A frustrated collector sent me an email the other day and agreed to let me re-post it here for discussion. I've changed some of the details to maintain the collector's anonymity:
My name is X and I live in City Y. I am writing today to discuss my perceived ethical concern after a recent purchase from an unnamed NYC Gallery. Given that your blog fairly covers interesting aspects of the art world, I thought that you may want to consider this scenario.There are three issues in this scenario I think it makes sense to discuss here:1. As I responded to this collector, the second most important currency in the art world, after art, is gossip. In other words, I think it's fair to expect that dealers will discuss who is buying what unless a collector asks them not to. It can help to sell other work. Many times, if the press asks about who bought what (and they do), a dealer will contact the collector first to see if it's OK to share that information in that public a forum (and most often they say yes), but at art world dinner parties and such that type of information generally is frequently shared, and often by the collectors themselves. In other words, it gets out there.
Essentially, an unnamed NYC Gallery discussed the particulars (artist and purchase price) of my recent acquisition with a gallery in City Y, who in turn, discussed it with other galleries in City Y. The upshot was that I felt accosted and blindsided by the City Y galleries for not “purchasing locally” and (unbelievably) buying this piece when I had been offered others pieces from different artists. I do not know if it is normal practice within the gallery sphere to discuss purchase particulars with other galleries. However it was my expectation to have the details of my purchase remain private. Herein is the ethical issue: are galleries expected to keep details of collector acquisitions private or is it considered a valid business practice to discuss purchases with other galleries?
Let my explain the particulars. A particular artist was recently included in a group show in City Y. In discussion with the gallery owner, I told him that I was interested in obtaining a piece by this particular artist. However the work on display were from a previous series, and I was not interested in buying any of the pieces on show. But after determining that the same artist was showing new work in NYC, I purchased a piece from the NYC show. Subsequently, on my next visit to the City Y gallery, I was told of my NYC purchase and berated for not purchasing locally and that I should have purchased this piece through his gallery (at a higher price, no doubt). Additionally, a gallery owner in the same City Y building (who I work with frequently) discussed my recent NYC purchase!
Somehow I feel violated that my personal business transactions were shared with others. Is this normal practice?
If it's important to you that the terms of your acquisitions remain private, simply tell your dealer. I have several collectors who have asked us not to reveal what they've purchased to anyone, and we respect that. I also have collectors happy to have their purchases released to the press. The important thing for a dealer is to respect the collector's wishes, but the important thing for a collector is to make those wishes known.2. Sharing how much someone paid for something is less kosher, but here again, unless a collector specifically asks for their dealings to remain private, such information has a tendency to work its way through the grapevine. It may not be the art dealer themselves who shares it, but all kinds of people find themselves in back offices and overhearing phone calls, etc. Any given collector may have any number of reasons why it's ideal to let the art world know they're shelling out big bucks for art, though. This kind of gossip can serve to open doors more quickly. It's a very case-by-case issue, but, again, the collector's preference should be honored.3. Regardless of whether a collector wishes their transactions to remain private or not, though, it's always bad form IMHO to berate someone for exercising their freedom to buy what they want from whom they want. I understand from friends with galleries in other cities how frustrating it can be to try to change the sense some collectors have that buying in New York is preferable to buying locally. The case above suggests the NYC gallery had the series the collector wanted, but in other instances, it's widely known that among some collectors the perception is that NYC galleries tend to get any artist's better work. This is not universally true, however, and while I always want the best work I can get from the artists we work with, I understand how important it is for their work to shine in every context it's seen in, so I encourage our artists to distribute strong work into each opportunity.All of which is besides the point if you offend a collector by berating them, however. We all know the business is challenging at the moment, but it will become even more challenging if collectors stop enjoying the process of looking at and buying art. OK, so I'm on this ice with this next bit, I realize, not knowing the full details of the situation, but I'll offer this response all the same, just in case it played out as described:Personally, I feel the dealer in the gallery in City Y who scolded this collector missed an opportunity. Although I understand the anguish of missing out on a sale, I would have seen the collector's interest in an artist I exhibited (even in a group exhibition) as a chance to get closer to them, rather than push them away. Yes, that's second prize in this particular round, but the door was open to helping them connect the dots and see why getting a piece from the previous series too (the work you had access to) would strengthen their collection. That and $2.00 may get you a coffee today, but the alternative (berating the collector) clearly left this person much less likely to come back at all. Moreover, what's really potentially lost here, if I read this correctly, especially if word gets back to the artist that the gallery responded this way, is the opportunity to work directly with that artist in the future. Now, before any of the collectors who've bought from us get alarmed, please note that in many cases dealers have much more incentive to keep such matters to themselves than to share it with anyone. Furthermore, it may not be the dealer, but a gallery visitor who spreads the news (having seen an invoice on a desk, overheard a conversation, talked with an art handler who was in the room, etc.). Still, gossip is a big part of the art world, and so it pays to be clear if it's important to you that your private collection remains private. A good dealer will ensure that that happens.
Labels: Collecting, gossip, privacy