are no sales? For how long?

3) How much art is the artist required to make a year?

4) How much work will the gallery store or keep on consignment? Buy?

5) Is the artist required to attend the opening? The after party? For how long? Who picks up the tab?
(I know of one gallery that picked up the bar tab afterwards, where other galleries might take the artist out for pizza - this is independent of sales or net worth as far as I can tell). A great way to alienate people is to pay for some but not all of your friends drinks....or take some but not all of your friends on a trip...

6) Who pays for the announcements? Does the artist get creative control?

7) Does the artist write all the copy (press releases, statements). How much control over content does the artist get?

8) Who prices the work?

9) Does the gallery transport the work to the space? Crating?

10) Is the work insured?

11) Does the artist have a mailing list that the gallery would benefit from? Visa versa?

12) Does the artist have a bigger name than the gallery? Is that a problem?

While some of these questions might be answered pragmatically, would it hurt to have a sit own and make them explicit instead of implicit or implied? No, no it wouldn't.

7/28/2009 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Artists today have one tool at their disposal that they didn’t 10-15 years ago, and that’s the Internet. With the Internet providing a near-universal network and the formation of on-line artists’ groups like Etsy and The Beholder, as well as personal websites and blogs, artists now can sell their own work, take payment using a simple online system like PayPal, and effectively eliminate the middleman. The situation is much the same with booking flights and hotels, where the ability to do that online is cutting into travel agencies, and even with on-line banking, where that very convenient option is cutting into the postal service. It may just be that gallery closings are a possible source of greater freedom for artists to become their own businesspeople, and that the closing of galleries does not necessarily indicate the end of art collecting.

That said, I think that so long as the current system is in force, I don’t support skirting the gallerist and trying to purchase from artists who are now being represented. If the artist and gallerist have a mutually productive relationship, the gallerist is entitled to his/her share. But given some of the horror stories I keep hearing and reading about artists not being paid on time or at all, of artists not getting shows from their dealers, of artists whose work is packed up and stored in the back room without the chance for collectors to know of it, it’s understandable what some artists will resent the current system and want to break off on their own. Thanks to the Internet, they have an outlet for their work that may have been lacking only a decade ago.

7/28/2009 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art dealers take too much and think too much of themselves. [...]If they play fair, we play fair. 50 percent is a lot.

Your antagonistic disposition with regards to dealers is very offensive. You might want to consider that you do not speak for all artists, despite your contrived "us vs. them" pose.

Your personal solution to how you feel is perfectly obvious. Don't work with dealers.

7/28/2009 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Anon 07:01 :-0

Don't give up your day job.

7/29/2009 12:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Larry's right. The music business is falling down because music artists are selling on their own (limited editions during tours), to recoup on piracy which is actually servicing them in the way that their shows are sold out (as in: Huh? Nobody bought the album but everybody know us??).

Same goes for the press: they're crying that people don't buy it anymore because they read online, but consider all the money they can save from not printing paper and recoup the lows costs of online journalism with publicity and sponsors?

Visual Arts also saves from using the internet, but it needs exhibit spaces. Ultimately, it should be circulating from one exhibit space to the other. You could almost "rent an exhibit' instead selling individual objects. Maybe the world wants to see the whole series that an artist have been working on? Internet might help in developing such opportunities.



I do believe that patronage is the future art market, and it leads me to this:


Anon:
++I fancy myself a patron.

If you were a patron, you would offer the artist the chance to paint a public space (since you like painting), so everyone can profit from the artist's art and your money. Do not wave the "patron" word easily unless you can afford it.

Also, a patron might have enough money to warrant an artist's income for a good portion of their life, not just for a work or two (think DIA, a great model even though I don't agree with all their taste).




Zippy:
+++Morality is a luxury.

I agree. That's why we need more people experiencing luxury.



I also agree with George that the artist has a responsabilty for basically anything that happens to them (including following the market route). Some people know or have followed artists years before they get into a blue chip, and there is no logic that friendly relationships would cut through a dealer (the dealer should expect an artist to have relations before they sign). So it becomes a question of the curtesy of the artist to both keep their friends upfront and report the deals with their dealer. Besides, there is no major work from an artist that can pass without the dealer learning about it. But I'm waving the flag of relations that exist before a dealer comes in: sometimes it's delicate for an artist to say "from now on, you will go see that new guy I'm signed with". In that sense, indeed, blue chip are dealing artists who already have an history. The context might not be the same for an emerging artists gallery.


Hey can I say something really shocking, taboo, and provoking??
Allright... Sometimes an artist has a much more strong personality than their dealer, and it doesn't seem like the dealer is conscious about that, that with some artists
you just need to push them into the arena and they can make all the talk and the deals themselves. I don't know...I would imagine that being a dealer would require a very stong personality but the reality is not this at all. Maybe too much persona puts people off too. Maybe they prefer to deal with the comforting, gentle, not-too-casual, delicate shy guy. Maybe the collectors recognize themselves in a dealer. Both can talk about investment qualities at ease, while the artist prima donna is better left swimming in their delusions of grandeur.


Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 02:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Cas said...

++would offer the artist the
++chance to paint a public space


Oopsy.

(Works) IN or FOR, not necesseraly THE public space itself (I love frescoes but less of cartoon stret art please).

Ced

7/29/2009 02:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

@Ed: I think you have liberally taken out of context what Anon wrote.

It reads like he/she has had a bad experience with a gallery... perhaps. I can't see where it is so antagonistic, as you imply, to (all) dealers. Maybe Anon's us vs. them remark could have better been stated, but I don't see it as an all inclusive statement as you do.

7/29/2009 07:04:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

This isn't about real collectors, this is about investors who think collecting is shrewd.

May they all burn their fingers and then the rest of their extremities.

Real collectors collect because they want a collection of something - irrespective of how others happen to value it.

Those kind of collectors are still going to be around long after the global caravan decamps for Europe or the UK. They won't be paying crazy prices as much, but they will still be out there looking.

Forget the idea of trying to anticipate demand with supply, go with supply for one look.

7/29/2009 07:48:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I think one problem is the logic and reasoning behind the pricing of the artist's work and the 50/50 split... For example, if the price is the price, no matter where the work is seen and sold, then you remove the incentive to undercut the dealer. So if an artist sells out of their studio, they keep 100% but if they sell through galleries, they keep the same price point, but share the price with the dealer based on an agreed upon percentage commission.

7/29/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

The same person you attack in your previous post also wrote the following:

If an art dealer is doing a lot for an artist, promoting, selling, paying, etc., then the artist is loyal in most cases. Ideally an artist - gallerist relationship can be one where there is mutual respect and admiration: each doing something the other can't imagine being able to do, both grateful, both honest..

This is hardly an "antagonistic disposition with regards to dealers," with no shades of grey. And neither is it antagonistic to say, "If they play fair, we play fair."

Even Polsky in the original articles quoted, if one reads them in full, is hardly advocating studio sales as an exclusive norm. It is simply one approach, that could be used some of the time.

7/29/2009 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And neither is it antagonistic to say, "If they play fair, we play fair."

Framing the relationship as "us vs. them" IS antagonistic, IMO, Larry. It breeds bad blood and is wholly unnecessary, especially in this context...as Bambino would say, "What am I? Mashed potatoes in the corner?"

Furthermore, fifty percent is not "a lot" to many artists I know who've seen a few cycles in the art market, know how many more opportunities come their way because they have representation, and have some sense of what a gallery's monthly costs are to promote their work, let alone those who are mature enough to recognize that until a certain career point their work's market value is actually higher because they have representation than it would be if they didn't.

As I note in the post on the 50/50 split, until sales from an artist's work are bringing in more than it costs to promote that artist's work, the 50/50 split is IMO a good deal for them because the gallery is operating at a loss to promote them and build their market. As I've noted before, I believe that once an artist's sales are bringing in more than it costs a gallery to promote them, the split should reflect that.

This is also why I disagree with Donna that work sold out of the studio should be priced the same as work sold in the gallery. Unless you're going to offer the collector buying from your studio the same degree of on-demand service and the kinds of access to information and connections a gallery offers its clients (which is part of what they know they're paying for and virtually a 24/7 responsibility), you are overcharging them.

The same person you attack in your previous post

I need to be really clear about this...anyone who begins a comment with the notion that "Art dealers take too much and think too much of themselves," isn't someone I wish to work with or quite frankly whose opinions are important to me.

I have an immense amount of respect for the work dealers do, how much they risk financially and personally, and how much they contribute to culture in general to respond to such sentiments with anything other that total disdain and dismissal. Should Anon wish to restart on a more respectful note, I'll reconsider his/her point.

7/29/2009 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Even Polsky in the original articles quoted, if one reads them in full, is hardly advocating studio sales as an exclusive norm. It is simply one approach, that could be used some of the time.

I disagree with this too, by the way...what's stopping every collector from deciding all at once that now is the right time for this approach for them (after all there is a recession on, everyone is hurting)? As the collector I quoted above noted, "No real collector should ever encourage an artist to [sell around their dealer]." If you're in it for the long run, you'll cut off your nose to spite your face by doing so because dealers won't forget it.

To be really clear about where I stand here: Dealers earn their money and deserve their money, and even one instance of ripping them off is unethical. Good dealers will work out all manner of arrangements to help collectors get the work they want via the means they can afford. Cutting them out is wrong.

7/29/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++I have an immense amount of +++respect for the work dealers ++do, how much they risk ++financially and personally


To the degree that there is only about 20 to 40 blue chip and 90% of the dealers struggle (as much as artists, in fact), I agree.




++and how much they contribute to ++culture in general


Well...What I like less is how a dealer is forced to encourage certain artists and a thinking about art that is based on product-making and scarcity because a commercial gallery needs to build up its economy. I think these down-to-earth concepts can get in the way of what can be achieved by art and in the long run be detrimental to culture.

I sound harsh? That's only because I require my 50/50. That is, that art not participant of the art market be equally recognized for its validity. But dealer work hard to make the public (through collector force) apprehend that the art they have in the market is the truly valuable one, and in this they temporarely control over 80% of "Good Taste" as far as living artists are concerned. I say temporarely because I am convinced that some of what I witness today in spheres occuring outside the market will finally win the heart of the public some day as it does already the interest of cultural connoissors writting for deeper magazines than Artnet and Artforum.


A market is interesting to the limit that it can bring up beautiful, intricate, delicate, Fabergé Eggs. It is detrimental to the limit when collector don't see the ideas behind some art anymore, and talk about it on Artnet like superflous investments.


Cedric Caspesyan

7/29/2009 09:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Ed, how is "If they play fair, we play fair" materially different from "just work as hard as you can for your artists, try to keep the dialog open, work to build trust, and then earn the same loyalty you hope to get in return"?

But the us vs. them is a kind of chicken vs. egg argument, IMO. If both dealer and artist feel mutual trust, then there is no sense of antagonism. If one side feels mistreated or betrayed, then the us vs. them relationship starts to emerge.

But whether it's 50/50 or not, I can see where artists feel the dealer has the upper hand. It's the artist who has to submit a portfolio to the dealer and be accepted into the program or not. It's the artist who may have to wait months for payment if the dealer is unscrupulous. Etc.

More points I'd like to respond to, but no time right now. I would, however, like a reaction to a question I asked earlier, and that is whether, if an artist offers a piece via the Internet at a particular price, is there anything unethical in a collector paying that price? Is the collector obligated to research the artist's gallery relationships to see if the artist is "cutting out" a dealer?

7/29/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, how is "If they play fair, we play fair" materially different from "just work as hard as you can for your artists, try to keep the dialog open, work to build trust, and then earn the same loyalty you hope to get in return"?

The first one asserts a baseline of mistrust and antagonism, the second one a goal of mutual trust and partnership as the guiding principles. The difference is huge to my mind. The first one is doomed to fail, in my opinion. As you note, once the mistrust begins to emerge it goes downhill from there, so asserting that "if...then" condition from the start is counterproductive and whether your experience reveals this to you or not, mine says it's really quite hostile. All my alarm bells scream "run from that artist."

whether, if an artist offers a piece via the Internet at a particular price, is there anything unethical in a collector paying that price? Is the collector obligated to research the artist's gallery relationships to see if the artist is "cutting out" a dealer?

That is an entirely different thread. The topic of this thread was whether a collector should knowingly go behind a dealer's back to save money.

The rules for the situation you describe will vary, but essentially the responsibility to do the right thing in such cases falls to the artists. Like I said, my artists will send such inquiries (many of which do end up being bogus if not scams) through the gallery. If an artist doesn't do that, it's between them and their gallery. Not between their gallery and this collector.

7/29/2009 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I'm not sure where 50/50 and 60/40 originated from - seems like many galleries operating in flush times could have done as well or better than their artists with 40/60 or 30/70 - in 20/20.

Gambling?

But many galleries started out in someone's apartment, which sounds about right, right now. Poker!

I think a lot of artists are perfectly willing to take on the sales part (re the NYT article on LW) but maybe need training and know how. It's not like selling a car is it? No. But also, many artists don't have outsized personalities, what about that?

RIP Alexis Cohen - she should have been on Artstar, I would have rooted for her.

7/29/2009 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

The first one asserts a baseline of mistrust and antagonism, the second one a goal of mutual trust and partnership etc.

Actually, I can agree with that analysis. It's that "if" that makes all the difference. To turn Shakespeare upside down, much vice in "if."

7/29/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

(re the NYT article on LW)

Could you expand the last acronym?

7/29/2009 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

This discussion went off on an odd tangent. Polsky's remarks are for art speculators, regardless of how he might protest this, that's what his column is all about.

I think Ed is correct when he remarked "The first one asserts a baseline of mistrust and antagonism..." Antagonism somehow has crept into this discussion in a way which is nonproductive because it is making general unfounded assertions and applying them with a broad brush.

At the core of Ed's remarks is support for ethical behavior amongst all the participants. It is an idealistic position but the correct path to follow. It is also important to expect that ethical positions will be violated but their violation is not ammunition for a counter response.

Short version: Two "wrongs" don't make a "right."

7/29/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

before my gallery closed, i gave them 25% of any sale i made out of my studio...which was only of work which was unconsigned to the gallery and hadn't been shown there. i have some international collectors who had never even set foot in my gallery. on the other hand they spent a fortune on my career and i didn't want them to feel like they were unaware of anything or cut out of any deals.

they were happy with that arrangement and so was i.

7/29/2009 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

New York Times Article on Lions Weir Gallery.

All art is speculation.

Why show at all?

But Polsky is engaged in spectator sport where artists have a different perspective and economy - money is not the only exchange value.

But give me an example of someone you think isn't speculating in any way and I'll demolish your assumption.

7/29/2009 11:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

There is a lot more aspect to the word speculate (from latin Specere, to look at) than financial gain.

Cedric Casp

7/30/2009 02:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

This discussion went off on an odd tangent.

How do you mean?

Polsky's remarks are for art speculators, regardless of how he might protest this, that's what his column is all about.

Probably so, but EW has clearly broadened the topic into a more general comment on sales in which a collector intentionally goes around the dealer and approaches the artist directly in hopes of getting a better price.

7/30/2009 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Who watches the watchers?

Most people get good deals when no one is looking.

What is that currency called? And who calls uppon it?

7/30/2009 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I'm the same anon who upset you last week with my disparaging comments about art gallerists. I'm sorry about that, I don't know you or anything about your gallery, so it's not personal.
just thought you might like to see Jerry Saltz's current facebook heading, which I think echoes my sentiment:

"I love art dealers; the good, the bad & the very bad. Many say they’re flesh-eating zombies, but they make their own aesthetic universes, put their money where their vision is. They’re all missing a chromosome; those who don’t pay artists should spend eternity in Hell with the creators of ‘Hogan’s Heroes.” Yet, they're the mitochondria of the art world. Tell me, what you think of art dealers."

8/04/2009 10:33:00 PM  

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