Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Smoke signals

As the dust settles over the Hammond price “record” smoke signals have been sighted from all corners questioning just what the $290,000 paid for the bird work represents. Most seem agreed that we are talking about a record for a living artist and that the likes of McCahon need not apply but there are the usual problem for dealers (or gallerists as some of them are now known). Although they often, even most often, set the highest prices for living artists, their discretion prevents the public from ever hearing about it. And so, the auction houses tend to own the records. If the way the auction business is headed in the rest of the world is reflected here, dealers better get used to it. Indeed they might start looking around for another way to sell art. You don’t have to be a genius to see, that while dealer galleries have retained pretty much the same model since the late 19th century, auction houses have radically changed for the times.

And so, as auction houses merge and dip their toes into private treaties, exhibitions and dealer gallery ownership, the space for traditional dealers is getting cramped. Many artists, even here in New Zealand, baulk at 40 percent dealer commissions, so selling wet off the wall via auction must become increasingly more attractive. Apparently Webb’s have apologised for jumping the gun and claiming their “record”. They needn’t have bothered. Apart from disgruntled muttering, who’s going to prove them wrong and what can they do about it?
Image: How to light a smoke generating fire