The art industry defies regular business practices and rules. It is an industry built on handshakes rather than paperwork. A business based on “trust” seems highly unorthodox, it almost sounds like a joke. I can’t tell you how many artists I know complain of being paid late, to which I reply “Well, what does your contract say?” which is always answered with a shocked “Contract???”
The same goes for dealer-client relationships. In a society of online shopping, I was always a bit surprised as to how much it has leaked into the practice of buying art. I’d say about 80% of my clients buy art sight-unseen. True, most good collectors know their market, know the artists they like and the quality of the work, but it always surprises me a tiny bit. Assuming the collectors are comfortable with the quality of work to expect from an artist, that leaves one factor that I think a lot about: trusting an art dealer.
Honestly, this isn’t something I think about the logistics of a lot. I think that is because I’ve built up a slew of great client relationships just by being my overly social friendly self. I truly enjoy people, and I have a hard time lying (which is good for clients- but potentially bad for sales if I don’t believe in something.) Many of the clients I now consider to be friends, chatting with them daily or planning visits- yet some I have never met in real life. So I must ask myself, why do these people trust to spend $10,000 with me, when I am only a name on a screen or a voice over the telephone?
I’ve been thinking about this lately in response to the recent Banksy forgery by Grant Champkins-Howard and Lee Parker, who sold fake Banksy prints via eBay. Their subsequent punishment is a slap on the wrist- suspension from eBay and 240 hours of community service. This seems ridiculous to me. Aside from art fraud- which is normally a huge offense, the other issue here is the assault on buyer’s confidence. It violates the entire premise of the buyer-dealer trust factor, which is increasingly important in our declining economic climate. The market is all crazy, everyone is broke and wants to sell, making the “lower” prices of the Banksy forgery to be somewhat believable. Dealers are getting loads of secondary work to move, but sales are slow, which causes more imbalance. With dealers so desperate to keep afloat, how can you know you aren’t buying a lemon?
That said, eBay is somewhat of an entirely different animal, removing the dealer, therefore the trust factor, and replacing it with total anonymity. I’ve been asked many times by clients to authenticate pieces they’ve purchased over eBay, to which I unfortunately had to refuse without seeing for myself. Playing devil’s advocate, I am on the fence about the purchasers of the fake Banksys. Dealers get angry over eBay sales, cutting out their potential commissions, and ignoring the right of resale- but that aside, I still would never recommend buying fine art on eBay. Dealers are experts, and therefore able to provide guidance and authentication. I remember several eBay stores selling cut up books as actual prints- and selling them all out. Buyers were bewildered and excited about purchasing such cheap finds, only to receive a high quality page of a monograph in return.
This doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’ve bought countless things (not art) on eBay before. Shoes are broken, dresses are ripped, antiques are knock offs. I kind of assume that possibility when I bid on something- I could get a lemon. My risk, my loss. But when buying art, if you buy from a dealer or a gallery, the fact of the matter is, they are accountable- not some eBay screen name. Their reputation is on the line, and baby, sometimes all we’ve got is our name. If someone thinks you are a jerk, everyone will soon know. If you screw someone money wise, the message boards will soon talk about it. The recession has brought down the fear of being black balled from a gallery. The people have a voice and the voice says “FREEDOM!”
Okay, I got carried away there. But my point is, aside from DON’T BUY ART ON EBAY UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO BUY A POSSIBLE FAKE, building a relationship with who you buy art from is important for all sides. If you trust your art “supplier,” they’ll look out for you, they’ll keep an eye out for pieces you may like, they’ll look around for possible buyers for pieces you have, they’ll invite you to art events and maybe even transition to your friend. They are a part of your life, and if they defraud you, you can call them and say “What the fuck??” (before you call your lawyer.) Can eBay appraise your collection? Can eBay find that Antony Micallef piece you’ve wanted? Can eBay give you a hug after a long day?
Save eBay for your vintage handkerchief and thimble collection.
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- Posted by No New Enemies