Lobby Art

March 24th, 2014

Auction houses have hired well-connected lobbyists to prevent artists from receiving royalties when their work sells at auction, according to the New York Times.

Of course, artists deserve royalties when their work sells.  Art objects are not commodities, in the conventional sense.

Hilary Harkness, "Mother Lode," 2006 - (depicts a Christies auction of Rockettes and their gestation)


Then again: “The auction houses worry that the proposed royalty bill would encourage more sellers to abandon public auctions for private deals.” -This seems to be a valid concern, because private deals in the secondary market can be notoriously secretive.  Art professionals deserve a public record of secondary market sales, for which auction records suffice.  Moreover, auctions are better for the public because major sales usually include a public or semi-public preview of the art for sale, before it disappears into private hands.  And ultimately, if auction houses can bring a seller a better profit, which is likely, then sellers will stick to the auction houses.

But then: “‘The Internet Association does not support the American Royalties Too Act,’ said the group’s president and chief executive, Michael Beckerman, arguing it will constrict the free market.” -Actually, there is no such thing as a free market. That is just a myth that greedy people invoke when they don’t want to play by rules.  In fact, the auction houses already defy this so-called free market.  Here is an example: “Christie’s and Sotheby’s have had trouble widening their profit margins in recent years, partly because of incentives they’ve given to big-ticket sellers to win their business.”

The most crass argument: “Sotheby’s and Christie’s have also argued that royalties would benefit only the wealthiest artists and estates, because they are the ones most frequently sold in the secondary market.” -But royalties would allow these wealthy artists to invest in studio assistants, archivists, production specialists, web designers, and more.

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3 Responses to “Lobby Art”

  1. Eric Corriel says:

    interesting debate. it always struck me as a bit odd that artists’ creativity seems to come to a grinding halt as soon as economics comes into play. why have more inventive selling schemes not been tried/invented/pushed/marketed (or have they and i just haven’t heard…). why not sell shares of your work? hell, it’s essentially treated like a speculative stock anyway–let’s just make it official already. just make sure to hold on to a few for yourself…

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Eric, I agree. I like the “Artist of the Month Club,” a subscription service hosted by my gallery, Invisible-Exports. Also, I recently saw a conceptual work by Michael Wang at Foxy Production. That work was about rival corporations and brands, and when a collector buys “the work,” he or she pays by buying the artist shares in these rival corporations. In this case, it was Unilever and Proctor & Gamble. http://www.foxyproduction.com/exhibitions/1469/pr

  3. Eric Corriel says:

    Nice reference to Wang’s work–I’d never heard of artists using publicly traded common stock as a medium; very cool. Just checked out your Artist of the Month Club (http://artistofthemonthclub.com/about/) which is also an interesting alternative. Keep us posted on how this debate evolves!