Wednesday, December 17, 2008
A Cautionary Tale
The art dealer offered me a contract after the psychiatrist he'd recommended prescribed large doses of an anti-depressant and a mood stabiliser for me. The medications slowed my thoughts to a snail's pace and made me lethargic. I was just 24.I sat on rickety stool at the counter in my kitchen and studied the deal. It was outlined in a shoddy, hand-written note that was his idea of a 'grand plan' for my career. In brief, it offered large sums of cash for my entire creative output over the next five years. The initial payment was a couple of hundred thousand dollars, which looked a lot – but it didn't seem right. A quick calculation, scratched in pencil on the back of his note, show that I'd be paid less for each work than I was getting already.The art dealer could barely contain his glee as he told me that he planned to sell selected works at auction and 'ramp' the prices, bidding on his own work. He would then show the auction results to collectors, justifying the inflated prices he wanted to charge them for my work. At the end of five years, my paintings would be published as a book, with text written by another art dealer who was to share in the profits of this deal. The publication of a book featuring an artists' work usually increases the value of the pieces reproduced in it. The two dealers would keep a stash of works to sell when the book came out. Leaving aside the ethics of the deal – which, even in my heavily medicated state, I found abhorrent – what it came down to was this: I would be paid $A150,000 a year for five years. I would be required to pay for all materials and studio costs, which would come to about $A100,000. The dealers would make around $A200,000 in pure profit during the first year. As they ramped up the prices during the next four years, I figured they'd make between $A200,000 and $1.5 million – probably more. During the process, everything I had worked for would be destroyed. I couldn't pump out the amount of work they wanted without a steep drop in its imaginative content and craftsmanship. Any artistic and intellectual evolution would be out of the question and at the end of it, I would be left without a shred of integrity or credibility. I wouldn't even be able to have a bad career as an artist by the time they were finished with me."I'll make you a star!" the art dealer exclaimed.Even medicated, I could barely contain my anger. "Are you fucking joking? You really must think I'm really stupid."He drew back. He hadn't even considered the possibility that I would say no. I started laughing. Laughing at him, for getting me so wrong. Laughing at his shameless nerve. Laughing because I'd been so stupid to think people like him actually cared about art. My rage amplified as I began to pick at the so-called contract, clause by clause."Look, it was just an idea," the art dealer whined. "I just thought it would help you."Another lie. And even though it was clear that I recognised how detrimental the deal was to me, he pressed on for another few minutes, trying to convince me, trying to wear me down."Get the fuck out." I told him. I put my hands on top of the contract on the bench so he couldn't take away the evidence of his greed and carelessness. "Just get the fuck out now."