Friday, October 05, 2012

Death of a thousand cuts

Now it’s hard to remember the spasm of shock that ran through the art world when art dealers raised their commission from the traditional 331/3 to 40%. That rise of 6 2/3 percent has of course long been assimilated. But now, if Australia is anything to go by, and it generally is, we are on the verge of swinging over to 50 percent an increase of 10 percent on most current commission. 

 That really is a bit more serious and highlights the dealer artist relationship as never before. Even 60/40 gave the impression that the people delivering the goods were leading the business rather than the distributors, fifty-fifty, not so much. 

Dealers will tell you that even at 50 percent there is not that much to be made across the board given the costs of the freight, insurance, the art fairs, the documentation and the publications. For the few of them that offer those services at the highest level there is no doubt an argument to be made. 

But how do you make a living as a practicing artist on 50% percent? Say you have an exhibition of 10 paintings at $10,000 each and sell 70 percent of them, a champagne inducing event for many artists. That’s $70,000 across the counter (we’ll ignore GST) well more like $65,000 as the dealer has almost certainly given a 10 percent reduction to the bigger collector clients. The dealer will now take their half leaving 32,500. Time to deduct the cost of stretchers (you wont sell at $10,000 unless they are a reasonably good quality), paint, canvas, studio costs – rent, insurance etc and travel to the opening say $6,000 leaving $26,000 which will be taxed at say 25 percent to $19,500. To get the after tax salary of a lecturer at an art school you’d have to do that three times a year. That’s 21 sales at $10,000. Oh, and don’t forget to deduct $40 for the champagne.