Sotheby’s launches primary market channel selling works directly from artists’ studios

Damien Hirst, Banksy, now Skepta. For some time, Sotheby’s has been inching into the primary market by selling works directly from artists’ studios. Now the auction house is reasserting those moves, launching a new primary market sales channel for artists and their galleries.

Artist’s Choice launches September 30 as part of the Contemporary Curated auction in New York, with seven consigned lots fresh out of the studio by artists including Alexandre Lenoir, Atsushi Kaga, Katherina Olschbaur and Kevin Beasley. Presale estimates range from $15,000 to $120,000. Over time, all major sales could include primary market parts.

So will the new sales channel ruffle distributors’ feathers? After all, the primary market has been their domain for centuries.

Noah Horowitz, Sotheby’s worldwide head of private dealer and gallery services, who is the brains behind Artist’s Choice, thinks not. “Part of the spirit of thinking about this was to create a win-win for artists and their galleries, and ultimately for Sotheby’s and our audience of collectors,” he says. The seven works in the first sale have been “directly consigned by the artist and the gallery in concert with each other”, although Sotheby’s is not aware of how the proceeds are divided.

Aimed at medium-sized rather than mega galleries that regularly consign and play the auction market, Mothers Tankstation, Casey Kaplan, and Jeffrey Deitch are among those taking part in the first iteration.

One of the biggest criticisms of the secondary market, and auctions in particular, is that artists make little or no money from reselling their work, which can sometimes sell for astronomical prices prematurely.

According to Horowitz, on a commercial level, the new venture “empowers artists who have begun to see a growing and flourishing secondary market around their work to capture the advantage that auction can uniquely provide.” He adds: “The gallery price is fixed, whereas through the bidding process we may be able to beat it. Giving that power back to consignees is certainly something that I think will be attractive to artists and galleries.”

Conversely, when an artist may not be as conspicuous commercially successful, primary market prices can sometimes far exceed auction prices. In such cases, Horowitz notes how newer buyers “increasingly look to auction records to help justify what they’re spending in the primary market.” Artist’s Choice aims to provide a degree of price parity. “If it works well, it can help create a more stable market for artists in a more holistic way,” he says, suggesting that dealers with waiting lists of months or even years for certain artists can then direct collectors to buy. up for auction instead.

Horowitz also points out how the new company allows artists to control their markets to the extent that they determine which works come to the block. “There are a lot of artists and galleries that have had a fair amount of work in the auction system that they’re not always 100% satisfied with,” he says. “Forget the circumstances of how they got there. They are not always satisfied with the quality of the work, or how much of their career a job represented. So this model says, ‘If you want to take control of that, here’s a way for you to do it.'”

Aside from the commercial benefits, one of the most compelling aspects of the new initiative is that 15% of the auction price of a work, paid jointly by the artists/galleries and Sotheby’s, goes to a charity or institution chosen by the artist. In recent years, galleries have taken notice of the fact that donations to artists’ charities have helped attract artists to their listings.

As Horowitz puts it: “Very externally, today’s artists are considerably more socially engaged with causes in different shapes and forms than ever before.”

In the case of Sotheby’s, however, the beneficiaries of its new channel are not limited to nonprofits, although Horowitz says “it would be preferable if that were the case.”

Todd Gray Atlantic (New Futures).

Courtesy of the artist and David Lewis. Photo: Silvi Naçi

One of the beneficiaries of the first sale is the Sedabuda School in Ghana, which artist Todd Gray and his ex-wife founded shortly after their first trip to the West African country in 1992, when he came as a commercial photographer to shoot Stevie’s album Wonder. cover. Using grant money, Gray found a three-acre piece of land near a fishing village and began building an adobe house with 15 villagers. Today it is an isolated residence; “a place to read, think and be at the rhythm of nature,” said Gray Museum Magazine. Gray and David Lewis Gallery are consigning the printed work, Atlantic (New Futures)which is expected to fetch $30,000-$40,000.

Meanwhile, Kevin Beasely, who is consigning the mixed media work, The Red Banana Tree (Forstall) (est. $40,000-$60,000), is donating his 15% to the L9 Center for the Arts, which was founded by New Orleans photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick in 2007.

More recently, Beasely founded his own initiative in the city of Louisiana. Instead of producing a piece of art for the Prospect New Orleans biennial in 2021, he bought land in the Lower Ninth district of New Orleans that had been vacant and overgrown since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cleared it and planted a garden. . For now, Beasely says in a New York Times article, the garden is “a resource that will provide free internet, a place to relax and, in time, vegetables from raised beds and fruit from citrus trees.”

In addition to charitable efforts, artists will also be able to pledge their 15% towards one of their own future projects. As Horowitz says: “Artists and galleries have many costs related to commissions and participation in biennials and exhibitions. Artist’s Choice can be a means to help raise funds for those projects.”

As the former director of Art Basel in the Americas, Horowitz recalls the many conversations he has had with dealers over the years about the pressures they face, especially small and medium-sized galleries. “It might be financing catalogs for an exhibition, or producing works that they have to pay for out of pocket or go to their gallery patrons to raise funds, in which case there might be pledges against future work. That’s how the system. , but it can get complicated.”

The new company aims to ease some of those burdens. “Basically, it’s about identifying ways to support artists and their galleries,” says Horowitz.

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