Saturday, October 10, 2009
Not A Hard Sell
On Friday, the Head of Art at a respected Australian auction house, Menzies Art Brands, emailed to tell me that two more of my early works, Buck and Career Babe: The Firefighter (above), have been consigned for a sale on December 16. Later, we spoke on the phone about the condition of the paintings, their history, and more generally, about the archival properties of enamel paint. A couple of years ago, my opinions about my own work were dismissed by a rival auction house. Now my insights and expert knowledge are sought by senior staff members at all that sell my work – and these days, my work is included in nearly every major auction of Australian art. When my work is offered by Christie's, in London, I'm in regular contact with their staff – a number of whom follow this blog. The first time I ever had anything to do with an auction house was when Menzies Art Brands emailed me for permission to reproduce my work in their print and online catalogues. If I hadn't been representing myself, I wouldn't have heard a word. The staff were surprised when I went to the sale preview to check the condition of the work for a collector who was interested in buying it and they were gob-smacked when I emailed additional, useful background information. However, it didn't take them long to 'get' it. Now, the information I send is included in the print catalogue, where my work is always given prominence. My independence from the traditional primary market has had only positive effects on the regard for my work – and me – in the secondary market, where the financial value of even the most famous artists' works and reputations are tested in public. The idea that artists who manage themselves aren't taken seriously in this market is as dead as the Dodo. No matter what old-school commercial galleries keep telling us, contact between independent artists and even the largest auction houses is not just accepted – it's welcomed. Auction houses recognise that artists who understand the function of auctions and who care not only about the condition of work offered for sale but also about contributing to its long-term value are a resource that enhances their efforts. Remember, too, artists don't make any money on the sale of work through the auction house, which is usually acting on behalf of collectors who insist on anonymity even from the artist. However, we work together on the basis that the interests of the auction house, the collector and the artist are parallel. Commercial galleries do their damnedest to discredit artists who work outside the traditional system – the so-called primary market – because they believe a lack of complete control will undermine the influence (such as it is) they exert on their collector base and their income. It's a short-sighted and stupid attitude. As collaborations between artists and auction houses are demonstrating – look at Damien Hirst's incredible pre-crash marketing and sales coup with Sotheby's – the benefits for galleries who work with artists on equal terms far outweigh the meagre risks.