Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: Or, Who Should Pay the "Droit de Suite"?

I'll go out on a limb here and support the calls from certain quarters for a ban on selling artwork by any living artist at the auction houses. There, I've said it. In fact, one such declaration I've heard recently suggested no work by an artist should appear at auction until after a number of years past their death. That seems an appropriate measure to me. I don't expect folks in other quarters to agree with me on that, though, but I had to frame the following with that announcement. Again, not that I expect many people to pay such a notion much attention.

What I think we will see more and more of a heated debate over, though, is already causing a stir in France. The Art Newspaper explains:
The dispute between Christie’s and French art market players over the thorny issue of “droit de suite” is one of the first challenges facing France’s new minister for culture, Frédéric Mitterrand. Droit de suite is a royalty payable to artists or their heirs each time a work is resold during the artist’s lifetime and for 70 years following their death. In France this tax is usually calculable by percentage rates between 0.25% and 4%—of which the maximum amount on any work of art is €12,500—payable by the seller. Christie’s has enraged other auction houses and galleries by imposing this cost on buyers.
As the article notes, the auctions houses already impose the droit de suite costs on the buyers in London. Here, for example is what the auction house Phillips de Pury lets London buyers know they should expect for work where the droit de suite law is applicable:
The purchase of lots marked with the following symbol in our catalogues will be subject to payment of the Artist’s Resale Right, which is calculated as a percentage of the hammer price as follows:

Portion of the Hammer Price (in EUR) Royalty Rate
From 1,000 to 50,000 4%
From 50,001 to 200,000 3%
From 200,001 to 350,000 1%
From 350,001 to 500,000 0.5%
Exceeding 500,000 0.25%

The Artist’s Resale Right applies where the hammer price is EUR 1,000 or more, subject to a maximum royalty per lot of EUR 12,500. Calculation of the Artist’s Resale Right will be based on the pounds sterling/euro reference exchange rate quoted on the date of the sale by the European Central Bank.
Now the philosphical rationale behind droit de suite laws is the notion that if a collector profits off the increase of value in artwork (presumably because the artist continued to work hard and grew in prestige), the artist should also see some of that. This, in and of itself, is not inconsistent with the way auction houses in London operate.

In France, though, until Christie's began imposing the cost on buyers, it was the seller who had to give part of their profits to the artist. There is an elegant egalitarianism to that approach, I must say. However, the London approach serves another important purpose:
[Patrick Bongers, president of the Art Dealers Committee] says ...“The idea is that the author of the work participates in the seller’s profit. In France, if you sell a work without making a profit, you still pay the droit de suite. This isn’t normal and needs to be harmonised with the rest of Europe.”
(If you think the work will sell without making a profit, it should be noted, you're not very likely to take it to auction either, but....) The London contemporary auctions have been doing reasonably well lately, so clearly their droit de suite approach isn't putting off too many buyers:
François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe [said...] "we wish for the droit de suite to be billed to the buyer; it is actually very difficult to persuade an American or Asian seller to entrust us with a work to be sold in France if we have to deduct the droit de suite from the proceeds of the sale. This practice of billing to the buyer is in force in England, which is the biggest European centre of auctions.”
How difficult it is for Christie's to persuade an American seller to bring something by a living artist to auction in Europe is of precious little concern to me, to be totally blunt about it. I raise the point merely to note that the London approach isn't dissuading buyers apparently. It does, however, give buyers less buying power and really screws secondary market dealers:
Georges-Philippe Vallois, vice-chairman of the Art Dealers Committee, says: “Our position, shared during a meeting organised by the ministry of culture on 19 June [still under Christine Albanel at the time]—with the Trade Union of Antique Dealers, Sotheby’s, the organisation representing French auctioneers (SYMEV), and the ADAGP (the French organisation for artists’ rights)—is that the droit de suite charge to the buyer appears to be totally contrary to the spirit of the law. Making the buyer pay the droit de suite reduces his buying potential.” Patrick Bongers, president of the Art Dealers Committee, adds: “If we, the gallerists, want to sell the work of art again [after buying it at Christie’s], it means we have to pay the droit de suite twice.”
For me the essence of the debate lies in what Vallois notes: "the droit de suite charge to the buyer appears to be totally contrary to the spirit of the law." I would have to agree with that.

For the record, though, if you resell through an artist's gallery and that gallery (as they should, in my opinion) shares the profits with the artist, then this problem goes away. The artist's share comes out of the gallery's commission. The seller sees all their profit, the artist sees their fair share, and the gallery can continue to protect the interests of their artists...everyone wins. And with that, I'll point you back to the first paragraph of this post.

Labels: art auctions, droit de suite


Anonymous Franklin said...

...everyone wins.

Except the auction houses. Last I checked, the complaint against them is that they wrest control of prices from the galleries and cause them (the prices) to fluctuate. If that's such a big problem, I don't see why the galleries refuse to raise their prices according to the auction market, unless they want to cash on on the upswing, in which case they have little reason to complain.

9/10/2009 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

That didn't come out right. It seems that the galleries could hold their prices stable or raise them only slightly in response to price spikes of their artists' work on the auction market. This would tend to depress those auction prices. If the gallery cashes in on the upswings, which in the short term is understandable, then they don't have much cause to complain about the way the auction houses do business.

9/10/2009 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't see why the galleries refuse to raise their prices according to the auction market

Because those prices rarely tell the entire story and are frequently misinterpreted by the press and other collectors in ways that can negatively impact an artist's market or a dealer-collector relationship.

Say for example a painting comes up that two institutions or collectors really want because it's the last of a series that represented a significant contribution an artist had made before deciding to cash in and merely phone the work in thereafter. If that work performs well, it might suggest to others that later work by the same artist is also worth as much. This might lead collectors unaware of why the institutions wanted that one particular piece to feel the artist's overall stock has risen and shell out major bucks for later pieces, which will very likely NOT see a similar bidding war should they come up at auction later.

Yes, an unscrupulous gallery could cash in on that and see benefits in the short run, but when those same collectors come back later angry that they overpaid (and they'll figure that out sooner or later), who are they going to blame, the auction house?

The difference in missions is everything to me: an auction house attempts to sell work for as much as possible...a gallery attempts to sell work for its appropriate value. That doesn't mean a gallery isn't constantly working to increase that value, but they put their reputation on the line in saying what that value is when they accept a check, whereas the auction house can dismiss complaints and blame the fluctuations of the market.

9/10/2009 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK...I see with your second comment that we agree.

Steady (justifiable) prices are the goal, which again is why I recommend collectors consider taking work back to an artist's gallery.

9/10/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Franklin said...

Still, I don't see how that justifies a ban on the sale of living artists at auction. I conclude that the galleries are generally complicit in the unsustainable upswings, because if they weren't, this wouldn't be much of a problem.

Too, to the extent that the upswings are caused by rushes of critical attention and museum shows, one could elect to handle artists that are not likely to receive such attention, and concentrate on selling their work to collectors instead of courting that kind of attention. This what the majority of galleries are doing anyway, I would imagine, given that a glowing writeup in the Springfield Picayune-Tribune isn't going to mean much to anyone's career. It seems like you want to handle the former kind of artist in a manner suited to the latter kind. That's sensible, but I don't see why the auction market is obliged to support you in that endeavor.

9/10/2009 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You've lost me Franklin.

There are many factors to consider and maybe we're just not seeing them all at the same time.

Let me highlight my central concerns.

First, the ban on living artists at auctions would ensure that prices rise only with the artist's input (as all prices through a gallery do) and with the whole picture being taken into account. Currently, when prices rise at auction (where in the US at least, the artist sees none of that), the artist's opinions are left out of the equation.

The flip side of course is when the artist goes to their gallery and says, "my work sold for three times at auction what we have it priced at...I want to raise it in the gallery accordingly" and that's a healthy conversation to have, perhaps, but again there is often much about why a work goes for so much at auction that isn't obvious to even the artist.

Say, the artist we imagined above, who's phoning the work in now (and how many of them who do will admit it or even recognize it), says that they want to triple the price of their new work based on one auction result. The gallery that goes along with that, knowing in this instance that the current work isn't as strong, will be willingly ripping off their collectors.

In both scenarios, what's left out is the steady raising of prices based on well-informed decisions about the artist's total market...something no one is as well versed in as their gallery.

9/10/2009 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

Well... I do disagree.

Once the work is my hands and paid for, I would do as I please and would not like to anybody dictate what, I ever would do with it. If I chose to store it, give it away or even burn it, would me my choice as a sole owner.

In can see the financial disparity between auction houses and galleries and maybe that is where the reform need to start. Owners have the priviledge to buy and enjoy the fruit of their purchases in every possible as they please.

Right now I am putting a photograph up for auction that was laying around over a year in my apt. At some point I forgot, I even had it. I think, I never liked the fact that was not signed at verso and came with one of those trendy and rather lazy labels. Now, I think, I am going to make a new owner happy, they can have it their walls and , I will be laughing all the way to the bank. What is so wrong with that?

I think a better business understanding between galleries and auction houses might provide a better solution.

9/10/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Sorry, I'm home with a head cold and probably not making enough sense.

Your first example strikes me as strange, in that it presupposes collectors who can't tell good work from phoned-in work, and dealers who can, but are trying to sell it anyway. People like that are going to cause problems in any scenario.

Let's take the second one, in which the artist's work auctions for three times what it's selling for in the gallery. The responsible dealer will raise the artist's prices slightly, sending a signal to buyers at auction that they have overpaid, maintaining a happy collector base when prices correct, and nurturing a sensible, long-term career for the artist. The irresponsible dealer will triple the prices, sell as much as he can as soon as he can, then dump the artist and find a new batch of suckers to sell art to when prices correct. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.

If the dealers, en masse, were choosing the responsible option, the auction market wouldn't have very much effect on their prices. But clearly, they're not, otherwise this wouldn't be an issue. Therefore, the short-sightedness of a large number of dealers is at fault here, not the very existence of the auction market for living artists, so calling for a ban on the latter seems misplaced.

9/10/2009 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Ed, for this post.

Ruben, you've covered the collector, the gallery, the auction house and the art. What's missing from your picture?

As an artist, I tend not to be overly concerned with what goes on in the auction-house stratosphere since it's not a place in which I live, work, show or sell. Still, to see the artist so blatantly missing from Ruben's picture brings us back to droit de suite.

Artists are not an afterthought in the art business.

9/10/2009 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the comments are focusing on a scenario that has the auction price above the gallery price.
my question is this: what happens when the auction price is below the gallery price? will the gallery and/or artist lower thier price?
i was just wondering because if one suggests that the gallery/artist should raise their prices in response to an auction price; i.e the market price, then they should be willing to lower their prices as well.
somehow i can't see that happening.

9/10/2009 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Good for you, Joanne. What you do, I do or any other painter does is to try to produce something of value - artistic value. Immediately our output passes into the hands of a gallery or auction house that value acquires another layer of meaning; that of the value of a commodity & the two are not necessarily compatible.

9/10/2009 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...


++Once the work is my hands and ++paid for, I would do as I please ++and would not like to anybody ++dictate what, I ever would do ++with it. If I chose to ++store ++it, give it away or even burn ++it, would me my choice as a sole owner.

I think it's copyrights that saved a Van Gogh from being buried in the tomb of a collector?

It's an interesting question: can a collector burn a masterpiece of art without suffering legal problems?

Some collector actually think like you, Ruben, and keep great art in vaults for years. Years. All this because they "own it". It's comparing fine art to any stupid bauble you can buy in China. And do artists really have to make art for these people to "own" it?? Most don't have a choice. Personally, I had to develop a strategy to contour that problematic.

I do regret times when collecting had not so much power over the artworld. The times of religious gothic art, or when Michelangelo was commisssioned to paint a church. Ah but, maybe the Vatican thinks "we OWN the Sixtine, we can burn it if we want!".

Cedric Casp

9/10/2009 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Thank you, Joanne.

9/11/2009 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger ruben said...

Art is a businesss and a comodity and yes, it when sold it is an investment, an object , property or just to make your walls pretty.

Artists who victimize themselves because their work becomes a property when a gallery sells their work , they shoud give it away for free or keep it to themselves.

Art and commerce is based on merely price tags and value folks and, I don't see any artist yet complaining when some big collector buys their work for a lot of money.

The artist need to work all the sentimental nonsense with the gallery, once the work is on display it becomes merchandise for sale and once is sold... is private property. That is why you pay money for it, is not a gift .

Oh and Cedar no, I don't have a vault but, I am not selfish enough to keep a work that once I purchased realized that might not be what I really wanted and that SOMEBODY else might enjoy having, That is why the auction houses works so well for me. As a sole owner it is my choice and priviledge. That is why it is my own collection purchased with my own money and, not yours.

Oh and, I will never burn a piece art, it was a figure of speech but, It will turned into more cash if, I feel I want to part with it.

As for artists Joanne , I expect good works to be created, to be adimred and purchased. This issue is the disparity of pricing and value between gallery and auction houses and who is getting a bigger piece of the cake.

Playing the victim does not cut for me. You are part of a business transaction and the artists need to lay out all the rules with the art dealer before you enter the game.

Should artists get a commission from a secondary market or auction sale?
YES would be my answer.

9/11/2009 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Ruben: "Art is a businesss and a comodity."

Yes to business, no to commodity. Art is not a commodity. A commodity is a fungible item like wheat, oil, gold, or livestock. A unique work of art is the opposite of fungible.

And that's part of the problem. As an object, a work of art may be no more than the canvas, paint, and stretcher it was made on (all commodities, and relatively inexpensive), but that's not why a work of art is valued as it is, either on initial sale or resale, through a dealership or at auction.

Then there's the other issue of whether the artist should profit be a resale of the object. The droit de suite as I understand it was enacted in France in part because Millet's descendants were living in poverty at the time one of his paintings was resold posthumously for an enormous sum. Therefore the original aim of the tax was altruistic. But clearly that is not the necessary criterion by which the tax is imposed today. Should the artist benefit from a resale, and if so, who should pay? I honestly don't know, but the same question is arising when people sell CDs and books second-hand and there are living musicians and authors.

These are complicated waters and I'm not sure if I'm making much sense of it in my own mind, but I thought the points worth bringing out.

9/11/2009 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous John said...

It just goes to show, auction houses are in it for the money, not the art. Having the buyer fork out for the droit de suite instead of the seller (which would be the logical choice I would think) just so prospective sellers are not scared away... Quite distasteful.
The droit de suite system itself I find higly laudable. Of course an artist is entitled to a share of the profit the work makes on reselling. Just think of it as comparable to performance rights for composers. You made the work and no matter where it is or who cares for it, it's still your intellectual and artistic property.
I think the attitude that once you buy a work it is yours and yours only and you can do whatever you please with it just goes to show you do not collect art for art's sake or for beauty's sake but just to have things.
For me (being a small-time collector) you do not own art, you are its custodian and have a duty to care for it as best as you can and share it with as many people as possible, through exhibitions or just proudly displaying it in your house. Not all art can be in public collections but all art should be treated as if it was. Perhaps I'm just being romantic about it... I just think art is not a commodity in the usual sense. Just as music is not a commodity, or literature, or achitecture.

I am reading the book "The Artist's Contract" by Maria Eichhorn about the contract that Seth Siegelaub made in the 1970's to get artists to benefit a bit more from resale and making sure they continue to be the rightful intellectual owner of the work. Would this still be an option? Would auction houses be able to deal with it?

9/11/2009 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedar Cheese said...

+++Art is a businesss and a ++comodity and yes, it when sold ++it is an investment, an object , ++property or just to make your ++walls pretty.

Ruben...I think you need to get out of Chelsea a bit. Have you tried Canada? We all function by art centres here. Same in France and in many other countries. Art centres are not open for you to come buy an "object". They truly don't care. They are open for you to come and have a critical experience. Some are even
privately sponsored. That is, the person with money is not looking into owning objects but into developing critical experiences. They're so rich, they don't even need to "invest". It's called patronage.

+++Art and commerce is based on merely price tags and value

As of now, yes, we are obsessed by these values. When you read art
magazines from circa a century ago, you don't see these figures
on and off each time someone mentions fine art. Fact is: people change, and their values change. If we get all poor, someone starts a religious or political movement, and values change. To me this is about the collector having the big say for now and the collector loosing that say within
20 years. I don't think it will last, "art being merely based on price tags". That's too depressing, and once too many people are depressed, things change.

Cedar Casp

(yes, doing art for free or for myself are issues I've exercised, but there's also: selling unlimited copies without ever selling the original, so the art is never "owned", just the copy is).

9/11/2009 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ruben says: "Playing the victim does not cut for me. You are part of a business transaction and the artists need to lay out all the rules with the art dealer before you enter the game."

Victimization was nowhere evident in my post to you. Visibility was the issue. Dude, you don't have art without the artist. I was acknowledging that, since you hadn't.

9/11/2009 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedar Ceese said...

I think an artist should have a certain measure of their primary audience. If in their mind, their audience is a few collectors who wish to buy and own their art, than they should accept the "game"
and remain submissive to (or manipulate) the powers of the art market.

If an artist aims to reach a larger audience, a public, be it through museums or elsewhere, than they have to pay attention to where their art goes, and be careful at where their position lies within the market.

But many artists simply sell smaller works to private collectors so they can get a reputation to sell (or sometimes, give) more important works to museums or in the public realm (public commissions). Others are simply oblivious to the issue and the least concerned. But it varies a lot, and it's a mistake to assume
all artists simply lend their art to a dealer so to develop business with any collector. The situation is much more complex. A
high-end dealer is more likely to sell to a collector who buys art for personal pride rather than investment (ie, reselling at auctions). I think pride in fine art can easily outbid money value.
An artist might work for free if it gets them on the cover of Artforum. An art career is not all about money. Not all artists do it for the money. You might be genuinely sincere in what you want to communicate (convey) or you might be doing it all out of pure vanity.

Cedric Caspes

9/11/2009 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Larry: ++the same question is arising when people sell CDs and books second-hand and there are living musicians and authors.++

Actually, I think it is more like the performing rights a composer gets whenever a piece of him/her is being played or broadcast. A composer does get commissioning money for a piece (in most cases anyway, although these sums tend to be quite modest) just as an artist gets money for the sale of a work, but every time the piece is brought anew for any audience, live or mechanical, there is a sum to be paid. I think it's only fair that artists have a similar system. The CD is not the work, merely a representation so having second hand sales is perhaps more like selling reproductions, not the real work. And, just as I think droit de suite should ideally work, the performer, or concert hall pays (the seller), not the listener (the buyer).

9/11/2009 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

Look folks...I don't engage in romantic antics from the purchasing art . Like a great piece of designed furniture, object, clothing even housing, a lot of these are also considered works of art created by artists and designers, and I do also own many of those without the whinning of its creators. The art that I buy, has the same consideration and origins...I go to the store, pay for it and I own it.

Do Yves St Laurent will ever get a commission for a dress designed in the 70's, part of the collection of the Met's Costume Collection because, some collector bought it? Channel? Mies van der Rohe?
Corbusier? NO
Is it Art ..hell yeah!

When you create art is like having a baby and putting up for adpotion.And even in this case(babies go for a lot of $$$) somebody is paying big bucks for it.

Stop romantizicing and idealizing the Art Business. It is like any other business you buy end of the story.Oh and art, it is still considered a commodity. Just ask Annie Leibovitz !

9/12/2009 12:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a general rule, I always offer the representing gallery first right of refusal on any work I choose to sell. We agree on a set time frame (usually 6 months) to make the sale. If they are unable to find a buyer for the work, they return it to me and I offer it to an auction house.

More often than not, the galleries have been unable to find buyers. However, I have never had anything I've given to an auction house fail to sell.

There are two reasons for this:

1.) The representing gallery already has a stockpile of inventory they are trying to sell. The works I offer are not as aggressively marketed as their current and growing inventory of primary work by the same artist. They stand to make more money from the primary work and therefore secondary sales are, well, secondary. (Mark Moore Gallery is the only gallery I have encountered that markets secondary as aggressively as primary....kudos to them for their acumen.)

2.) The auction houses have a much wider reach (global) and aggressively promote and market the work. And, naturally, I can set my reserve below market value to help increase the chances the work will move. No gallery does this. The only time they come close is when they make an embarassingly lowball offer to buy the work for themselves and add it to their inventory.

And as far as a moratorium on the sales of work by living artists by auction houses goes: it will be the death knell of the contemporary art market. There are far too many people currently propping up the market who love the bloodsport of the auction. Artists and gallerists can kiss their careers goodbye if this should happen.

9/12/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may not be the usual case, but too often, I have seen works reo-ffered by the dealer to us. So , if the piece does not sell via the gallery reoffer... what then?

So many pieces at auction seem to have bypassed the gallery these days, but maybe not so much as a rush to auction, but as a court of last resort.

I am not talking of works that will command stratospheric prices regardless of the economy... but of works that are more susceptible to a bad economy.

What is a good collector to do, should they need to sell the work, if a gallery cant resell it, much less new pieces by the same artist at a gallery?

Wold a gallery be willing to buy the piece at auction for later resale? If it was a stratospheric price? Or if it wasnt worth a penny.

Lots of touchy issues here, no offense meant.. and it is early and I may be rambling.

9/12/2009 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


We're not that far apart in general in our thinking about art and commerce (although I disagree about burning art being a decision only a collector is involved in, feeling that collectors of quality art have an obligation to prosperity to protect that art), but with regards to the central question of the post...who do you feel should pay the droit de suite at auction: the seller or the buyer?

Anonymous at 11:01:00 AM, I'll ask you the same question.

I'm not convinced that sales of living artists at auctions ending would be the death knell of the contemporary market either...the market has shown itself to be incredibly flexible and resourceful. It would simply evolve, in my opinion.

9/12/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure how frequently a work that a gallery cannot place will actually perform well at auction. Anonymous, you can perhaps provide some insights here. You say that artwork you took back to a gallery sometimes didn't sell, but it has never failed to sell at auction. Was the price you got at auction always equal or greater than that you consigned through the gallery?

What has me confused here (honestly) is that you say the galleries you've worked with can't place the work because they aren't motivated (they have so much other inventory). But that makes me wonder who exactly is passing up the gallery inventory to buy instead at auction, possibly at a much higher price? If it's a matter of the gallery playing favorites and only selling to other collectors, that only happens if the gallery knows they can move the work.

Something isn't quite clicking in my mind about the psychology here. Unless it boils down to collectors preferring the excitement of auction, even it means they're paying more than they otherwise would.

9/12/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward wrote: " Anonymous, you can perhaps provide some insights here. You say that artwork you took back to a gallery sometimes didn't sell, but it has never failed to sell at auction. Was the price you got at auction always equal or greater than that you consigned through the gallery?"

I write: In each of the cases, the gallery priced the work at market value with an agreed 20% discount (10% from my take, 10% from theirs) should the buyer demand it.

These were major galleries (303, Sikkema Jenkins, Sadie Coles) The works failed to sell (these were strong works by major artists). So off they went to the auction houses where I set my reserve lower than what the gallery was asking, but the estimate were in keeping or slightly lower than what the gallery had wanted the work to sell for. In all cases, the works sold. Sometimes at market prices, sometimes below. It didn't matter to me because I still took in a considerable profit over what I had originally paid.

Something that may be tough for a gallerist to fathom is the massive client base the auctions have. They also have a staff that aggressively markets the works with e-mails, phone calls, cocktail viewing receptions, lavish catalogs and websites. Galleries are slow to follow suit in this regard. Auction houses make it very, very easy to "window shop" without the commitment of having to make phone calls, set up appointments, etc.

Plus, there's always the chance that one can score a deal at auction that would secure the work at a below market price tag. There's sport in makes a collector feel more like a hunter on safari.

9/12/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Something that may be tough for a gallerist to fathom is the massive client base the auctions have. They also have a staff that aggressively markets the works with e-mails, phone calls, cocktail viewing receptions, lavish catalogs and websites. Galleries are slow to follow suit in this regard.

Not through lack of knowing it's effective, I assure you.

Then again, a gallery has a primary task that auction houses (being the opportunists they are) never have to worry about and that is somewhat incongruous with the auction house approach: presenting the art so that the critical world takes it seriously. Another thing galleries must contend with is that they are held responsible by collectors for selling the work at the appropriate price. Auction houses can sell something for astronomically more than it's actually worth and no one blames them. Added together (owing your clients value for their money and ensuring you present the work so it's taken seriously), these concerns eat into the money the galleries could otherwise spend on those highly effective lavish parties.

Long story short: without the galleries doing what they do first (contextualizing the work and betting their reputations on it), the auction houses would have precious little interest in contemporary art at all. It's in this way they strike me as parasitic and why I'd like to see living artists' work not enter into that realm. It does impact how artists view what it is they're doing and in that respect. As David Zwirner noted: "When a piece [an artist has] sold is flipped for $1.5 million at auction, they don’t get anything out of it—and they’re left standing in front of blank canvases worrying about money when that should be the last thing on their minds."

Of course, you'd have to expect me to feel that way.

9/12/2009 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are your feelings about the new "crop" of auction house shows that showcase works by lesser-known, perhaps even unexhibited artists. Phillips does this on a grand scale, especially with its upcoming 2010 shows. But even on a smaller scale, gallerists like Daniel Cooney are doing this with iGavel.

I know a gallerist has a tough job, but it sounds a little like sour grapes because someone else is making money in a game you don't feel they are entitled to.

Admittedly, the rich get richer in this game, but the poor don't become more poor. They just might not get rich. Greed and art-making need a greater divide nowadays,

9/12/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward writes: "Then again, a gallery has a primary task that auction houses (being the opportunists they are) never have to worry about and that is somewhat incongruous with the auction house approach: presenting the art so that the critical world takes it seriously."

I write:
I think that task is what non-profit, alternative spaces and museums should be concerned with. Galleries can pretend to ascend, but they can never truly do a more objective job than a museum or alternative space. Sales are sales. They get in the way of the objectivity of context and criticism.

Perhaps auctions houses should assume the role of the galleries and let the more scholarly, unsullied (by sales) exhibitions be handled by musuems? Could the sales gallery, as we currently know it, be an endangered species?

9/12/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Perhaps auctions houses should assume the role of the galleries and let the more scholarly, unsullied (by sales) exhibitions be handled by musuems?

I think this is a brilliant idea. In fact, as soon as the auction houses email me with the contact and address where all the emerging artists who want them to sell their work should write and call for studio visits, I'll publicize that information right here daily.

9/12/2009 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your response reads as snide, which is it may well be. But do not discount the expertise behind the doors of Christies, Skinner, Sothebys and Phillips. They are well-versed and extremely studied in art history and the contemporary scene. They make studio visits. And they have plenty of foot soldiers to make sure they are on the pulse.

Your beef with the auction houses is somewhat puzzling to me. Few of your artists come up at auction. In fact, with the exception of Eve Sussman, I can't recall to many whose careers are threatened by the auction houses. Certainly, you particular gallery is not feeling this pricing pressure, is it?

9/12/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

My response to your suggestion that galleries are perhaps no longer needed is tongue in cheek, yes, but it's also a recognition of the role commercial galleries play in giving emerging artists the sort of opportunities auction houses have never given them. Foot soldiers or no, the auction houses exist to make art expensive...they contribute nothing toward early contextualization which is critical for certain types of projects.

I would also argue that exhibitions in New York galleries, such as the Picasso show at Gagosian last year or the Genesis exhibition at Invisible-Exports right now are as good and important as comparable exhibitions in any museum in the country, if not more so.

As for your assertion that my opinion about this is related to the current economic situation, I'll simply ask that you consider the similar sentiments expressed in posts well preceding the downturn, such as this one.

9/12/2009 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hmmm...might be useful if the link actually worked.

9/12/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Understood. But should a gallery that has been offered first right of refusal be unable to sell, I do not think a collector who turns to an auction house as a next resort is making a misstep.

9/12/2009 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But should a gallery that has been offered first right of refusal be unable to sell, I do not think a collector who turns to an auction house as a next resort is making a misstep.

I think that's a livable compromise.

9/12/2009 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++The art that I buy, has the same consideration and origins...

The art that you buy, Ruben, and isn't it all that matters.

++Sales are sales. They get in the way of the objectivity of context and criticism.

Ever read a commercial gallery PR that goes "this artist is one of the most important of his generation?" All the darn commerce PR say this. I'm not one to plead for the disappearance of the commercial gallery, but there should be some less and more alternative means. We need a balance, a 50-50. Because as of
now, the commercial system rules and is getting in the way of great art since artists think that in
order to survive, they have to create "goods" that Ruben above will want to buy. This is both a challenge and a limitation, but the limitation is especially worrying considering the art market has ruled over fine art like never before in history. It has entirely conditioned it. It's to the point where a portion
of successful artists simply take stabs at the market so they feel they own a last handling in the irony (Damien Hirst their leader).

Cedric Casp

9/12/2009 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

I think the price should be carried by the auction house, and it should be built in in the percentage fee not add on but, as portion part of the established fee that the seller and buyer, are being charged for the work of art being put at auction.

A commission should be given to the artists if, it is alive (most of them are these days are) or to the artist's estate if he or she are deceased.That commission should come from the percentage portion split charged to the seller and the buyer payable from the auction house, not as an additional charge.

Phillips De Pury is charging a ridiculous $200.00 photo fee for a catalog and they turn around and sell the catalog for $75.00 or more.If the item at auction does not sell, you get stock with $200.00 fee no mater what.

I just went to see the solo show of photographerTracey Baran today (BTW great show) and had the same question. She died a year ago at age only 33 and her work is resonating now.

I guess when her work hits the auction market (which It will be soon),I hope, her estate gets a commission for it.

Unfortunately, The Art market like, the Real Estate market is not regulated .

I know someone that paid close to $14,000.00 for a Lisa Yuskavage Lithograph in a edition of 2 at a very glossy auction benefit to,only hoping to get is return a later date. The work was estimated between 8-15 thousand a year ago by the gallery and the auction house . Now after inquiring with several auction houses the estimate, is only between $2,500.00 and $5,000.00!

Somebody got screwed.In this case the buyer!

I think the Art market and the auction houses needs some serious regulations, not the buyers ...buyers beware.

9/12/2009 10:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Phillips will waive the photography fee if you ask. They have never charged me a photo fee.

As far as the Yuskavage goes, them's the breaks. If someone buys with the intent to flip, that's a risk they should accept.

Where is the Baran show?

9/13/2009 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger ruben said...

Oh, great I will try to have it waived.
Thanks for the info.

Tracey Baran show
It is listed in my blog.

Leslie Tonkonow Gallery Opening Sept 17 but , on view now.

Also. I linked a slide show from NY mag

9/13/2009 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++I guess when her work hits the ++auction market (which It will be ++soon),I hope, her estate gets a ++commission for it.

Oh, come on... Are we speculating on a young dead artist, here?

Cedric Casp

9/13/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm as pro-market as they come, but buying work at a benefit auction, in hopes of flipping it for a profit one day, is disgusting. Three cheers for the Yuskavage print buyer getting screwed.

9/13/2009 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

Not just another dead young artist here...Photographer Tracey Baran.

If you do not know about photograhy or her work, I suggest, you get information. Yes, she is dead and her work has been compared to Nan Goldin , Ryan McGinley among others, Then again you might ask me, who are they?

Oh yeah speaking about young artists, I also wonder or speculate about Dash Snow's work also but, then again you might not know who he is either...pity!

9/13/2009 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

Not just another dead young artist here...Photographer Tracey Baran.

If you do not know about photograhy or her work, I suggest, you get information. Yes, she is dead and her work has been compared to Nan Goldin , Ryan McGinley among others, Then again you might ask me, who are they?

Oh yeah speaking about young artists, I also wonder or speculate about Dash Snow's work also but, then again you might not know who he is either...pity!

Oh Franklin..I don't think the Watermill Foundation will find disgusting a contribution of $14,000.00.
I don't enjoy other's getting screwed by buying art to turn it into a profit later. A lot of art dealers do this all the time and sell it as a secondary market item.

9/13/2009 07:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm sure Watermill won't find it disgusting, nor should they. But I'm short on sympathy for anyone who purchases work at an auction thrown for a nonprofit's benefit and sees a subsequent lower resale value as "getting screwed." They should expect work a charity auction to have prices above market value and the buyer should feel honored and privileged to pay them. Anyone who doesn't understand that transaction - that they gave a generous $14,000 contribution to the organization and got a token work of art for it - has no business at charity event.

9/13/2009 09:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Ruben, no, I don't know anything. What is contemporary art? What am I doing here?

Cedric C

9/13/2009 10:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Wow, I would have never guessed that the "Genesis" show Edward mentioned is Gen-Breyer P. Orridge. I just read about the show on a mail-list thing. I have to say I've been speculating on Gen and entourage since I was about 12 years old (was into music many years before visual arts).

Cedric C

9/13/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

Well Cedric ...I went to the opening of Geneis and have listed as one of the best shows now including Andy Yder at Ed's in blog.

And yes, like all the 20 shows I listed and seeing, it is a must see!

9/13/2009 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd also like to mention that there were two instances in which galleries I'd contacted about reselling did not returned any of my calls or e-mails. This kind of indifference leads me to believe that offering works to auction houses is not quite the crisis you seem to believe it is.

9/13/2009 11:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous, it's clear we disagree on this point, but I'm not sure how my opening statement ("I don't expect folks in other quarters to agree with me on that") implies a "crisis" to you.

Moreover, without more information about the work you were trying to resell (i.e., was it work purchased at a benefit such as Ruben described? was it from an edition that hadn't sold out yet?) and the state of those artists' markets, there may or may not be much relevance to my central concern, which (again) is that auction results are often misinterpreted by the press and subsequently by collectors.

We've focused on what the perils of work selling for way too much are in this thread, but equally possible and even more damaging to careers that should have been permitted to gestate a bit more IMO has been instances where the work sold for far less than it was priced on the market or didn't sell at all. (And it's happened to friends of mine, so I know of what I speak.) With some artists, as I've noted, some careful contextualization is important to their early years. Often the galleries selling such early work believe the collector is taking a long-term view on the artist's career. Should such collectors turn around and flip it at auction though (just, for example, because the artist gets a few good reviews and a few international exhibitions), they may indeed, through that decision, wreck havoc on the potential for that artist's long-term market.

You can argue that it's the collectors' right to do as they wish, but I can equally point out that what they are doing has consequences.

9/14/2009 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger ruben said...

Oh..BTW There is an auction for Tracey Baran already to benefit female photographers Cedric.

Cool work up for auction and very, very affordable

9/15/2009 03:36:00 PM  

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