Don't bite the hand that feeds you: Navigating art sales and their temptations
I was recently speaking with a gallery director who was moaning about what a ‘problem’ the internet has become. His gallery regularly participates in fairs and has noticed that visitors will closely inspect art work labels and jot down details, yet have no interest in talking with the gallery, at all. What’s happening? Many of these people are searching out the artists online and making direct contact.
You can understand that this is immensely frustrating to dealers who have forked out many thousands of pounds to get in front of potential clients, with an aim of selling work by the exhibited artists. Buyers (plus interior designers, writers, and so on) would not have known about an artist or their work if it weren’t for the gallery’s efforts.
Yet at the same time, you can also imagine that an artist is totally over the moon when they receive an enquiry. You can just hear the thoughts, “YES! People I don’t even know want to buy my work!” The consideration that the new enquirer might have resulted from the gallery’s event might not have occurred to them. It’s also very tempting, since the artist doesn’t have to pay the gallery any commission.
Artists need to understand when they work with a gallery that sales which arise as a result of the gallery need to be directed… to the gallery. The gallery has costs for what they do, and these need to be covered. This isn’t to say that artists can’t know collectors, for this is a fantastic upshot of the internet. Collectors can personally get to know artists. They can exchange messages online and meet at private views, soirées and dinner parties. The artist’s relationship with the collector can concentrate on creative interests, while all money matters are handled by a third party, the art dealer. (Having a third party negotiate sales often works a treat.)
This is a very hot topic in the art world, and getting it ‘right’ can make all the difference in maintaining an artist-gallerist relationship.
Here’s a current example. My photographer partner Chris is taking part in a group exhibition. He received an email from an established client upon receipt of the printed invitation, who is keen to purchase a photograph, “if it hasn’t otherwise sold by the end of the show.” So, who should handle the sale, the artist or gallerist? Think about it for minute...
Many people will say artist, however it is the gallerist, since it was the show that prompted the enquiry.
Here’s the bottom line - artists with dealers should consider these two questions upon new enquiries:
In regards to new contact enquiries, ask the individual: “How did you discover me?”
From existing contacts, ask yourself: “What (events, promotion, etc) prompted this new enquiry?”
Understanding and honestly acting upon the answer is paramount. For it is in your best interest not to bite, but nourish, the hand that feeds you.
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Photographs © Chris King.