Break on Through (From the Outside) Part I


In Part I of this panel discussion on the rise of Outsider Art held at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Andrew Edlin, CEO of the Outsider Art Fair, provides historical context, after which Edward Gómez, senior editor of Raw Vision, will present on the meaning and taxonomy of the genre. Part II will feature Scott Ogden, principal at Shrine Gallery, and Outsider Artist, Daniel Swanigan Snow.



Okay, I’m going to give you a little travelogue in sort of the Hunter S. Thompson mode. Heading down to Washington D.C. on the Acela, I can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance as the train cuts through the industrial wastelands of New Jersey’s Meadowlands. I’m finally on my way to see the much ballyhooed exhibition, “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” at the National Gallery, the most recent in a succession of periodic shows where major institutions feature the art of the self-taught, those whose visions weren’t shaped by academia or the machinery of the art world superstructure. I had read several reviews and had leafed through the thick exhibition catalogue. Naturally, I was immediately struck by the term, outliers. Which is obviously a deliberate attempt to avoid the more commonly used term outsider. The distinction couldn’t help but remind me of the hilarious Mel Brook’s film Young Frankenstein. The clip of which i hope you’ll enjoy.


Igor: Dr. Frankenstein…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: You’re putting me on.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, it’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: Do you also say “Froaderick”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No… “Frederick.”
Igor: Well, why isn’t it “Froaderick Fronkensteen”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: It isn’t; it’s “Frederick Fronkensteen.”
Igor: I see.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: You must be Igor.
[He pronounces it ee-gor]
Igor: No, it’s pronounced “eye-gor.”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: But they told me it was “ee-gor.”
Igor: Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?


For the last 20 years or so I’ve been making my way through the art world as the owner of a gallery in Manhattan and more recently an art fair. Both of which specialize in outsider art. Addressing you tonight has proven a good opportunity for a little reflection, both on this field and my place in it. In the words of the great David Byrne, well, how did I get here? By the mid 1990’s I’d pretty much taken over the reins of my father’s food business, brokering groceries staples like peanut butter and mayonnaise. Selling them by the truckload to big supermarket chains, while still managing to moonlight as a rock musician. It had been a very lucrative business for decades, not the rock musician part. My late uncle Paul was an artist who made collages out of tiny slivers of postage stamps. He worked in isolation, partly because he had been born almost completely deaf. Very few knew his work. Perhaps he’d been included in a few group shows, but certainly never sold a thing. After I showed his work to some dealers, he was niched as an outsider artist, and in fairly short order at the age of 66 achieved some commercial and critical success before he passed away in 2008. He was elated by the level of attention he received, but continued to live a quiet dignified life devoted to his art.


Being a conduit for Uncle Paul was my first step. His work genuinely moved me. I found it elegant and mysterious, sophisticated, but at the same time, tapping into something primordial. I remember that during one of the early exhibitions of his work at my new gallery a visitor came in from a small country in Eastern Europe. What he said about the show stayed with me. Something to the effect that anyone from anywhere in the world could relate to Uncle Paul’s work, that there was a way in. This struck me as almost the highest kind of praise imaginable. To me the best art was almost always the most universal, where I was able to find common ground with the artist through our shared humanity. I’d been developing my aesthetic values steadily since I was a kid, but through the medium of rock music not visual art. In 1969, as a third grader I performed Let it Be and Proud Mary in front of the school. I was transported by the lyrics and the story these songs related, even if I didn’t fully understand them. I had a hippy music teacher from The Village who explained to me that the songs in my Tommy Songbook were all connected as part of one story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy. This was amazing. When I got older, Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks took me on a journey that to this day feels like one of the most visionary American adventures ever.


What I saw at my first Outsider Art Fair in 1995 gave me a similar feeling. Seeing James Castle drawings being pulled out of a cardboard folder for the first time, these huge double-sided Henry Darger scrolls, Ramirez, Wölfli, these worlds that these artists invented sucked me right in. Almost the ways Tangled up in Blue did. In an effort to further my art education, I’d been trying to visit as many galleries and museums as possible. But I wasn’t initiated into the world of contemporary art, and none of the people working at the galleries took much interest in helping me understand what an artist was trying to communicate through an installation or with an abstract painting. I was educated enough, had a college degree in English literature but still I had little inkling about much of what I was seeing. By contrast the dealers at the Outsider Art Fair were happy to tell me the incredible story of these artists which furthered my appreciation for the work.


As I began to get hooked on outsider art, I also noticed the level of attention it was receiving in the artworld was microscopic. As a nascent dealer I was energized to spread the word. After being open for about 4 years I was incredibly fortunate to land an exclusive representing the Henry Darger estate. Darger was already a legend, but had only penetrated the consciousness of the artworld to a modest degree. Now that I was in charge that was of course gonna all change. I can recall meticulously filling out the application for Art Basel, proposing a solo booth of Darger masterpieces. The star curator at MOMA, Klaus Biesenback had just written the essay for the new Darger monograph, so even politically all the stars were aligned, for the most renowned aficionados of art to finally see and hopefully buy these great works. My application was rejected outright. How could this be? Well, it be. And it was on me to figure out what the obstacles were and how I could get around them. What I needed to do according to those in the know, was to demonstrate the relevance of outsider art to contemporary art.


I began to stage hybrid shows at my gallery, inviting thoughtful and youngish Brooklyn artists to curate. The results were tremendous. I drew crowds, and the press responded enthusiastically with glowing reviews. Truthfully, some of the work brought in wasn’t exactly up my alley, but I saw the importance of working outside my comfort zone and I learned a lot about the contemporary art world, a culture that I’ve come to respect and one I absolutely needed to win over to be successful. I suppose for critics and curators there’s often an inclination to compare self-taught artists with their trained counterparts after all they are in search of something interesting to write or talk about and it is interesting. But how relevant is it? Many times have I seen artworlders who wear their encyclopedic knowledge like a badge pinned to their chests opine about some self-taught artist’s work they’ve seen. To use a musical analogy, it can sound like an expert on Rachmaninoff being assigned to review a John Lee Hooker album. Tonight we’re lucky to have one of our generation’s greatest art journalistic luminaries with us, Edward Gomez, who has mastered the ability to speak about all the technical and formal aspects of self-taught art, without overlooking its essence, spirit or meaning.


Another well-known voice in the art world belongs to Jerry Saltz. In 2016 he wrote this in his review of the Keeper Exhibition at the New Museum. “These days our definition of art is mainly art informed by other art and art history. Especially in the last 2 centuries and tenaciously of late. Art is examined in its own essences, ordinances, techniques, tools, materials, presentational modes and forms. To be thought of as an artist someone must self-identify as one and make what they think of as art. This center cannot hold. Why? It’s far too tight to let real art breathe. It’s beyond time for a new generation of art historians, not only to open up the system and let art be the garden that it is; home to exotic blooms of known and unknown phenomena. It’s time to work against this system. The idea that art has an overall goal of advancing or perfecting its terms and techniques is made up, imagined, idiotic, except for those benefiting from this intellectual fundamentalism. Someday people will look back at this phase of art history the way we look back at Manifest Destiny and colonialism.”


I’m rereading this review just as the train pulls into Union Station. I’m looking forward to this show. The edifice of the National Gallery looks majestic as I get out of the taxi and the giant banner advertising outliers is twice the height of the facade of our beloved Folk Art Museum. Walking through the atrium with the sunlight streaming through I get an uplifting feeling of optimism about the show. And there’s also some pride that the art I’ve been championing is continuing to make headway. And then I head down a wide flight of stairs and then another set, and I realize that the show’s underground in the basement of the National Gallery. The first room offers two walls with an installation of sculpture in the center of the floor, all by female artists. One wall holds a large quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins. Diagonally across a wall-hung piece by the contemporary artist, Jessica Stockholder. On the platform are 5 sculptures. Three by Judith Scott and two by Nancy Shaver. The difference between the works by the outsiders and insiders seems plain enough: Judith Scott wrapping her objects with virtually no art historical awareness and it wonderfully shows. The Shaver sculptures seem more deliberate with careful thought and strategy devoted to the placement of her objects. For me, the same is true of Stockholder’s work. Her assemblage reminds me of the kid’s game Mousetrap with all kinds of disparate materials connected together. It’s the art of the self-conscious next to the art of the unselfconscious, which to me pretty much summarizes the show.


Pairing Henry Darger with Matt Millikin or Cindy Sherman with Lee Godie and Eugene Von Bruenchenhiem. Now this is not to disparage these artists. Seeing and understanding an artist’s complex strategy and composition choices can be hugely exciting. But why are these works in a room and a show together? Lynne Cooke the esteemed curator, has already done important work with artists like James Castle and Martin Ramirez, and she’s clearly demonstrating an affinity between the artworks of the trained and untrained. And pointing out in many cases the schooled artists were influenced by the self-taught ones. This is certainly compelling if not altogether new observation. But there’s also an implication of a dialogue among these artists which cannot be true. Because any influence can only flow one way in this scenario. Did Judith Scott have exchanges with other professional artists, critics and professors. Did she read up on art history or read the reviews of her exhibitions. So while the works of outsiders are granted equal stature in Outliers, it still appears that outsider art is being seen and used as a comparative tool for defining the work by artists who are aware of the canon.


Cooke endorses the notion that the field of outsider art should dissolve into the mainstream, becoming just another dimension of modern art history and she’s not alone. But one of the footnotes Doctor Cooke’s essay does state is troubling to me. It reads, “the focus of the current project necessarily leaves aside reference to the activity of these specialized institutions above all the American Folk Art Museum founded in 1961 and of department devoted to folk and outsider art in museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the High Museum of Art”. So with that explanation, Cooke is dismissing out of hand decades of research and scholarship by experts at museums wholly dedicated to these artists. In fact, the first phase of Outliers treads on very similar ground as Stacy Hollander’s 2015 exhibition, Folk Art and American Modernism. at the Folk Art Museum with many of the same artists being represented. Is it possible for institutions to embrace the field of self-taught and outsider art without cannibalizing it?


There hasn’t been much pushback either against those who contend that there’s little or no distinction between the fields of outsider and contemporary art. It’s almost a reflex for those of us in the business of outsider art to cite each instance when big movers and shakers in the art world bless the work we handle every day. We bask in their approval and hope that their accolades will morph into something that might even trickle into our bank accounts someday. From the Venice Beinnale to the Metropolitan Museum we feel validated when our underdog community is acknowledged for its outsized cultural influence, less we forget that virtually none of the artists like Darger, Ramirez or Dyal – they didn’t give a damn what the artworld thought about them. In most cases, they didn’t even know what the art world was. So, when we define outsider art or assess its worth only through its relationship with mainstream art, we’re not serving it well or doing it justice. In the current exhibition at the Folk Art Museum: Vestiges in Verse, Notes from the New Fangled Epic, Henry Darger’s original 14 volumes, 15,000+ pages are on display, Illustrating his depth of his commitment, his total immersino in his art. In fact, I would even say, you can’t fully appreciate Darger without seeing these books. To experience the Dellshau, the 46 foot long scroll of Aloise Corbaz and incredible story boards of Adolph lfl, is to witness art that is timeless.


Artists like Darger and Wölfli need to be looked at more like the Homers and Miltons of our time and less as reference points for other artists, critics and media figures. Maybe what I love most of outsider art, is this close connection to the great human tradition of storytelling. Reading or hearing a great story can move us transform us, change how we think. The stories my dad told me about his childhood affected my profoundly. He was a classic joke teller. One of my favorites was where the Baron Von Rothschild the famous British financier is picked up at Victoria Station by his horse and carriage and driving him out to his countryside estate. He hands the driver a one pound note who says “thank you but even your son gives me two pounds”. He goes “sure, he has a rich father”. The young- it’s a funny joke, but it’s also true about the nature of entitlement. The young Rothschild is cavalier with his money precisely because he didn’t earn it himself.


Having expertise in one domain doesn’t make that knowledge instantly transferable, so can be with those making pronouncements in generalizations about outsider art. Even though they might not have looked at or studied the work on its own terms away from the lens of professionalized art. In closing I want to thank Richard Lehun, Stropheus and Sotheby’s for inviting me here tonight. As we ponder these issues we can’t help but acknowledge that these are indeed exciting times for our field, and it’s a good thing that so many new eyes will fall on this work in large scale museums like the National Gallery. We owe a debt of gratitude to curators like Lynne Cooke, Massimiliano Gioni and Matthew Higgs, who have helped with their distinct curatorial positions to expand the audience and appreciation for outsider and self-taught art over the years. But let’s also not forget the legions of art dealers, collectors, museum directors, writers and curators who have already been beating the drum for self-taught artists for generations. Outsider art is indeed art with a capital A, but it’s also kind of its own thing. If you’ve ever been to the Outsider Art Fair, then you know what I’m talking about. And if I might suggest, the next time you’re about to check the temperature on your iPhone open the door instead and step outside. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.





Very briefly I want to give you the sense of the collective history and implicitly a sense of the broader global view of activity in the related overlapping fields of Art Brut, Outsider Art and so-called Self-Taught Art. And I’m sharing this group of observations obviously from my vantage point as a researcher, critic, reporter, and educator who has been deeply involved with these related fields for many, many years.

First, I’d like to talk to you about the terminology. Art Brut, Outsider Art, Self-Taught art, Visionary Art, Intuitive Art, Naïf Art. Various labels have been kicked around for many decades to describe and identify the kind of artworks that we’re discussing tonight. No one label sits comfortably and accurately and completely identifies the kind of artwork we’re talking about. So, as a result, collectively we tend to refer to all of these nuanced forms as Outsider Art, hence the name of the fair: The Outsider Art Fair. There are nitpickers but let them pick.

Naïf Art, however, is one term that bit the dust some time ago. And we can thank our confrères and consœurs in the postmodernist critical camp for helping us dispense with that one. The assumption coming from postmodernist critical thinking is: Naïf? Naïf to whom? Who’re you calling naïf?

We speak about the field, those of us who are researchers, art dealers, collectors, promoters in it. And it’s just a handy nickname – shorthand – for this material we’re investigating and celebrating. This field emerges out of, is related to, what is not necessarily dependent on the development of the field of psychiatry, especially as this medical field was evolving in Europe during the late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century. By the early decades of the 1900s, doctors at some psychiatric hospitals in Europe at what used to be called mental asylums, another term which is poo-pooed, were paying attention to what could be described as artistic creations made by certain resident patients in their institutions. These creations might have been drawings or handcrafted objects made with found materials. Nowadays, many psychiatric hospitals have so-called in-house art therapy or occupational therapy programs for their patients. And in many of their institutions, participation of those patients in such programs is regarded as not merely a way of filling up their time, but rather as a worthwhile activity that may actually contribute to the healing process.

Often patients in such institutions were diagnosed with psychosis, especially schizophrenia. But keep in mind that psychiatrists a century ago did not have the more nuanced understanding of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis, that their successors in the 20th century and today possessed and possess, and by which they guided in making their diagnoses and treatment programs. Also, keep in mind, a century ago, there were no drugs of the kind we have today for mental patients.

Some of the most important people associated with psychiatric hospitals in Western Europe in the early 20th century who were paying attention to the creations of these resident patients were people like, Doctor Hans Prinzhorn at the University of Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, who in the early 1920s was collecting work. Doctor Walter Morgenthaler near Bern, Switzerland, who was the physician overseeing the artist Adolph Wölfli and recognized his artistic genius and in the early 1920s, published a book about Wölfli called Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler in which he recognizes this mentally ill patient as an artist. So, this was somewhat radical, this kind of thinking about what these people were making.

Fast forward to the 1940s, the modern artist, Jean Dubuffet and a group of his pals, like the surrealist leader André Breton, became very interested in the work of not only mentally ill persons, but people working, making art in prisons, distinctive carvers, self-taught painters who were not working in traditional folk art styles, and other unschooled makers of what they considered rather unusual, exceptional works of art. Common to what these people were making was the fact that they had not studied art making or art history in schools. They usually found themselves on the margins of mainstream culture and society, either by choice or by the force of circumstances, often using found materials.

Dubuffet and his colleagues recognized that such self-taught artist creations could be regarded as works of art, and this is very interesting, because in doing so they were implicitly beginning to evaluate these creations with aesthetic criteria in mind. And very important was that they recognized that the kinds of so-called artworks that these people were creating were unique in themselves. This became a very important criterion for Dubuffet’s in recognizing and identifying, and ultimately labeling, a work as Art Brut, which in French literally means Raw Art. There are some historians who also think he was pulling our legs. Why? Because Dubuffet came from a family that sold wine on the Atlantic coast of France. And as you know, there is a champagne that is brut. And so, some people think he was playing around with this. These works also, Dubuffet pointed out, all convey and represent a deeply unique personal vision on the part of their creators. That vision might be artistic, spiritual, political, social, historical or a combination thereof. Wölfli’s work is a very good example. He was in the very early publications of Dubuffet’s association, which he had established in France with some fellow critics and writers and artists in the 1940s.

Fast forward to the 1970s, early 1970s, there was a historical, for us in our field rather, historical exhibition in England, put together by Roger Cardinal, the book that accompanied it was called Outsider Art. Professor Cardinal’s publishers said “Roger, that will never do. Art Brut will never be understood by the British visitor to the museum, and nor will make sense in a bookstore, so we have to fish around for something else.” And they came up with Outsider Art to sum up and reflect Dubuffet’s description of art of this unusual kind. And the term stuck. However, it also suggested a more expansive meaning, and helped shift the tension in this field to the status of creators as so-called outsiders.

Dubuffet had referred to these art makers in French also as Créateur or Auteur. If Dubuffet had highlighted both the conditions of the art maker’s life in society and the character of his or her creations, Roger Cardinal’s new label helped steer attention more to the unschooled art makers’ situation outside mainstream society, but not necessary completely removed from mainstream culture. You’d have to be brought up as an enfant sauvage, out in the forest with no contact with a radio or television or newspaper, to be completely removed from culture.

So, the term self-taught art is something much more recent. In recent decades, especially in the United States, this term has come into use in the art market and the media to refer in an even broader way to the creations of Art Brut and outsider artists. But as you can see, this term explicitly cast the net very wide. As a result, many creations by persons who can be called or do call themselves self-taught have emerged in the art market. But can or should all such works properly be labeled Outsider Art or Art Brut as well? Technically, all works of Art Brut can be properly placed in the broad field of Outsider Art. But can all Outsider Art be considered to be works of Art Brut? Conversely, from the even broader vantage point of so-called Self-Taught Art, and note that it’s not the art that’s self-taught, it’s the maker who is self-taught, so these terms are sometimes rather dubious. All Art Brut or Outsider Artworks are by definition produced by self-taught artists, but not all specimens of Self-Taught art can be properly be classified as works of Art Brut or Outsider Art. Are your heads spinning? I’m not quibbling about the co-existence or the respected specificity of each of these terms. There was a woman involved in this about 30 years ago who once said, “we’ve got to stop the term warfare.” But in my opinion, the time for arguing about which one label to use to universally categorically identify or refer to all of these different but often related kinds of artworks that can or are designated by these different terms, that’s over. As I said, collectively, the umbrella term we can appropriately use is Outsider Art.

That is not to say that these terms can or should be used synonymously or interchangeably. They should not. Each one has a specific and nuanced meaning. They can and should all be used in an informed manner, especially by art dealers, teachers, curators and the media, all of whom perform roles as educators about this kind of art whenever they examine or present it. In practice, as I said, Outsider Art has become the common label.

Now this is something that’s interesting. I want to just tell you two critical vibes that are emerging. One is that of the rejection of the term “outsider.” The rejection of the term “outsider” by those who believe that this sounds pejorative and assumes that whoever or whatever is being placed outside is being categorized or placed there by those on the so-called privileged “inside.” This point of view comes straight out of doctrinaire post-modern critical theories’ textbooks. Normally, the “inside” would seem to refer to various places of positions within the so-called mainstream art establishment and its supporting institutions and infrastructure, such as the specialized art media or the mass media. Some people question if these outsiders are really “outside.” At the same time, we are seeing the embrace of the label “outsider,” by art makers and others, some musicians who might not be self-taught at all, who might be quite well-schooled and aware of art history and the art mainstream, and even tapped into it, but for whom “outsider.” with a nod to cultural politics, has become a declaration of a kind of social, cultural, political position or even of a stylistic fashionable pose. Les Poseurs.

Dilemma: if anyone can be a self-declared “outsider,” then who or what is a genuine “outsider”? Now, I’m going to leave you with a few critical issues, that are also on the radar screen. Andrew [Edlin] hinted at this. I’m just going to let out the full arsenal. Let’s put to rest right now the notion that however, whenever, or wherever it may be implicitly or explicitly expressed, that Outsider Art can or must be, or somehow is, legitimized, or validated, if or when it is presented alongside art made by academically trained so-called professional artists who are knowledgeable of mainstream art history, and make their works in dialogue with it. That is, art products made primarily for sale in the mainstream art market and presented in mainstream art establishment institutions. To assume, never mind state, that outsider art is somehow validated or legitimized by its real or imagined proximity to mainstream art product, or its supported institution is to misunderstand the essential nature of this art.

Just lowered the boom. Now I’m going to zip ahead to Judith Scott, whom Scott Ogden just mentioned. This kind of art by definition is unique unto itself. Certainly, as any other art form, it can be compared to and contrasted with countless other art forms examined and appreciated vis-à-vis a myriad of concerns and characteristics. But it does not need to be validated by anything other than itself. That’s the main point I want to make. And that is coming from Dubuffet’s theory about its uniqueness. Like the best forms of artistic expression of any kind, in any discipline, outsider art embodies and communicates its own inherent truths. And it is our jobs as observers, as art appreciators, as critics certainly, to find those truths and articulate them.

Now, having said all that, at the end of 2013, a New York Times report on the year’s events and trends in the international art world, of which the art market is a large part, stated breathlessly, “this was the year that outsider art came in from the cold.” Now I ask, as an informed observer, and I saw the exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale, exactly what did that remark, which was packed with assumptions mean? From exactly which supposedly cold precincts did outsider art finally emerge? Cold in relation to what? What might have been the hot?

The Times offered as a rationale for its assertion that outsider art had been featured “most prominently in the centerpiece exhibition of the Venice Biennale.” That big exhibition was called The Encyclopedic Palace. It was organized by Massimiliano Gioni, a curator here in New York. That exhibition took its name from that of a sculpture by an Italian-American self-taught artist Marino Auriti who in the 1950s imagined a museum which he called Enciclopedico Palazzo del Mondo, which was to house all the knowledge in the world. His sculpture was a model of his proposed museum building. And that lovely sculpture is housed at the American Folk Art Museum here in New York.

That exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale placed outsider art alongside the creations of academically trained artists, including some big-name stars in the mainstream such as Bruce Nauman, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, and others. In fact, by the time the time the New York Times article was published in December 2013, the market for the works and the market for the best self-taught artists, which had been around for several decades, had long been quite high. Such works had been increasingly visible in the mainstream media. They had become more and more popular among general interest audiences.

Just look at the attendance figures of the annual Outsider Art Fair. Kudos, Andrew! They had become ever costlier in gallery art fair and auction sales. Around the time of the [2013] Venice Biennale, a British writer [Sam Thorne] wrote an article about it and quoted Gioni who said that “he hope[d] that his exhibition will ‘blur the line’ between the insider and the outside.” Here we go again with this hackneyed, cliché, binary thinking. However, the writer of this article in Frieze magazine went on to write, referring to works of art by self-taught outsider artists, “[D]oes the inclusion of such works really question the mainstream, as Gioni has suggested, or is it just further proof that – in order to maintain its primacy – the mainstream always needs to designate exceptions?”

Okay, I’ll leave you with these two points. A few months later, around the time of the Outsider Art Fair 2014 in New York, a few months after the Venice Biennale closed, my colleague at Raw Vision Magazine, John Maizels, its founder, spoke with me about this trend of bringing together works of academically trained artists and those of remarkable autodidacts. Maizels noted, “it is definitely happening. Is it because the contemporary art world has open up to the fact that outsider art is quite popular now, or is it because outsider art prices have risen and therefore this kind of work seems more worthwhile to people in the market that is?” I think it’s a bit of both. So, if that’s the case, here are questions for the jury to consider. Is it worthwhile, desirable, or necessary to “blur the line,” as Gioni said in his 2013 interview, between artistic creations that are identified as those of outsider artists and those who are made by academically trained so called professional artists? Or not? Or is it possible and could it be more satisfying or perhaps illuminating to allow works of art that are classified and labeled one way and those that are classified and labeled another way to co-exist; to appreciate them for their respective, and yes sometimes shared or common characteristics or affinities, without wanting needing or expecting one kind of art to somehow validate or legitimize another, or to be regarded as possessing some kind of greater aesthetic historical or other value than another? In his article in Frieze magazine, the British writer Sam Thorne, who happens to be a museum director in England at the Nottingham Contemporary, also cited the curator Lynne Cooke, whom Andrew mentioned today, a curator who has long worked in this field, is now on staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Thorne quotes Lynne Cook, who observed that “outsider art has come to be viewed as a parallel field, separate but equal to contemporary art.” He noted that Cooke had pointed out that “parallel lines can never converge.”

Now, I can leave you there. But I just want to show you one slide that’s very important. Art Brut and Outsider Art’s historical root territories are Europe and the Americas. Traditionally, these related fields have been driven by the activities of self-motivated researchers and collectors whose research pursuits and collecting have gone hand in hand. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is a field that grew out of the activities of researcher collectors, and to this day is still dependent on some of the energy and passion of collectors who are very good researchers, and the best dealers also function, particularly in this field, not just as promoters, sellers, but as researcher educators. This is very unique to this field, somewhat in the way that any specialized field of antiques or decorative objects might appear to you. I can tell you from my vantage point, as a curator working at the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, which Dubuffet founded 40 years ago, that indeed specialized institutions of this kind, which there are very few of, and the marketplace in general (Scott Ogden alluded to this), are all hungry for discoveries, and so the researchers in this field are branching out beyond the familiar territories of Western Europe and the Americas, and we are now seeing exciting finds coming from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, so that’s where the research stands.
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The Rise of Outsider Art

Break on Through (from the Outside):

The Rise of Outsider Art

Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Stropheus present an evening with insiders and experts on the flourishing of Outsider Art and the specific challenges of outsider artists and their immediate support circle.

Sotheby’s Institute of Art, 570 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022

Panelists

Andrew Edlin, CEO of the Outsider Art Fair; founder and president, Andrew Edlin Gallery
Edward M. Gómez, senior editor, Raw Vision; art critic, historian & curator of outsider art
Scott Ogden, founder and director of Shrine, a Lower East Side gallery focused on outsider art
Daniel Swanigan Snow, Brooklyn-based self-taught artist
• Dr. Richard M. Lehun, Esq., attorney focused on artist-gallerist relations, agency, and art transactions

Moderator

Judith B. Prowda, Esq., Faculty, MA Art Business, Sotheby’s Institute of Art-New York

Topics explored will include cultural relevance, critical recognition, representing outsider art/outsider artists, as well as copyright, collections management, catalogue raisonné, agency relationships, and legacy planning.

Tune into Sotheby’s Institute of Art Facebook live stream here

About Outsider Art

The term “outsider art,” which was coined in 1972 by the British art historian Roger Cardinal, is used to label a range of unusual art forms produced by self-taught art-makers who tend to be situated, either by choice or as a result of varied circumstances, on the margins of mainstream society and culture.

As a general catchall term, nowadays “outsider art” is used to refer to the related and sometimes overlapping genre categories of art brut (unique art forms created outside the academic tradition and without reference to established art history), outsider art and self-taught art (a much broader, contemporary term referring to works produced by unschooled art-makers of many kinds, including the creators of folk art and what used to be known as “naïf art”).

In recent years, increasingly, outsider artworks have been shown in major museum exhibitions and have entered notable public and private collections. Now more than 25 years old and an institution in its own right, the annual Outsider Art Fair in New York and its newer sister fair in Paris have played a large role in validating the status of self-taught artists and celebrating the diversity of their achievements.

As outsider art has gained recognition in the marketplace, legal challenges confronting outsider artists and their estates have grown in complexity to ensure that their artistic output is sustainable in the long term.

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End of Brick-and-Mortar: An Epilogue with Gallerists David Dixon, Michael Foley, and Sasha Wolf


Gallerists David Dixon, Michael Foley, and Sasha Wolf respond to the crisis of the brick-and-mortar gallery model by analyzing new business models. Further background on this discussion can be found in the event recordings of Nicole Klagsbrun and Jay Gorney, Josh Baer and Richard Lehun, as well as an interview with Edward Winkleman.


David Dixon: Mike, you were at that brick-and-mortar conversation that Richard Lehun and Christie’s Education organized, the panel with Nicole Klagsburn, Jay Gorney and Josh Baer. I was wondering if you have any ideas about what was addressed, and about what wasn’t addressed in the talk that you felt should have been?

Michael Foley: First of all, I thought that the talk was incredibly timely. Everyone in the gallery world, including gallerists and people interested in the evolution of how we work, was interested in what seasoned dealers have to say. The only thing that was missing was a multigenerational take on this. The dealers involved had been in the business a long time, and this was a natural evolution for them to move out of that traditional gallery mode into something private and project based. I think the next step is to hear from gallerists who are somewhere in the middle, who have been in the business for while but still have a long career in front of them, and also the younger people coming up who are thinking about opening galleries or just opened a gallery, or perhaps an artist that has opened up an artist-run gallery space – and to hear a little bit about their perspectives. That panel was a great beginning, because we heard a lot of experience up on the panel. But now I’d like to hear from dealers that are at different stages of being a gallerist, either at the beginning or somewhere in the middle.

DD: And surprise, here we are. You’re basically in that middle range, I would say?

MF: Yes – I’ve been working in galleries since 1989, so I’m definitely pre-Internet and from the era of sending out slides and photocopying. But I have also moved into the digital age and had a gallery myself for the past 12 years, starting in Chelsea and then moving to the Lower East Side. Now I feel like I have still a long way to go in my career, but I also feel that things are changing. And it’s a good idea to address that now and figure out the possibilities.

DD: That was one of the things that I felt should have been addressed in the panel and wasn’t, which was like you said, we’re in the digital age now. You started with photocopying and certainly the changes now go beyond that. But in your gallery, do you work in a brick-and-mortar space, as well as the digital space?

MF: Yes, certainly. I have a traditional space and I do solo exhibitions. I definitely have one foot in the old and one foot in the new, and that new consists of a lot of different things. For me, it’s a turn to being a different kind of distribution system, or awareness system. How are people finding out about art? How are people viewing it? How are people buying it? What are the platforms that they are discovering? The brick-and-mortar space was a very specific model: I have a gallery, I have work on the wall, people come in, they see it, they experience it. Then of course there is the evolution of websites, which allows people to experience art remotely. And there’s the advent of the art fairs, which have been with us for quite some time, which is yet another space where people can view art. And there are online marketplaces. We have to try to understand all of these different ways that people are experiencing and buying art and engaging with it, and figure out what’s best and how much of my resources need to go into each and which one is turning out to be the most successful. Right now it seems like they all simultaneously occur, but the question is five or ten years down the road, what is going to rise to the top, what is going to be the way of working for a gallery in an industry has been used to the traditional model. And how can that morph and develop into something that perhaps we haven’t seen before – maybe that’s a hybrid, or maybe that’s something completely new.

DD: Sasha, that’s what you were saying earlier. That you’ve got your sights on where you are going to be ten years from now. So you had a brick-and-mortar space, but now you would actually prefer not to work in this mode?

Sasha Wolf: There are a lot of different reasons for that, but yes, I had a brick-and-mortar gallery for almost ten years and let go of that space about three months ago. When a space became available on the second floor above my brick-and-mortar space, I took it. What I wound up doing was closing the ground floor space and working out of the second floor space, which has so far worked very nicely for me. But there are so many branches there. There’s the economics of it, there’s my clients experience, there’s my artists’ experience, there’s my experience. Right now I’m much happier not having a public space. I don’t want my day to be the same every day. I’ve never really loved that. I have reverted back to having more freedom, and I’ve been traveling a lot more the past few months to go work with my artists in their studios, wherever they are. That just feels fabulous to me on a personal level, and I enjoy coming to work a lot more.

It works out better for me economically as well, and something I wasn’t sure was going to happen was that my clients really love it. It’s just more private. Of course there are big galleries that have very private rooms where they work with their clients, but I didn’t have that. I had a back area, but it wasn’t completely private, and there’s something different about the situation now. Now when I offer my clients something to drink, they always say yes. The bar is well stocked. There’s something about this setup, where clients are ready to settle in, they spend more time here, they have a glass of wine, they have an espresso. There’s something happening now that’s working better for them as well. The only thing that needs to be figured out is how to satisfy my artists’ desire for a public show. The answer to that seems to be that I will have pop-up shows, and I’m actually going to have one very soon, my first pop-up.

Commerce in general is so different. I think it’s really important to think about where are we going to be in five years, ten years, and that’s what I’m focused on trying to figure out. And then based on what I come up with, what my assumptions are, what do I need to build moving forward. That is what I’m working on – bigger plans to develop a new construct beyond what I’m doing right this second, that will make sense for a little ways down the road.

The decision to get rid of my physical space was not easy, as Michael knows. We’re old friends and we talk about these things a lot. It was scary, because the paradigm, the structure of the physical gallery space, is so unbelievably powerful. It’s so intense. It’s that white box, where you rotate shows every six, five, six seven weeks. It’s so deeply ingrained into culture and the art world. There are so many things that went into the decision. One is that I started to enjoy my experiences less with people coming in. I found that people under a certain age started coming in and photographing the show and then leaving, instead of coming in and really engaging with the work and with me, asking questions. I assume that they’ll interact with their peers when they post the photographs another time, and I have no judgment about that whatsoever, but that experience became less interesting for me. As someone who loves talking to strangers, that was a big loss for me. My overhead was also getting really crazy, and it was starting to feel suffocating financially.

The third factor was that it seemed like my artists always felt like they had to have a show every two years, that that became the industry norm, and I felt that a lot of projects were being aborted before they were finished. And that my artists wanted to have shows of new work before it was ready. We were losing on both ends. No matter how many times I kept telling my artists to relax and that this was just a false paradigm, that it was arbitrary, they really couldn’t get away from it because it’s the way the industry works. It started to feel not good, like I was putting up too many shows that were not fully baked. When you hang a show you want to feel filled with pride. There’s a feeling you get when you know you’ve put up a great show and it’s amazing. I started to feel there were too many shows going up that were good and not great. I wanted to get off that hamster wheel.

There were a lot of other reasons to close the brick-and-mortar space, but those were the big ones. Now I feel free, and I am working on all these other projects and much more productive. I’m selling more. I’m more focused. For me it’s worked out nicely, and I still have all my same artists. I still represent my artists, I still have all my clients and things continue, but with out the feeling of having to conform to a certain standard.

DD: You mention that you spend more time in your artists’ studios, is that partially due to not having a space?

SW: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always gone to my artists’ studios, for a couple reasons. I feel like you have to go to the studio to really see what’s going on. I’ve always traveled to my artists studios, but I had to be careful of how I spaced my trips because I didn’t want to be away from the gallery for too long, and there was also a feeling of anxiety about being away. Now I have no anxiety and I can even spend that extra day. I used to do crazy trips where I’d have an artist in Maine and I would fly in and get in at 10:00 in the morning and we would work 36 hours straight, barely sleep, and I’d come back. Now I can take a little bit more time. I was just in California working with two of my artists and I was there for six or seven days. That doesn’t seem a lot of time but all I was doing was working with them. I really enjoy that process of being able to sit there with my artists in their studio. With one artist, I was sitting in the studio for three days. I stayed with them, we were together all the time – looking at work, talking about work, drinking coffee looking at work, drinking beer looking at work. It was the whole day, and so it was so productive. I really love that freedom. For me, temperamentally and in terms of where I want to go with my business, and in the way I show work and deal with the artists, this works for me. This is so cliché, but I think of it as a river that’s flowing and I just want to be flowing with the river. For me, having a gallery started to feel like I was going the wrong way.

DD: Michael, you joyfully maintain your brick and mortar space, despite what you say about these retired or retiring dealers we were seeing at the brick-and-mortar panel, who were in the later stage in their career and seem to disavowing their need for such a space. But you feel as if in mid-career, you like working both angles. Would you elaborate on that a little bit?

MF: I think part of this is the nature of my personality. I’m very social. I like people coming in, I like engaging with them. I don’t mind if they have a lot of questions. I don’t care if they don’t know the artist. I like to inform them of that, and I like having a home, if you will. I like having people coming into that home, and I like hosting that.

I made the move from Chelsea to the Lower East Side, and I started on Allen St., which is a block away from Orchard St. where I am now. But I found that I would mount shows, and keep a tab over how many people would come in, and tops I would get 16 people. And I thought, I can no longer mount an exhibition from an artist who has spent years creating a body of work, for only a handful of people to see it. I decided if I was going to move, I was going to move myself front and center, which was Orchard St. at the time, and where I still am. The amount of through traffic there is really rich for me, and I have found that I’ve made converts of people who just happen to walk by the space and come in and buy work. My mentality is this: if I’m able to justify a gallery that I have now as a brick-and-mortar space based on the amount of foot traffic I get, then I think it’s awash, then I think it’s equal. There’s going to come a point where even being front and center on Orchard St. won’t be enough, and then I’m really going to have to think about whether this works anymore. But the way I’m set up now, I have really big storefront windows. I’ve put some art in there that I think really draws people in, and I engage with them, and I still think that the gallery provides a platform for physical interaction between two people. One is the art seller, the other is the art buyer. It really does communicate and transform for the possibility of a sale. If I don’t have that, I think I’m missing a big tool in the toolbox. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come to economics. If it comes to the point where my rent is so high that I don’t care how many walk-ins I get, it doesn’t pay, then I’ll change.

In addition to that, I do feel that it’s an important step for an artist’s completion of that body of work to actually show it in a public space. It allows for a kind of celebration on their part. It also allows for critical valuation. That’s the one thing that I don’t think will occur if an exhibition isn’t in place – whether online, The New York Times, The New Yorker, if it’s not an exhibition, it’s not going to get reviewed, and it’s not going to have a critical dialogue. The gallery, the brick-and-mortar space, allows for that. I don’t know any online shows that are reviewed critically. Now maybe they’re spoken about, but it doesn’t provide the same temperament the gallery exhibition will. So, as long as the economics work – they still are working for me – I like having the space.

DD: From my point of view as an artist, who fell into this gallery dealing issue, which I consider an extension of the work I am doing. For me, the question became very quickly, not so much about brick-and-mortar, but the tradition of the white cube itself, and the way that it whitewashes its history for each show so that you kind of have kind of a reset. In my gallery, being down the hall from my studio, the space itself quickly became a kind of a sculptural object, where we didn’t return to the white cube. Each show sequentially built on its prior show, and there were some aesthetics left from that history in the space. This wasn’t necessarily something that I felt like was a solution for the brick-and-mortar idea or the white cube generally speaking, it was just something that grew out of my artistic needs, and my own relationship to the artists I was working with, to create what I felt like was an experimental, experiential dynamic space. The space itself became an experience that one couldn’t get online. My goal became to create an environment where the artist’s work would be better than they even expected it to be. That in our collaboration, we pushed them to do things that maybe they didn’t feel like they could in more traditional environments. In talking to people about this idea of not only artists and artist dealer relationships, like what it is that you do together when you put up a show, like who is in control, who is making the aesthetic decisions, who the curator is. Those became problematic, because I was an artist too and had my own ideas, as everfyone does about what something should installed or shown. So, the nature of some of those shows kind of spiral and ended up being maybe collaborative in ways that a normal one person show wouldn’t necessarily be. And the solution there was that the artist would generally have to show other places if they wanted a different kind of experience. So, I don’t represent artists into the way that a gallery normally does, in a kind of contractual way, and where they have some kind of exclusive relationship with them.

Fortunately I’ve ended up with two spaces to work with. One is the conventional white cube space that came after having done this kind of programming at Cathouse FUNeral, which was this additive space that wasn’t a traditional white cube. That space is now being deconstructed and reconstructed in offsite locations. I know this pop-up thing is popular, but the term seems diminutive to me. I prefer Smithson’s notion of site/non-site experiences, or choosing a space that fits with the work that needs to be shown. Its temporality is less important than the fact that it can be a unique and unusual experience. As a curator or as an artist, it pushes one to make certain thematic and aesthetic decisions differently in different kinds of environments. One of the things that become monotonous is to always show in the same space. You get used to what looks good on what wall. Maybe you’re talking about future ideas, future plans, some kind of system that seems impossible to implement, where one rotates and uses different kinds of spaces, rather than having to put down a lease. In New York City, long term leases are more and more rare, so maybe we’ll just have to remain more light on our feet.

SW: When I started, I remember that some people didn’t even have websites. Even the Internet – there was Amazon, but some colleagues didn’t even have websites yet. That was sort of amazing. As recently as six months ago, I read an interview with someone who closed completely, and they were saying that the main reason was because of art fairs. But I think a lot of people are having trouble because of online marketplaces and may not even realize that. I think that the ability to buy art online has had a massive effect on the industry in ways people don’t realize. It’s sort of a frog in the water, where we’re slowly being boiled. It’s crept up. I try really hard to not be upset. The world changes. Who cares? The point is to figure out a way to change with it and be happy with those changes. I can honestly say that I’m fine with where we are now. Primarily because I have free will. I don’t love all the online marketplaces that have popped up, some of them are sort of strange to me and I don’t love all the art fairs, so I don’t do them. No one has a gun to my head. I do think that objectively speaking, we are not where we were compared to ten years ago. There were art fairs and the big galleries would do one or two a year, and there were no online market places. Now those galleries are doing about fifteen or twenty art fairs a year. They’re just constantly sending out different staff members and they are on two or three online marketplaces. There’s no question that it’s a totally different experience. For me it really comes down to figuring out the little pieces here and there that serve our clients best, that haven’t been addressed yet.

MF: I agree with you. There have been a lot of changes, and the things that gallerists have embraced over the years as additional tools may ultimately be our undoing. When I opened 12 years ago, the only way one could see art and be with the art world and see what was new was to go to the gallery. That was the wellspring, that was where it all happened. There was an event, new work, I’ve never sent this before – fresher than a museum could turn out, because a gallery could do a show in a hot minute if it wanted to do it. Also, the artwork was held back. In other words, the first chance you could see it all was in the gallery, not through Instagram, not through Facebook, not through this post and that post. It’s kind of like music, in the way music used to be released. You waited until that record came out, and you got the whole thing. Now you got a single here, a special EP, this and that. The distribution model has been different, and I think gallerists have readily embraced technological and non-technological advances – whether that’s an art fair, having a website, having an online marketplaces, or doing pop-up shows to expand your presence. You can have a gallery here, and have a popup in San Francisco. It’s not to replace it, it’s actually to add to it. The ways that we can present work and engage our audience have greatly increased, but with that has been a certain sense of loss of control. The other change that I see is how artists are in the picture. Before, artists were viewable via the gallery. Now artists have direct connection. It’s kind of like instead of me selling it in my retail store, you can buy direct from the manufacturer, and they are showing their goods. Now our power, if you will, has shrunk. And maybe our importance!

SW: I was talking earlier about where we’re going to be in ten years. I believe that artists are going to be dealing directly with clients way more as the years go on, and I think there will be a platform, a really good platform created, a digital platform to connect artists with clients.

MF: And as far as commerce goes, strictly commerce, why shouldn’t they?

SW: I agree. That’s why I’m not upset about it. I think it’s inevitable.

DD: I think that’s been around for a while. There’s that documentary I was referencing earlier, Painters Painting, where one of the artists is on a panel, and the artist says, “when are we going to have direct access to buyers, why do we have to go through museums? When can we, as artists, directly access the Rockefellers, for instance, for collecting?”

MF: Well, now they have – the Rockefellers are on Instagram. So yes, the access is there.

SW: I would argue that if it makes sense, it should be. Right? Whether it’s gay marriage or whether its artists dealing directly with clients – it’s evolution and it’s evolution that makes sense. It is inevitable. So there’s no point in getting upset about things that make sense and are inevitable.

DD: What’s upsetting is if it’s the art itself that is degraded somehow.

MF: If the process of making the art suffers.

DD: Possibly. I would think, the experience of the work.

MF: Right.

SW: I don’t think it will. Because there will always be museums, there will always be certain institutions that where there are gatekeepers, where there really is rigor, but I think that’s why we have to get a lot more creative about what our role is.

MF: And about what we can offer. Before, we offered the white walls, we offered some guidance, we offered some sales, but now a lot of that is elsewhere. I see a parallel to publishing. The writer and the artist are very similar. Before, you had to go to one of the big publishers and it would be distributed in a certain way, and it could only be distributed at bookstores. There was a lot of power in few places. Now it’s different, but the one thing that the writer and the artist need is a good editor. If you read any novel or book of essays, you always see a big thank you that usually goes out to the editor, the person who went through the process with the writer. I feel that the gallerist still plays that role, and that’s probably our most important role that we can hold onto and maintain as long as artists still feel that they need it. Because I think that some artists are like, “hey you know I’m just going to do this all myself.”

SW: Right, so good luck, go ahead. But, you’ve mentioned and asked me about going to my artists’ studios. People ask me all the time, why are my artists still with me when I don’t have a physical, permanent space. Just imagine that you’re an artist, you’re making art, which we all know is a very candid, very lonely experience. There’s a certain unbelievable self-involvement that comes with making art. It’s just the way it is. You’re in your head, you have to have a certain drive, a certain dedication and single-mindedness and there’s someone there who is willing to talk to you about those things whenever you want. Whenever I go to my artist’s studios we are talking about them. What are you thinking? What do you want to do? Where are you going? What does this mean? In my case, what works well with my artists is that I’m not just willing to do that and be that person for them, but I also love it. I love debating the merit of every single piece. If you don’t move towards that place, I think you do become obsolete.

SW: I wonder how you, Michael, feel about art school, because you also teach. I do the occasional guest lecture where I went and I’m a total bummer, but you actually teach regularly.

MF: I think the most important thing for someone entering into art school, whether its undergrad or graduate, is to have a clear understanding of expectations, and an evaluation of who they are as an artist, their skill level, their intention and what they can expect when they graduate.

SW: Well, whose responsibility is that though? It can’t be the responsibility of an eighteen-year-old knucklehead with an undeveloped brain.

MF: Well, the challenge is that some student is like, “I like photography. Let me study photography.” And they really don’t know what that means the end of four years for them, versus their investment of their time and their money or their parents’ money to do it. There needs to be a better education about it, and I don’t know whose responsibility that is. Who is that person? Or who is that body? The student needs to get a clear understanding of what to expect and if they are really right for art school. It’s a great benefit to many people who are committed to it, who are dedicated to it and have their expectations in check. A lot of times the art schools, even at a graduate level, don’t really inform their students of what to expect after they get out, and about what they need to understand about the art world, what they need to understand about making a living and being an artist.

SW: It’s so important. I don’t know how you can graduate kids who have no sense of that. Compare it to the performing arts, and the schools that have conservatory programs, SUNY, Purchase or CHAS conservatory programs and Juilliard. Those students, they know how hard its going to be. There’s no pussyfooting around, when you’re dealing with ballerinas or opera singers, they really know the deal. I’m not sure why those same conversations don’t happen with art students.

MF: When you mention those conservatory schools, that sounds like a very dedicated and intense course of study, that is highly competitive. At a certain level, the undergraduate programs are not that competitive. A school has a certain quota or has to fill a certain amount of students in their student body. They may lower their standard and they may not give full disclosure about what people are actually getting involved with, and then you get a good group of people in there who realize somewhere along the line realize they don’t want to be artists. At a conservatory level or a more competitive program, you weed out the people who are less talented. Art school under the right conditions is a good experience for the right candidate, but for many of the people that are in there, perhaps it’s not a good fit.

SW: I agree with that. I know that this doesn’t really bear out, but I wish that you could come up for evaluation. Obviously you have to maintain a certain grade point average, but I think too many artists are graduating without enough skill and without any sense of what it takes. This is a debate that’s obviously filled with a lot of different tentacles and it’s hard to sum up, but I do think that there are too many kids who are getting out with these huge student loans, and they have no idea what it takes and they have no ability at all, and I find that really heartbreaking.

SW: If I could grab a hold of graduating artists, I would tell them not to get caught up in these sort of paradigms that we’ve created, that we’ve been talking about, that really have nothing to do with art. They’re not organic. They’re constructs, and there is no timetable. If it takes you ten years to produce one masterpiece, then that’s the way you work. We could sit here and go down the list of some of the greatest artists of all time who produced very few pieces and there are some who produced tons of work. There is no right and wrong, and yet I think that the constructs of the art world, or as I call it now, the art-industrial complex, make these kids feel like they have to have a show, they have to be in a gallery right away, that’s going to somehow change their life. And then they are going to have to have a show every two of years, whether they are ready or not. People need to figure out how to develop a practice that’s going to nurture them throughout their entire life, and that’s a very personal, private thing. The art world has intruded and just eaten young people alive. I think social media plays into this too, the need to be famous. Making art and fame need to disengage.

MF: It’s a long game. Whether as adults or as young people, we are so used to wanting some instant gratification. It is like baking cookies. You can’t take them out of the oven too soon, even though you’re hungry, and you just have to let it develop. People develop differently. Some people are very prolific, some people are slower, some people start with one medium, and then they give that up because their true medium is something else. And you can’t know that by rushing it. You have to give yourself time, under the correct guidance, no matter how many years it takes. And the other thing I’d say beyond that is that as an artist or a gallerist, you have to diversify your revenue streams. The days of being a gallerist where you sit in there and you put stuff on the wall and that’s how you make your living by selling that stuff is probably not going to be happening right now. It’s true for artists too. Just going in your studio, making work and selling it isn’t going to be enough.

SW: You teach and I do a lot of consulting with people who I don’t represent.

MF: That adds to it, it takes the pressure off and it’s a very practical form of income for me. And it informs what I do as a gallerist. The other thing I would say is, as a gallerist, don’t feel that that you have to do everything that everyone else is doing. When I started, I thought I had to frame all my artists’ shows, I had to do all these art fairs, and before you know it, I was spending so much more money than my gallery was generating. You may have to start small, do little by little. You may want a bigger space. You may want a fancier website, you may want to do the fancy art fair, but just because you think you can or you have the credit to do it, it’s not necessarily a good move. You have to grow as naturally as possible.

Both of us combined have had a lot of years of experience and have seen the old way of doing it and the new way of doing it and the way we haven’t even discovered yet. Gallerists, whether they have a bricks-and-mortar space or they don’t, have to be nimble and have to be able to pivot. They have to be open to letting old ways go and embracing new ones, even if though they’re not comfortable, and even if it means embracing a technology that they don’t understand.

SW: Which may be a metaphor for getting older. Don’t just walk around saying to “those young people,” you have to figure it out, you have to keep moving.

MF: As gallerists, we hopefully have a whole knew generation of collectors who have been raised to look at the world differently and we can’t dish them out the way that we think they should be. are. If they follow Instagram feeds and that’s how they buy art from the artists that they follow, alright then, that’s not the wrong way to do it.

SW: To make someone happy is the right way for them, frankly, and I totally agree.

MF: We have to be adaptable and changeable and that’s the bottom line.

MF: The generation before us got into it for a lot of the same reasons we got into it and that’s because we love it, we love the art. Very few people get into it because they think it’s a great financial opportunity. I think they have a genuine knowledge and love for the artists and that artists’ process. I think the biggest difference is that when they were doing it, there was one way of doing it, and they did it that way. Now when you enter, there are many ways to engage with it and there’s not one right way. And I don’t think there’s an end goal either. I don’t know what the best scenario is. I don’t know any more.

SW: Maybe we’ll be selling art from, instead of a food truck, an art truck. I said to people when I was doing this transition, that I was going to do pop-up shows when I had a show that was crying out to be seen. And I firmly believe this that would be very normal. Right now it’s not as much the norm, but I think in a year it’s going to be.

MF: Even in New York there have always been event spaces, dedicated spaces for exhibitions, retail pop-up that could easily be gallery exhibitions. That’s what their business model is, to take people like us, or fashion brands that are just starting, and do a pop-up – whether it’s one day, 24 hours, or a week or a month. So they understand that there’s a need for that and we’re happy to do that.

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End of Brick and Mortar: Part II


In Part II of this panel discussion on post Brick-and-Mortar experiences held at Christie’s Education New York, Josh Baer provides historical contextualization and market insight, after which Richard Lehun will present on the legal challenges created by hybrid art business practices. Part I with Nicole Klagsbrun and Jay Gorney can be found here.


 

Josh BaerJosh Baer

Hi everybody, I’m not doing PowerPoint. I thought it was better that I listen to my esteemed colleagues and try to react to that and get a sense of who you are. It’s interesting to hear them speak, because of my history. I started running White Columns, my first show was Lee Quiñones in 1980 and my second show was Peter Schuyff, who used to be my assistant. I think he worked for fifty dollars a week, something like that.

After running White Columns, I couldn’t get a job, I didn’t have any money, so I opened an art gallery – because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and the notion of not knowing anybody who bought art didn’t seem quite as foolish then. I think part of what’s going on with all of us is that was one of the advantages of being young, and sort of inexperienced. Now we’re sort of in this more mature, white-hair kind of period. So our changes in life have to do with youth vs. hopefully a little bit of wisdom. So, I opened a gallery much as Andy Warhol would throw a party. I would say that in the mid-eighties, three of maybe the five best galleries in New York for artists of our generation were Nicole, Jay and myself. And of the 20 best galleries in New York at the time, I would say that we were on that list. It’s interesting to see that none of us are doing that now. That’s significant. It made me reflect that, wow, if you look back into the 60s, how many galleries are still going that we could name? Not many. 70s not many, 80s fewer, 90s… So though this topic is about the shift of the brick and mortar or the gallery system, I think it’s always been a little bit the case that as people got more mature their circumstances change. Personally, I closed my gallery because I was destitute, out of money and the art market had collapsed.

We haven’t mentioned money yet, but that’s what happened in the 90s and I know that it affected all of us in different ways. But if three of the five best galleries of that period couldn’t make it, that’s meaningful. If we’ve got roughly six hundred galleries in New York now, how many of them are really extraordinary? And we don’t really talk about that. And how many of them are likely going to be alive, how many are going to be flourishing 5, 10, 20 years from now? I’m going to say not many. And it’s always been that way.

So, I didn’t have much choice. I think these guys (Nicole and Jay) had a little more choice. I closed my doors and I went, now what? And I heard of this thing called the fax machine, so I created this newsletter called the ‘Baer Fax,’ which was a brand-new term. This was 21 years ago. There was kind of a ‘shower idea’ that Jerry Saltz was supposed to be my partner and that’s a long story. And lo and behold people think that it’s a big deal now (or not). But for me, it’s not a very big deal. Running a gallery, representing artists, is a very significant activity that really adds a lot to the world of art. Being a newsletter, or, now I’ve been an art advisor for twenty years, it’s a very satisfying activity to do. It’s not quite as important as running a gallery.

But it’s something that’s probably personally better, and I think that all of us, after thirty or forty years, you start to say, “well what’s best for me vs. what’s best for the artists I work with.” It’s a very hard switch to make, because for many years, we were really- you know, as a gallerist, you’re the friend, you’re the psychiatrist, you’re the banker, you’re the mother, you’re the father of all these artists. And it’s a very confusing power position, because that relationship is driven by the artist, and they’re not our friends. We’re their friends when they need something; they are not our friends when we need something.

It took a long time to understand that and to understand what was best for us, and I think largely what’s happening for all of us is asking the question, well, what works for us as much as for the artist? Now, before we bring it to that question, which I think will be an important part, I think it’s notable that we were also lucky that we came of age in a golden age of art making. The late seventies, early eighties. It’s like, oh my god, there’s Cindy Sherman, she’s sitting at Artist Bays but here’s this photo, $100 bucks, what a great thing. Wow, I went down to see Jeff Koons, there’s Richard Prince, hey, I went to Europe, have you ever heard of this guy named Gerhard Richter? No, but there’s this other guy named Polke. It was a magic time to be a young person in this business.

I think today, the people who are running the art galleries are as knowledgeable and talented as we were, they just happened to coming of age in not quite a glory time of art making. So, in the sense that we are talking about the brick-and-mortar and the technical things about art fairs, actually everything to do about the art world and the art business is really driven by the artists. It’s really up to them to be creating such exceptional art that makes so many people want to be involved, and I would argue that we’re not at this golden age at the moment. Maybe that’s because the art market has been the driving force, maybe we’ve been over-commercialized. Maybe we’re getting too much attention. But it will happen again, where the art will drive it.

If you look through history you’ll see very few artists that are remembered through the ages. How many artists do we remember from the Renaissance? I can probably name two, but I didn’t study art, some of you maybe ten, and that’s the Renaissance. So meanwhile we have this system of six hundred galleries in New York or eight hundred, and over three million artists in America working. I had a conversation with Jerry Saltz and I said, “Jerry, I’m not interested in a million mediocre, respectable, OK artists.” And Jerry said, “well, I am,” which was interesting and honest. I’m interested in five, or ten, or fifty. And again, I was fortunate that when I was twenty-five there were these people and you could see them. They’re still around, and there will be that many, but in this over-convoluted system of ten times as many collectors, ten times as many galleries. “Oh that’s good, it’s a nice job, you can tell your mom you became an art dealer, they won’t shout at you like they would have forty years ago,” but we’re just in a different moment, we have a lot more noise going on.

And I’ve tried to encourage people, let’s put Bose headphones or something, get rid of the noise and bring it down to the artists that are really going to change everybody’s view of the world, and that might be one we haven’t met, or one that Jay went to see in studio today, or one that Nicole is championing. But that’s the focus that I want to see. So I’m going to make one more point that’s completely opposite to everything that I’ve said, and that’s interesting that no one’s really mentioned, which is the Internet.

We’re talking of the demise of the brick and mortar, and the internet is a way of communication. Certainly we all email. Right now people don’t have a chemical view of art, where you used to smell the painting, look at it, think about it. You get a jpeg and you have ten minutes to decide. Strangely enough for my career, I also work for eBay, and my job is to try to figure out a way for them to bridge these worlds. It’s an interesting challenge, because it’s the exact opposite to what all of us in this room are doing. So, I’ll just make these points in general and hopefully we can get to questions soon to find out what you guys really want to learn from all this and we can argue between us. Thank you.


 

Richard LehunRichard Lehun

I’m going to be doing a little more nuts and bolts here. One of my concerns, or what has been my recent experience, is that a lot of gallerists are branching out and are trying to embrace new models, trying to work with a situation that for many is unparalleled. The generation before us had a variety of experiences, and built their careers at different points of opportunity in the city, which are difficult to find in the present. One of the reasons I wanted to have you guys here is because I wanted to revive an understanding that the city goes through a lot of very difficult and rapid changes. It has done so as long as we’ve worked in this industry. But there is a point to circle back to, which is to re-pose the question, “what’s in it for me?” in a substantive sense. I think the three of you with your individual biographies have done that, and that’s why when we come to our Q&A and also to our reception where we can have a one-on-one and the dialogue can continue, that we have the opportunity to have the benefit of that experience in the room.

I’m going to be talking about a little more what we need to think about regarding the hybrid gallerist business models. Things are changing really fast and only by coming together today and discussing what the implications of that are can we work together to try to understand it and work through it. This is just a short list of the closures in 2016. The brick and mortar gallery is under serious attack. As is the Leo Castelli artist-gallerist model. Two market pressures account for the shifting tectonic. There are over 300 noted art fairs at this point and gallerists are doing over 40% of their business away from the physical gallery. Rent has entered the stratosphere, with Chelsea costing up to an average of $80 to $100 or even more per square foot.

New business models are however emerging around the classic roles that our three panelists have discussed, as they go through the various stages of their careers, embracing different types of freedoms and opportunities. These models are primarily: gallerist, dealer, and art advisor. This chart shows to whom typically each role owes legal duties. So we have the gallerist in the primary market working on artist consignment, who has disproportionate legal duty to the artist. We have the dealer in the secondary market, I’m just using here the general term of entrustment, which is also a form of consignment, but we’re not going there now. And most of the legal obligations are to the seller, obviously. And then in the case of the advisor, where you get your income from the sale, your loyalty is exclusively to the client-buyer.

We had an event on art advising where we went into a little more detail about this. There’s a lot of confusion about this. As an art advisor, if you’re being paid by a client-buyer, you have exclusive obligations to that client, at the expense of all other stakeholders. And we’ll go into that a little bit in the coming slides. So, what we have here is a little bit like the five boroughs of art business and what it means in the legal sense. The reason why I’m leaving it in its complexity right now is to give you an idea of the many different sources of liability there are, where you could get hit from.

A gallerist in the primary market will have special fiduciary duties to the artists, even after leaving the physical gallery. The main source of these special fiduciary duties are the consigned artworks, the funds held in trust, and those stemming from the artist representation relationship. A gallerist acting as an art advisor is the agent-fiduciary of the client-buyer. In both these cases, the artist-gallerist relationship and the hybrid gallerist in today’s world also functioning as an art advisor, the following duties arise. The duty of loyalty: to have no conflicts of interest, to have transparency, no undisclosed profits; and to exercise prudence in that relationship: prudence in the dealings with the artist, and prudence in the dealings with a dependent client-buyer as an art advisor.

These duties exist even if a contract says the opposite, or even if there’s no contract at all. A gallerist acting as a dealer, however, in the secondary market, works entirely differently. Buying and selling secondary artworks is largely a commercial transaction subject to what’s called the Uniform Commercial Code, which is a body of law across the United States to try and make buying and selling things easier. And make it so that people in different states in different situations can rely on each other. Then you have also tort law, which is basically a default liability where you have to behave in a way that you’re taking reasonable care in a situation, not exposing someone unnecessarily to risk. That exists completely independent of contract. And then you have the layer of contract itself, if you have one.

And in some rare cases, as a secondary market actor, you have an issue of bailment and agency law. That means when your sales don’t reach the level of you actually being an art dealer, you’re considered by the law to be a more private person, and in that situation there are other duties that can arise. And if they arise, they can go in the direction of these fiduciary duties that I just mentioned, that we’re going to cover in a little more depth.

Let’s look a little closer at what these fiduciary duties mean, because they are not very well known. Fiduciary duties change the nature of obligations that people owe to each other in very unexpected and dramatic ways. Instead of equal parties to a contract, fiduciary obligations create two distinct roles: the fiduciary, that’s the gallerist or the art advisor, the person who has power; and the person who’s dependent or has to rely, the entrustor. It’s really important to understand that whenever you have the word agent, whenever you’re acting as an agent for something or somebody, you have some degree of fiduciary duties. Agency and fiduciary duties are inseparable. Any time you are acting on somebody’s behalf, and it’s considered an agency relationship before the law, you have special obligations. Whether you have a contract, whether you contemplate these things, whether you’ve even heard about this, whether you even think that you don’t possibly by virtue of what you’re doing have such obligations, the law has those obligations in place and will enforce them against you.

And again, when agency-fiduciary duties are present, they can trump any contract or non-legally binding agreement. Even in the case when you have a discussion, and you come to some kind of agreement over something, but you aren’t necessarily ready to create legal obligations, but yet you think you understand each other, the fiduciary duties can trump all of that.

Fiduciary obligations legally order uniquely valuable social relationships. We find fiduciary obligations in doctor-patient relationships, lawyer-client relationships, amongst partners in a business venture, and in corporate governance. Fiduciary duties are imposed by society to balance power differentials.

Relationships of trust in the art context – if there’s one thing that any veteran in the art context will agree to it is that without trust, without having a high degree of reliance on other actors, it’s impossible to really function. And so interestingly enough, the law has regimes in place that mirror these types of experiences, these types of expectations that we have. So, relationships of trust in the art context are in fact inseparable from these fiduciary obligations.

It is important to understand that fiduciary obligations are imposed by courts. So again, it’s not what you think it should be in that relationship, it’s not what you think is right, it’s not even necessarily what is in your contract. If you are an art advisor, if you’re a gallerist dealing with an artist, and you do something that makes business sense to you. or even might be fair from a business point of view, but can be understood as abusing your power, a court, through the vehicle of fiduciary obligations, can basically claw back profits, or force you to perform, or perform differently. So courts are effectively the source of these fiduciary obligations, not our expectations, or our contracts, etc.

To understand what these fiduciary duties largely consist of, there are two primary duties, loyalty and prudence. The gallerist must be loyal, the art advisor must be loyal, which means they must be free of conflict of interest. He or she must act only in the interest of the artist or the advisory client, and also in the dealings there must be prudence, you must use your experience, your reasonable reflection and your professional capacity in order to make decisions that generally reflect the interests of your artists and your clients.

Loyalty require that the gallerist or art advisor cannot act for the benefit of a third party whose interests are in conflict of with those of the artist or the advisory client. The hybrid gallerist cannot act for his or her own benefit to the detriment of either without being transparent about this. That means you can’t engage in dealings that are lacking in transparency. Let us remember that the consignment relationship with primary artworks and the art advisor relationship create this special relationship.

It’s also imperative in these two relationships that all profits be discussed, that everything be disclosed, that any benefit that would accrue to you, be very clear to the artist or to the client, in the case of being an art advisor. These are things that are often not understood. The difficulty is that when these things are not properly disclosed, if the matter ends up in court, the default fiduciary obligations will force full disclosure and disgorging of any profits. The artist or art advisory client is not obligated to even ask for this, or to provide for this, or even know that this exists legally. It’s simply imposed externally by the law. Exposure, fiduciary exposure, lasts a very long period of time, and is not very easy to get out of.

In closing, fiduciary duties on art advisors and gallerists who are in relationships with artists balance agency costs. Agency costs arise when the art advisor or gallerist in this sense takes discretionary but imperfectly observable actions that impact those stakeholders. So despite being not well known, fiduciary obligations and agency relationships are at the core of post-brick and mortar practice.

So the solution is: get good contracts! At no other time has it been as important as now to know where risks are coming from. Having no contract does not mean that there is no law. It just means that you are playing Russian Roulette. Much of this law that we’re talking about is directed towards holding you accountable in ways that may or may not have anything to do with you. They may not be fair at all. But these sources of law will be determinative. The only way to deal with legal risks, especially fiduciary duties post-brick and mortar, is to have the right contracts in place. I’m going to spend two slides on non-fiduciary legal issues, because in some senses they are less complicated and generally better understood.

Selling secondary involves a very different palette of obligations. The most important thing to remember, just as I mentioned a moment ago, even when there’s no contract there is a ton of law imposed on you. Secondary sales are largely controlled by the Uniform Commercial Code, UCC for short. Then there’s tort law, I mentioned, which we will reduce to negligence here. Long before you even think of a contract, every secondary market deal is determined by a web of default laws.

The UCC sees you before you see it. All the default warranties that listed here, are in place to protect the buyer and ensure speed of transactions. We have express warranties, I’ll just read them thorough: warranty by affirmation of fact, warranty by description, the implied warranties, which means even if nothing exists, no comment is even made regarding an artwork, there are warranties implied by the UCC. Disclaimers for warranties. That means the ability to say, no, I’m not sure, or I’m not going to hold out anything, is difficult. Generally speaking there is a bias regarding you as a seller having knowledge, having the artwork and holding it out to the world in a way, and there’s a legal bias against you. So, the ability to disclaim these warranties, get out of these warranties without being very sophisticated about it is very limited. So, disclaimers for warranties can be ineffective and require drafting by very competent legal counsel.

Tort is another source of liability if you are in the secondary market. Any time the hybrid gallerist engages in secondary markets sales they confront the risk that something they are doing or saying is based on false or inadequate information. The standard of care you need to maintain is directly proportionately to your sophistication. That means the further you are in the game, the more capacity you bring to the table, the more weight the law will give to your statements, opinions, or position vis-à-vis provenance, title, quality, qualities of an artwork, etc. That is something to bear in mind, that the legal obligation that comes from fraud or negligent representation is directly proportional to being a competent art context actor. So, the better you are, the more likely a mistake can be held against you.

So, yes, you do need a contract, and if you do one thing long enough and well enough, maybe luck will stay with you, you won’t get blindsided. The more diversified your hybrid practice is, the more likely it is that something can fail. The underlying message here is that along with the tremendous opportunities that exist in the present, we have to be cognizant that all of these opportunities go back into various directions of legal obligation. And it’s not as simple as stepping out into the free-zone. There has to be an awareness of what that changed model will mean to you in terms of legal risks. So, when you are exposed to such a complex web of largely invisible default obligations, you need to be on the right footing. Yes, you need a contract, and no, it won’t kill you to get one. In fact it might be the one thing that will allow you to keep going, even if you are forced to read it thoroughly. Thank you.

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End of Brick and Mortar: Part I


Gallerists are under unprecedented market pressures leading many to move on from the gallery convention. In Part I of this panel discussion on post Brick-and-Mortar experiences held at Christie’s Education New York, Nicole Klagsbrun and Jay Gorney present on alternative entrepreneurial and curatorial models. In Part II, available shortly, art market analyst and journalist Josh Baer will provide historical contextualization and market insight. Richard Lehun will present on the opportunities and challenges created by these new art business practices



 

Nicole KlagsbrunNicole Klagsbrun


I am originally from Belgium. I came to New York in 1980, and in 1982 I started officially in the art world and was a director of a gallery called Olsen Gallery. At Olsen Gallery I was introduced to Clarissa Dalrymple by artist Sarah Charlesworth. [Clarissa and I] opened Cable Gallery in 1984. It was obviously a very different time compared to today. There was a real community and you were very close. There was much more connection with the artists etc. In ‘89 I opened my own gallery because Cable Gallery closed. We lost our artists and we were not very experienced and we were not funded.



At that time the relationship with artists also was balanced. There was a sort of reciprocity. I enjoyed the process of working with the artists, like going to their studio, creating the first show, nurturing them to have a career. Whereas now, you really have to perform for the artists because of what’s happened to the market. Now this all takes place in three months, from the studio, to the first show, to an auction house sale.



I like being a facilitator, somebody in-between, and the way that the art world works now is much more alienating. Everybody knows how corporate it is and how many people work in galleries and all the art fairs. So, the focus is much more about the result, rather than really living through a creative process.



This slide is Green Street, Jimmy Durham. It was sort of a 20th century model, where there were three modes of communication: you showed up, you picked up the phone, or you send a letter. This was before the fax machine.



It’s not a criticism. It’s just that now it’s completely different. The way that it evolved, it became about the product. The public became much more interested in the resale and the monetary value of art. That became very stifling.



Then I moved to Chelsea in ‘98, and this is a slide with a Rashid Johnson, another show.



So the art world evolved from being much more of a community and people in the trade, to functioning much more like the rest of the economy, kind of global. And for me that was very stressful and not pleasurable on a daily basis.



And I also felt that the rules of it and the way that it functioned, weren’t negotiable. You had really be in the art fairs, you had to have a schedule of shows, you had to really be part of it, and that got sort of blinding. Also the problems of participating in an art fair were another very difficult part. And the public now wants to buy en masse. They seem like they don’t want to be confronted with the actual person and a one-on-one situation. Probably the Internet is playing a big factor.


And also if you go to an art fair, the artwork is seen by, I don’t know how many – 60,000 people versus the number of people who pass by a gallery, which is much less. So, I think that’s the reason why the artists want so much to be in art fairs. I did [participate in art fairs] at one point which was a few years before I closed, I took a smaller place on the ground floor on West 24th Street, because I was trying to change the way of functioning. So I took that as a project space and I decreased the number of artists that I was representing. But I didn’t feel that solved the problem of that machine that I constantly feel that I have to feed and follow. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I did know that I didn’t want to continue in the system and the only way of not being part of the system was to get out of it.



So I closed in 2013. Before I closed I started to work with an artist called Brie Ruais. I thought it was a pity not to give her her first one person show, so I asked her if she agreed to do this with me as an independent if I rented a space, and she agreed. So that was basically my first venture as an independent. And the show was very successful and we still continue to work together, so I still represent her.



This slide is a show where we collaborated with Mesler Feuer in the Lower East Side. She currently has some new work at Rachel Uffner Gallery in the Lower East Side.



Then in 2015 I was introduced to Lee Quiñones, and within six months I found a space on the Lower East Side and showed drawings from the 70s and 80s. So that was the second pop-up.



Then Jeffrey Deitch came back to New York and reopened his gallery with a show of drawings and paintings by Cameron, which was shown in LA MoCA and I’ve been representing this estate since 2006.



I now work out of an office/showroom in Chelsea in the same place I used to have my gallery, funnily enough, and where I did a show of watercolors by Peter Schuyff.



I do find it again quite exciting because I felt there was no place to grow anymore. The mid-sized gallery is kind of disappearing, which is what I was. So, in this vast new horizon, I feel again excitement, a place to grow and some opportunities. I do represent a young artist, I work with a mid-career artist, Lee Quiñones. There are a lot of artists that don’t have galleries, that have a career, and so there are lots of opportunities to intervene. I am back to a flexibility, a pace that I dictate, which I enjoy, and to reflect, to have relationships with people and not necessarily to be exclusively a conduit for the art market.



That’s kind of it. Thank you.



 

Jay GorneyJay Gorney



I’ve been a gallerist in New York in one form or another for over 30 years. I worked for Sidney Janis, for a gallery in the 70s called Hamilton Gallery. In 1985, I opened my Gallery, Jay Gorney Modern Art, on the Lower East Side, which then moved to SoHo in 1987.



I’ll begin with this image of a group exhibition in my SoHo Gallery in 1988 and there you see reading from the left, Haim Steinback, those photographs from James Welling, Sarah Charlesworth and then a Meyer Weisman painting on the right.



I had my gallery in one form or another, Jay Gorney Modern Art and then later on in a partnership with John Lee and Karen Bravin, with Gorney Brown Lee for 20 years. Then for eight years I directed and created a contemporary program for Mitchell-Innes & Nash. I have been an independent for about three years now working in a few different ways, advising collectors, advising an estate and creating/organizing exhibitions. I’m beginning to work in a sustained way with an artist as an independent, as is Nicole, and will talk a little more about that.



This slide is Barbara Bloom’s installation called the Reign of Narcissism at my SoHo gallery in 1989. This is Barbara creating a vanity of a 19th century museum where everything is Barbara, her tombstone, her bust with the nose is broken off. This piece eventually went into the collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and traveled around the world to the Serpentine (London), and to Basel (Switzerland).



I showed this now deliberately because I’m beginning to work with Barbara in a sustained way, and we are going to organize an exhibition at David Lewis’s gallery on the Lower East Side in this coming Spring. So again, different models for working with an artist.



This is an image of my Richard Prince exhibition in 1989. The reason I am showing this is because Barbara Gladstone was at that point representing Richard Prince across the street on Green Street and she said to me, “Well, I’m going to show the car hoods? Are you going to show joke paintings?” And I said yes, and there’s an example of different models of collaboration, of changing things up a bit, and we did get them sold. They all got sold, they didn’t fly off the walls. They were I think in the range of $30-$45,000 dollars, if you’re curious.



This is a painting made in 2014 by a young artist named Matthew Cerletty, and Independent fair invited me to have a booth in 2014. The Independent is the kind of fair that will allow different types of art dealers to exhibit. I organized an exhibition of paintings by this young artist, who I think is really interesting and admirable. This went into a good New York collection. Matthew was recently seen in a group show at the Whitney Museum called Flatlands.



This is a painting by the artist Deborah Remington called Memphis. It was painted in 1969, and I organized a show with the help of Margaret Matthews-Berenson, who is here tonight and who is the curator of the Deborah Remington Charitable Trust at Wallspace Gallery. Sadly it was the last exhibition at Wallspace.



And this is a terrific painting that went into a very good New York collection. Memphis – I particularly like this painting.



Here’s another view of that Wallspace show with a painting called March into Adelphi drawings, but the reason why I want to talked about Deborah a little bit, because I’m now working with the trust and have organized two exhibitions at Wallspace New York and Dennis Kimmerich’s gallery in Berlin. And we are going to be opening a show of drawings of roughly a 50-year drawing survey of works from Deborah’s estate in Los Angeles at the Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, that will open next month. This will be my third exhibition as an independent, different venues of working with the same artist’s estate. And this is a really sustained way of working with an artist at different galleries. And I think it does present an interesting model. I have enormous affection for the artist, whom I knew when I was a young man, and for the work.



This is a 1995 piece called Virtual Still Life #8 by the Chicago Imagist Roger Brown, for whom I’ve always had great affection. I am working again with Roger Brown’s estate and organized in 2015 a show of these particular pieces which were just wonderful and elegiac. It was towards the end of his life and he knew he was dying and he had collected these ceramics over his life and put them on these shelves against his paintings, really playing with your perceptions of the flat and the three dimensional. They’re stage sets in a way, and the show was at Maccarone in 1995, and had some very good reviews and went to a good New York collection. Again, a different model, creating exhibitions, working with artists I’ve always admired at other people’s galleries.



We can talk about why, but my feelings about closing my gallery are very close to Nicole’s. I saw the handwriting on the wall. It was a changing business. It was probably fantastic for some people. I thought what it was becoming was not for me. I do think about it, about getting a traditional brick-and-mortar space, but I don’t think so.



Sarah Charlesworth. I’m the advisor to the estate, I represented Sarah for about 20 years at my gallery along with Barbara Bloom, James Welling, Jessica Stockholder, Martha Rosler, and some other people. I stopped working with Mitchell-Innes & Nash about the same time as Sarah died, and her kids reached out to me, because I knew them from – one was a baby and one I knew when she was a bump. I’ve been advising the estate and I’ve worked with the Charlesworth estate through the first show at Maccarone, through the New Museum show, there is a show coming up at LA County, LACMA in 2017. I thought I would show this wonderful work by Sarah Charlesworth from 2009 called Camera Work.



I was invited back to do Independent, and I do have great affection for the Chicago Imagists, organized a show of Roger Brown and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for Independent and with Mathew Cerletty. There was an unaffiliated artist and I was talking to my friend Derek Eller and said I have these wonderful Carl Wirsum drawings from the 60s from these particular sketchbooks and that sounds like a great Independent project, would you like to collaborate? So, this was an absolute collaboration, you see Jay Gorney and Derek Eller, he represents Carl Wirsum who is still alive and in Chicago. And this was a booth of Wirsum drawings from the 1960s. And it was very well received and we were very very happy with the result.



And we finish with yet another drawing by Deborah Remington. Adelphi series #13. This is a drawing from 1967. This is the show coming up, a drawing survey at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery. Franklin Parrasch has a New York space, and this is his Los Angeles space with his partner Chris Heijnen, and that will open in October. I mention this because this is an upcoming project. I feel privileged to be working on a third exhibition of this artist. It’s presenting a new model, which I think is what we are here to talk about tonight.



Thank you very much.

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Letting Go of Brick-and-Mortar at Christie’s Education


Letting Go of Brick-and-Mortar:
the Future of the Gallery

Wed., September 21st

Panel Discussion and Dialogue: 7.00-8.30 PM
Wine and Cheese Reception: 8.30-9.30 PM
Christie’s Education – 1230 Avenue of the Americas 20th Floor, New York, NY 10020

Register here or use the order form below.

 

Gallerists are under unprecedented market pressures leading many to move on from the brick-and-mortar gallery convention. Prominent amongst these are Nicole Klagsbrun and Jay Gorney, who will present on alternative entrepreneurial and curatorial models. Noted art market analyst and journalist Josh Baer will provide historical contextualization and structural insight. Richard Lehun, founding member of the Stropheus Art Law Collective, will present on the opportunities and challenges created by these new art business practices. The event will be followed by a reception with a selection of curated wines.

Panelists

Nicole Klagsbrun, moved to New York from Belgium in 1982 where she became director of the Olsen Gallery. In 1984 Klagsbrun co-founded Cable Gallery. In 1989 she started her eponymous gallery in Soho, which made the move to Chelsea in 1998. Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery represented noted artists including Jimmie Durham, Candida Höfer, Elaine Reichek, Billy Sullivan, and Mika Rottenberg. In 2013 Klagsbrun gave up the gallery model to work from her office on 26th Street.

Jay Gorney, a native New Yorker, worked at the Sidney Janis and Hamilton galleries, opening Jay Gorney Modern Art in 1985 in the East Village. During its 13-year run, Gorney represented Martha Rosler, James Welling, Gillian Wearing, Haim Steinbach, Jessica Stockholder, Catherine Opie, Sarah Charlesworth and Allen Ruppersberg, among others, and mounted major exhibitions of the work of Richard Prince, Michaelangelo Pistoletto, and Joseph Kosuth. Gorney moved his gallery to SoHo in 1987. In 1999 Gorney joined forces with John Lee and Karin Bravin to form Gorney Bravin + Lee, which showed artists such as James Siena and Justine Kurland. As director of Mitchell-Innes & Nash’s Chelsea space from 2005–2013, Gorney built a program centered around mid-career and younger talents, including Virginia Overton, Chris Martin, and Pope.L. In 2013 Gorney transitioned out of the physical gallery and is currently an independent advisor and curator, and the special advisor to the estate of Sarah Charlesworth.

Josh Baer, is an art advisor, curator and art market journalist. He began his career in 1979 as director of the influential White Columns, and ran his own gallery from 1985-1994. After closing the gallery, Baer decided to focus on private art advising, teaching and writing. It was the same year that he launched The Baer Faxt, and started teaching arts-administration at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Later he became a bi-weekly contributor to New York Magazine. Baer advises collectors and curates exhibitions for leading galleries and auction houses from his office in downtown New York.

Dr. Richard M. Lehun, Esq. is responsible for artist-gallery, consignor-auction house, agency, and other fiduciary relationships at Stropheus Art Law. He completed a doctorate in fiduciary law from McGill University while cross appointed as a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School. Lehun has a Magister in Aesthetics from the Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main, and a fine arts diploma from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (dffb).

Letting Go is a collaboration between Christie’s Education and Stropheus Art Law.

 

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Art Advis­ing 2.0 : Ver­tigo & Accountability – Part II


The rise of the art advi­sor tracks the glob­al­iza­tion of art busi­ness. Art advi­sors act as a bridge to new classes of col­lec­tors, but the role is often not clearly defined. Gal­lerists, deal­ers, art fairs and col­lec­tors encounter a het­ero­ge­neous pro­fes­sion.

This event, held on April 1st, 2015 at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, explores cur­rent eth­i­cal and busi­ness ques­tions that art advis­ing cre­ates and the legal oblig­a­tions that their rela­tion­ships rely on. Art Advis­ing 2.0 — Ver­tigo & Account­abil­ity is a col­lab­o­ra­tion amongst Sotheby’s Insti­tute of Art, the Asso­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Art Advi­sors, and Stro­pheus Art Law.

Moderator: , Chair, Committee on Fine Arts, New York State Bar Association, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law (EASL) Section, Attorney and Faculty at Sotheby’s Institute of Art

Panelists:
Sean Kelly, Sean Kelly Gallery
, Attorney at Stropheus Art Law
, Executive Director The Armory Show
, Megan Fox Kelly Art Advisory

A dedicated audio recording of Noah Horowitz’s comments precedes his text. A video of Megan Fox Kelly’s PowerPoint presentation can be found in the section on her presentation below.

Part I of this event is here.


Noah_webDr. Noah Horowitz

All right, I’m scared. The obligations are really serious. I’m going to principally speak from my capacity at The Armory Show, which I think which is may be most relevant. But, just to set the stage, I think there are a few, large picture items that Judith addressed, Sean addressed a little as well as Richard, that I think are worth hitting a little off the bat.

All of this growth, the reason there are 150 plus people probably here right now in the art advisory business probably has to do with the tremendous growth of the art market in its own right, and the rampant professionalization that we’ve seen in that space over the last 20 or 30 years or so. Sean mentioned through the outset of his career, really the art market, even in the 80s and early 90s was very small. He knew most people professionally implicated. Now that’s certainly not the case.

There are good things and bad things that happen with that. I’m a proponent, and I think most people in this room probably believe we’re in a better place because of those changes. That being said, it’s brought a lot of additional variables and uncertainties into the equation.

Art advisors in the simplest sense, in my estimation, generally provide a great deal of value. Again, [art advising] is not my professional occupation. That being said, I, like many people, probably have a lot of people asking them questions about the value of artworks and how to conduct themselves in the market.

One thing that struck me from early on when I was still in London, a friend of mine who is not a collector but a guy who’s made a fair amount of money on Wall Street had bought a winter home in the Swiss Alps and there was a gallery there who was trying to sell him a Damien Hirst print. He came up to me – and the gallery had given him the print, and it was already hanging in his living room – and basically he had very proudly shared with me that they had asked 16,000 Swiss Francs for it, and he had negotiated a thousand francs off of that price, and I said, “wait a minute, let me check Artnet quickly just to see if I can help you there.” And really you could see that the artwork – it was an edition of a 150 or so – I think five or six had come up in auction in the last year. The highest price achieved was $5,000 and four others were all bought in, with estimates from $4,000 to $6,000. I told him to offer the gallery $3,000, and that they’d be lucky if he bought it for that amount. He felt bad, he offered it at $5,000, and the email, which has since been deleted from my account, which is the problem with emails these days, was one of the funniest emails I’ve ever read. He forwarded to me from the gallery owner, who just absolutely lost it, and inserted a number of fiery words, which I won’t repeat here, into their response. Suffice it to say, my friend didn’t buy the work, and was already thankful for it.

The following year he went back to – I was with him, and we were skiing, I said, “Oh, let’s check out that gallery that you were talking about, just to see” – and the gallery was closed. So, the point there is: this was just 101 checking prices on Artnet, this wasn’t doing anything like Richard was referring to. I think that if advisors can help, great, the more efficient market in that sense, then that’s a good thing. And people like this, who are essentially trying to rip people off, shouldn’t be in business, and that’s a good thing as well.

There are other good things as well that art advisors provide beyond the obvious – certainly in my capacity as a fair, or really in the most basic capacity – any effort that we can make in our business to help raise people’s education about an appreciation of artworks is fundamentally a good thing. People often wonder why artworks are worth what they are and fundamentally it’s because there’s some knowledge about them. There’s an educational and an informational structure around them that creates that value. And if art advisors, like the great dealers and scholars over time, can help provide a baseline of that knowledge, that’s fundamentally a good thing.

That being said, the whole role and scope of the business have changed immeasurably. One bit of advice that I give to any dealer that comes and shows with us at The Armory that’s not from New York or the U.S. is that you’ll probably meet more art advisors at The Armory than any other fair you go to, and that’s generally true. We have an enormous volume of advisors at the fair and for a lot of our foreign dealers – I think that 55% -60% of The Armory galleries are coming from overseas, they’ve never seen anything like this. They’re used to dealing with some advisors – a lot of collectors with museum people – but the sheer number of people that are representing other people is very overwhelming to them, and a lot of them don’t know, frankly, how to deal with that.

We commissioned Clare McAndrew, who does a report for TEFAF, to do an exhibitor survey for us this year and a VIP survey, and actually we got responses back from that today, and discovered that 15% of the VIPs at The Armory Show claim that they are art advisors or consultants, which is maybe a little bit less than I thought it could actually be. Fifty to fifty-five percent said they’re private collectors, about 20% said they were art world professionals, which is basically, other galleries, dealers, curators, etc. The third biggest category was at 15%, which was art advisors and consultants.

That being said, when I talked to our VIP team to prepare for this – and I remember this in the office, when we were doing the Show this year – the number of new VIP requests we received from art advisors this year was just through the moon. I had them pull stats, and basically I’ve been told that 50% of new VIP requests to come to The Armory this year was from art advisors and consultants. Now that is a huge number of people who are writing to our vip@thearmoryshow account, trying to get access to our fair.

From my vantage point as director of the fair, in many ways this is a great thing. We can, through a single art advisor, speak to multiple different clients. And as our industry has become globalized and become faster and more people are in more places and less people can actually come to the fairs, having a really qualified art advisor at a fair like The Armory or any fair, auction or in any gallery for that matter is a good thing, because you don’t ever quite know who they’re representing, and they can speak to a client and buy on behalf of a client or take something back in six months and you might end up selling something without a client and that’s a good thing.

The problem is that it creates a lot of question marks and inefficiencies that our staff in particular – and I’m sure it’s the same in many other galleries and auction houses – have difficulties dealing with. When people write to us and request passes, we try to ask a number of questions. Where are you based? Who are your clients? How much money do you or they spend on art etc., etc.? And we do our best to filter and provide access accordingly. That doesn’t always go to plan.

One of the things I discovered this year – I don’t even know how I discovered it, I think I was just on Facebook or something – but all of the sudden there was some art advisory firm offering up free Armory VIP tickets on Facebook and Twitter. I then put that into our VIP account and I found a long correspondence where there was a big email chain from January or February where they introduced themselves as a new art advisory firm. We were told that they were buying 5 to 7 million dollars of art for their clients, annually and they basically listed every major art fair and every major artist under the sun as who they’re buying for. And yet, there they were, hawking Armory VIP passes on Twitter.

Now I have no problem with people offering passes to qualified people, but when Sean Kelly, who exhibits with us comes up to me, “Why on the bloody earth is this student asking me – at 12:30 PM of opening day of the fair – for information about Antony Gormley or something like this for his student project, that doesn’t help me do my job, and doesn’t make him particularly happy either.

Judith: Hopefully, not one of my students. [Laughter in the audience]

Noah: I think it was. [More laughter in the audience]

And I think that there’s a large misperception about why fairs ask these kinds questions, I’m not sure why the other auction houses and others ask these questions to is: Who are your representing? What are their names? Yadda, yadda, yadda. And I can totally appreciate and certainly understand certain aspects around client confidentiality and not wanting to show your hand. At the same time, unlike auction houses, we don’t take a commission on sales. We’re just a facilitator between buyer and seller, and the more information we have about who you’re bringing to the fair, the better job we can do in terms of filtering and tiering access to art dealers. Because what we want to create is a steady flow of qualified clients coming into the fair throughout the course of the week. And we don’t know that it becomes convoluted. People can get upset with us because they have too many students coming in when they should be dealing with high level advisors and high level museum trustee collectors.

So, that’s just something I’d say on that.

I think the other side of that as well is that I’m a believer fundamentally in business in life, that the more information you can put out there the better it is for everybody. I think that advisors are always worried somehow we’ll get a client’s information and then in the following year, they’ll be in our VIP system and they’ll get a VIP pass directly and they won’t have to mediate through an advisor. At some level of course, that’s true. But at the margin I think that the more collectors feel, or anybody feels in terms of going to galleries and going to fairs, the more likely they are to purchase work and be an active and serious participant. So, I don’t believe that advisors should be screening or as controlling. Maybe their business can benefit in the long term by having more actively engaged clients who are more comfortable going to fair and galleries generally.

Big picture thinking, I think that one thing that’s a concern, certainly to me wearing a bit more of an academic hat, is a lot of criticism around the fact that with this huge influx and increase in art advisors representing collectors nowadays there’s a risk, perhaps, that collectors are not thinking for themselves as much, or in fact, that collections are getting built in a like-for-like fashion.

As a result, you have certain people with certain kinds of tastes who are building collections and advising on behalf of collectors and somehow, things are starting to look the same. I think that’s a legitimate risk. I don’t think that it’s attributable uniquely to the advisor business, but it is something in our general business that needs to be addressed. And so I just sort of throw that out there, maybe that’s an interesting talking point.

Generally, what I’d say as a final note is any effort to create a more professionalized association for or professional networks for advisors, which is something that Megan will address, is a good thing for the market. Speaking on behalf of the fair, the more associations that we can liaise with and coordinate with in lieu of one by one basis individual collectors is certainly a beneficial thing, and I’d like to think there will be more such developments to come. And this is something more for the future, as the business increases; we’ll see more associations that are working in a more professional capacity. And that, by the way, is a good thing.

So I think I will stop there, and I think we will have fun conversations after.


Megan Fox Kelly6168

Megan Fox Kelly

The Association of Professional Art Advisors (APAA) is a not-for-profit organization comprised of leading independent art advisors, curators and corporate art managers. The association set standards of professional practice which all of its member advisors follow. To date the APAA has more than 100 members who are advisors and curators, building and maintaining art collections for both private collectors and major corporations. As advisors, we are objective advocates who work solely for our clients, and unlike art dealers, do not maintain inventories for sale nor represent artists. APAA members are active in all sectors of the art market, purchasing art for their clients at galleries, auction houses, fairs and online. Our organization conducts periodic member surveys which assess the total dollar values members spend on behalf of their clients in various sectors of marketplace.

Below is a breakdown of the APAA members purchasing activity in the fine art market from 2010-2013.

• 36% of APAA’s members purchased nearly $640 million in works of art at galleries between 2010 – 2103 — an 80% increase over the amount purchased between 2005 through 2010.

• 33% of APAA’s membership purchased nearly $194 million worth of art at fairs between 2010 and 2013.

• 18% of APAA’s members purchased nearly $192 million worth of art at auction – a 4% drop from 2010.

• 8% of APAA’s members purchased $829,000 worth of art on-line in 2013 –a first time measurement.

APAA’s code of ethics is a guide for best practice and is signed by ever member on an annual basis. It is covered by several key principles:

• APAA advisors are not dealers, and as such, they do not maintain inventory for sale, accept artwork on consignment or act as private dealers in any transaction.

• APAA members maintain lawful practices, complying with state and federal laws in taxation, exercising due diligence in researching the provenance of recommended acquisitions, and refusing any requests by clients or vendors to subvert the law in any fashion.

• APAA members should not perform services that would be, or appear to be, adverse to the interests of his or her client unless those services are fully disclosed to the client and the client provides advance consent to the services in writing.

• APAA members do not accept financial compensation that creates a conflict of interest between the member and their client.

• APAA members do not solicit or accept compensation from service providers or vendors.

Advisors are not dealers, and as such, they do not own or represent inventory. While dealers advise clients and museum curators advise their patrons, they are different from professional art advisors who are hired to assist their clients (private or institutional) in building and caring for their collections, or helping them to sell their collections. An art advisor has a fiduciary duty to represent their client’s best interests at all times, not their own interest or the interests of a dealer, artist or auction house.

An advisor’s fees should be completely transparent. Fee arrangements remain at the discretion of the advisor, provided the advisor is always paid from one source, preferably their client. The advisor can be paid either salary, retainer, hourly fees, fees based on percentage of sales, or a combination of these payment methods. A good advisor will also disclose his or her fee arrangements to dealers and auction houses with whom they interact on behalf of their client. Therefore, they become a facilitator on behalf of the client and the dealer, auction house, or artist with whom they are working, rather than an obstruction.

Advisors should always maintain written agreements with their clients that outline the nature of the advisor’s work on the client’s behalf, and that contain a clear recitation of how the member will be compensated. Invoices to clients should clearly delineate the amount of compensation due to the advisor.

Furthermore, an advisor does not perform services that are averse to the interests of their client and avoids conflicts of interest, including direct and indirect financial interest in a transaction involving their client. If they find themselves in such a situation, they must disclose the conflict to the client.

An advisor is an expert in their field and does not provide advice in areas that are outside of their expertise. Instead, an advisor can bring in outside expertise to assist their clients. When completing any project for their client, an advisor’s research is careful, informed, and performed at the highest level. They must exercise due diligence in verifying the accuracy of information supplied to their clients, regarding works of art including: the date of a work, its provenance, exhibition history, and publication records. An advisor is careful to not provide services regarding stolen works of art.

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Art Advis­ing 2.0 : Ver­tigo & Accountability – Part I


The rise of the art advi­sor tracks the glob­al­iza­tion of art busi­ness. Art advi­sors act as a bridge to new classes of col­lec­tors, but the role is often not clearly defined. Gal­lerists, deal­ers, art fairs and col­lec­tors encounter a het­ero­ge­neous pro­fes­sion.

This event, held on April 1st, 2015 at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, explores cur­rent eth­i­cal and busi­ness ques­tions that art advis­ing cre­ates and the legal oblig­a­tions that their rela­tion­ships rely on. Art Advis­ing 2.0 — Ver­tigo & Account­abil­ity is a col­lab­o­ra­tion amongst Sotheby’s Insti­tute of Art, the Asso­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Art Advi­sors, and Stro­pheus Art Law.

Moderator: , Chair, Committee on Fine Arts, New York State Bar Association, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law (EASL) Section, Attorney and Faculty at Sotheby’s Institute of Art

Panelists:
Sean Kelly, Sean Kelly Gallery
, Attorney at Stropheus Art Law
, Executive Director The Armory Show
, Megan Fox Kelly Art Advisory

A dedicated audio recording of Sean Kelly’s comments precedes his text. A video of Richard Lehun’s PowerPoint presentation can be found in the section on his presentation below. Due to a technical malfunction, we regret that a secondary audio source was used for the first eight minutes of the recording.


New York Art Law Attorney Judith B. Prowda

Judith B. Prowda

Welcome everyone to this evening’s program, Art Advising 2.0. Vertigo and Accountability. I’m Judith Prowda, and I welcome you here this evening to this panel discussion and dialogue. I thank our illustrious panel for participating, and special gratitude to Richard Lehun for planning this panel with me.

Art advising is not a recent phenomenon. The existence of the art advisor dates back at least to the 17th century. Diego Velázquez traveled to Italy in order to acquire works by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese for King Philip VI of Spain. New and vastly rich industrialists in the 19th century, perhaps more competent in their business acumen than art expertise, also relied on intermediaries, sometimes artists, to cultivate their tastes. Alfred Barnes, for example, depended on William Glackens to educate him and to build his fabled collection. See Georgina Adam, Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century 93 (Lund Humphries 2015).

In the last century, prominent dealers such as Lord Duveen of Millbank, known in this day as “Napoleon of the art dealers,” guided an impressive roster of clients – Morgan, Frick, Mellon, Altman, Huntington, just to name a few – in forming their prestigious collections. A consummate salesman, Lord Duveen not only ferreted out the most exquisite masterpieces in all of Europe, but he also designed his clients’ homes, consulted with them on their dinner parties, and even kept his vault stocked with their favorite cigars. He was also known to rhapsodize about the paintings his clients acquired long after the deal. As Andrew Mellon remarked, “My pictures never looked so marvelous as when you are here!” See Michael Peppiatt, ‘Duveen’: The Art of the Deal, NYT, Sept. 19, 2004.

There has been a radical shift in the art world in recent years. According to the just released TEFAF report 2015, the global art market topped 51 billion Euros in 2014, an increase of 7% year on year, and its highest recorded level. The sheer magnitude of the global market has made it all but impossible to keep pace. With over 180 major art fairs with an international element, not to mention hundreds of smaller regional and local fairs, plus biennials, triennials and auctions crowding the art world calendar. And this does not include online art sales, which according to the online TEFAF Art Market Report is conservatively estimated to have reached 3.3 billion Euros, or around 6% of worldwide art and antique sales by value. See TEFAF Art Market Report 2015, prepared by Dr. Clare McAndrew. It is a full job simply to navigate the boom. Hence the rise of the art advisor.

Today, art advisors are valued as much for their access to galleries and high quality pieces, as for their advice on what works to acquire. See Mary Rozell, The Art Collector’s Handbook 30-31 (Lund Humphries 2014); Mia Fineman, Art Advisers, NYT Oct. 15, 2006. This is especially so in the primary market, which is largely based on trusted relationships. Top tier galleries with waiting lists for their star artists can be as highly selective as they choose. A trusted advisor can assure a dealer that their prized inventory will be placed in the right collection (the operative word being placed). And that their client will not flip the work either at auction or through another gallery.

At the same time, a well-connected advisor can act as gatekeeper and bridge for dealers to new classes of collectors, who may have money but not necessarily the knowledge of time to build a collection. See Daniel Grant, When Art Buyers Need Help; High-End Purchasers May Have More Money Than Knowledge, WSJ, Feb 2, 2015. For all these reasons, art advisors wield enormous power in the market, and the profession is growing.

There is no professional certification to become an advisor. So reputation is key, as everywhere in the art world. Art advisors practice in different ways. Some dealers are advisors and some banks have specialists who advise their collector clients. The profession is self-regulating.

The Association of Professional Art Advisors (APAA) is the main trade association. Membership is by invitation only. The APAA has its own Code of Ethics. Art advisors who are also dealers are not eligible for membership in the APAA due to potential conflicts of interest.

As in all business relationships in the art world, transparency is key. The best advisors, like the best dealers, desire to establish long-term relationships with their clients, not one-off deals to make a profit.

Who are the art advisors? What qualification does one need to become an art advisor? Who hires art advisors? People who wish to buy for personal enjoyment or to build a serious collection for their future legacy? How does one go about finding the right advisor? And how do advisors work? How are they compensated? Where do they look for art – galleries, art fairs, auctions, online, directly from artists’ studios?

Along with the rise of the art advisor is the emergence of complex legal and ethical issues. For example, and these are but a few: What are the pros and cons of using an art advisor? Shouldn’t people trust their own taste in acquiring art? Is art advising more common in the United States than in other parts of the world? How is art advising understood abroad? How are art advisors paid? Percentage of the purchase price? Retainer? Hourly fee? Isn’t there a potential conflict of interest if an advisor is paid a percentage of the purchase price when they’re negotiating the price on behalf of a collector?

Suppose an advisor has more than one client who wants to purchase a certain artist or a specific work. Who gets it? If an advisor is a dealer, wouldn’t there be a tendency to sell from their own inventory rather than putting their client’s interest first? What about double dipping? That occurs when an art advisor receives a fee both from the collector and from the gallery. Under what circumstances, if any, is this okay, legally and ethically? These are just some of the important questions we will explore this evening.

I’m grateful to my employer, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, for graciously hosting this event, as so many other events I’ve organized in this beautiful space, which is my second home.

This program is part of an initiative to create dialogue amongst lawyers, artists, emerging and established art professionals working in the primary and secondary market. In the past year and a half we have held programs on Gallery Ethics and The Rise of Art Fairs, both in collaboration with the New York State Bar Association Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section, of which I am Past Chair.

We have posted an audio podcast and transcript of these programs on the Stropheus Art Law website and will do the same for tonight’s program. Our next event will be on the topic of the online art market.

To explore the complexities on the role of art advisor, let’s begin with the perception of a gallerist, Sean Kelly. We will follow with attorney Richard Lehun, who will explore the nexus between legal and ethical questions. Noah Horowitz will examine how art advising has impacted the global art business and the art fairs in particular. Megan Fox-Kelly will end by exploring legal best practices for art advisors and the role of the Association of Professional Art Advisors.

Thank you very much. Please join me in welcoming Sean Kelly.


New York Gallerist, Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly

Good evening and thank you all for joining us this evening. I would like to start out by thanking Sotheby’s Institute, Judith and Richard, for their invitation, and express how happy I am to be on such an illustrious panel with Megan and Noah. I want to point out a couple of facts before I start. This evening is being bracketed by two Kelly’s so it’s going to be good night for them. And we are going to conduct the rest of the meeting downstairs in the bar afterwards.

I have a confession to make, I actually know nothing about this topic whatsoever, and the only reason I’m here is that I got the invitation, I noticed the date was April’s Fool’s Day, and I assumed that it was a joke, so I said “Yes.” Now, I found that it wasn’t, so I’ve done some research. So, I’m going to through some stuff out there just to get us going, and let the experts really attack the topic.

I wanted to pick up on a few things that Judith had mentioned, and there’s one particular theme that I want to illustrate for you more broadly. I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics of art advising or art consulting, I think Megan’s going to talk to that point more fully.

I wanted to start out by picking up from something that Judith said, acknowledging the very important role of artists historically in this field. One of the more maverick and interesting artists of the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp, actually was working as an art consultant and he was the person who brought Brâncuși to America and sold most of the Brâncuși’s in America that you see. Certainly the ones in Philadelphia – the bulk of his own work in that great museum [Philadelphia Museum of Art]. He was also instrumental in the Société Anonyme which ended up becoming the Museum of Modern Art. So, Duchamp’s role as an art advisor, and that of many other artists, has been very important in shaping our culture profoundly.

More recently, those of you who knew Herb and Dorothy Vogel and the incredible collection that they formed, or have the pleasure to be invited to their very small apartment to see their very large collection, were probably regaled with the fact that when they started out, the person who took them around the galleries and introduced them to the artists was Richard Tuttle. So, they too were being guided by an artist.

So, there’s a very long and important tradition that establishes the role of both professional and more informal art advising. The Vogel collection of course ended up going to the National Gallery of Art [in Washington, D.C.].

The historical role of dealers, curators, museums and advisors as taste makers is well-documented and one of the things that struck me when I was thinking about this topic was that when I started working as a gallerist – and I want to make a distinction between being a dealer and a gallerist, but that is not the topic of the evening’s conversation, but I think it’s an important distinction – when I first started working as a gallerist, some 25 years ago, I knew most of the significant players in this field, in my world, having come from being a museum person. And at that point the art world was rather like a country stream. It’s now something more akin to the Rio or the Nile, and it is a raging torrent. And there are now approximately 500, depending on whose advice you take from this, 500 to 800 galleries just in New York City alone. So it’s an enormous amount of professionals selling art, an enormous amount of art students leaving art schools every year, an enormous amount of everything to service that market.

Judith pointed out that the global art market last year is estimated at 51 billion Euros in 2014, there are about 180 art fairs around the world, there are biennials, there are triennials, there are auction houses.

One of the major points I want to make about this – and I will come back around to the art consulting and art advising – is that digital markets are in decline. Last year, the top 10 Hollywood movies grossed $2.5 billion. When you think about that in contrast to the amount of money passing through the art world, it is fairly insignificant. So, Hollywood is in decline, the music business is in decline, why is the art world in ascendency? It’s because we’re an analog business, they’re digital businesses, and we still control our product, to put it bluntly. And most other people can no longer do that in a global market and we are existing in a global market. So we are in a happy position of being in a growing market when many other arts producers and content providers are in a diminishing market. And I think that’s going to be a key issue in talking about these topics as we come back around.

We exist in an increasingly valuable and increasingly complex environment, which is populated by hundreds of thousands of art professionals that simply didn’t exist three decades ago. They weren’t there; they are now. The rise of the professional art advisor and consultant and dealer for that matter – we are all self-regulated – there are no regulations that exist for us outside our own professional organizations, whether it’s the APAA or the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) – which I sat on the Board of until recently.

There’s a high degree of moral responsibility because we’re self- regulated, which leads to, amongst our less scrupulous colleagues – and there are less scrupulous colleagues in all walks of life – to potential conflicts of interests. It means that we have to address issues of lack of clarity and transparency in our business. It means we are very reliant upon trust and knowledge and personal relationships, and we’re still in the rather archaic environment of doing business by a handshake and relying on principles and morals when many of our colleagues in all walks of life are heavily regulated.

One could conjecture in that environment – and I’m giving just a very brief view of it – that it would be good to have a road map or a GPS system for an increasingly complex world. I think that one would be encouraged to think about good art advisors, and there are many, as being your GPS system or your road map – or a bridge between the work, your artist, the dealer and your wall.

I’d like to stress that like anything else, there are good and bad art advisors, just as there are good and bad members of every community. Those who work in their client’s best interest are really invaluable, not only to their clients, but to us as gallerists. They are an invaluable link for us in building professionalism in an increasingly plural, complicated and increasingly vast market, frankly.

Part of the reason I was interested in participating on this panel this evening, was to be able to listen to my colleagues talk about and explore the specific role of art advisors, and their responsibilities in light of that world, and in light of the world that we need to navigate in. And of course to really talk with the audience, rather than at the audience, and answer questions from the audience – and at least be able to communicate with the audience – about all of our experiences in dealing with situations that art advisors have been involved in, certainly in the last 25 years that I’ve been a gallerist.

Those are the issues I’d like to raise, and I’d like us to think about as we listen to the rest of the panel and take questions and attempt to answer them for you. Thank you.


 

New York Art Law Attorney Richard LehunRichard M. Lehun

My presentation today is going to try to highlight some of the often-misunderstood issues regarding art advising and the status of being an agent. I’m also going to introduce the concept of fiduciary obligations via agency for art advisors.

Many of you may not be that familiar with the concept of fiduciary obligations, but it is a fact that all who are engaged in art advising are actually de facto subject to them, to the extent that you are acting as an agent of a client. This will give us an opportunity to run through some of the considerations that are actually structuring and framing your practice, even if they may be legal, and somewhat removed from everyday understanding.

Agency relationships are at the heart of the art world. Notable examples of agency relationships are in the representation of artists by galleries, the representation of consignors by the auction houses, and the third most prevalent form of agency, which is our topic tonight, the relationship between the art advisor and the buyer.

The single most important thing for art advisors, collectors and gallerists to understand is when advisors are acting as an agent they are legally obligated to be their client’s fiduciaries. Whether it is in a contract or not, whether in contemplation of the parties or not, or no one has raised the issue, the law imposes those obligations. We’ll get into them in a moment to understand more of what that means, but that’s the first take home message. Whether one is aware of them or not, they are simply de facto operative before a court and in law.

Fiduciary obligations order unique and valuable social relationships and are found in many settings where trust is critical. They’re found in doctor/patient relationships, lawyer/client relationships, amongst partners and in corporate governance. Fiduciary duties are imposed by society to balance power differentials. Society has legal structures that anticipate a situation where an advisor has superior knowledge, superior access to information, and may be able to make decisions in their own judgment for a client. A client doesn’t have access to the same type of empowerment, and the law has regimes to increase the security of the dependent party, of the vulnerable party.

Relationships of trust in the art community are inseparable from fiduciary obligations. Now, we have to pause for a moment and think very clearly about what is special about this fact. When fiduciary obligations are active – and they’re active by law – they’re not active by choosing them or not choosing them; they’re simply there. They change the nature of the obligations that people owe to each other in very unexpected and dramatic ways. Instead of being equal parties to a contract, fiduciary obligations create two distinct roles: the fiduciary, that is, the person who has power over another (the art advisor) and the entrustor or principal (the buyer).

It is central to understand that even if you come together under a contract – that is, an agreement that is to benefit each party – when fiduciary duties are present, they can trump any agreement.

I’ve stressed it, but I’ll stress it again, because it’s one of the core factors that gives fiduciary obligations the scope and breadth of their impact – fiduciary obligations are made by judges and courts. By default, fiduciary obligations trump contracts and other non-legal binding agreements. Fiduciary agreements can also be found between an art advisor and client even if both have explicitly disclaimed them. The court may step into a transaction, into a contractual situation, and say the contract between an art advisor and a client is unconscionable, it simply doesn’t have validity because it injures the basic right of a client to certain fundamental and legal norms. It’s important to understand that the courts determine when these fiduciary duties exist and determine their breadth and depth.

As a fiduciary, an art advisor must be loyal – in a moment we’ll get into exactly what that means, but we have to concentrate on the top level concepts first. An art advisor must be free of conflict of interest. Secondly, not only does a law impose this duty of loyalty, it also understands that this duty of loyalty has to be tempered by circumstances, which means that a court can step in and say that an art advisor has not exercised due care. This means that an art advisor has to be prudent in the eyes of the court.

Being prudent means being vigilant – independently vigilant – about conflicts of interest and transparency. Waiting for a client to pose questions is no defense against potential breach of these fiduciary obligations. This is independent of whether a client understands these obligations, is aware of them, demands them, or not. The onus is on the art advisor as the fiduciary to understand these concepts, and legally these rights belong to them even if the client is unaware of them.

Now that we’ve covered briefly the advisor as an agent and fiduciary, let us turn to the devil in the detail. What impact does this have on art advisors in their day-to-day practice?

When an art advisor is in an agency relationship with a client they must represent only that client’s interests. An art advisor cannot pursue any other interest whatsoever by law, and is under a complete obligation to maintain transparency. The client is not obligated to ask for this, or to provide for this, or even to know this. The law imposes this as a default, no matter what an art advisor thinks, has done, or practiced to date. And there is no easy legal argument that can be brought if there is a difficult situation with a client to defend the fact of not having maintained that loyalty.

It’s not a contractual situation, where the advisor can say: “well the client didn’t pay me, therefore I breached confidentiality or I breached conflict of interest provisions.” That’s irrelevant before the law. Because the fiduciary obligations trump whatever contractual issues are at hand, and ignorance is no defense, the advisor is obligated to be professional. The operative assumption by the law is that the client is vulnerable, and it is all but impossible to reverse or change that legal frame.

A key aspect of the fiduciary obligation of an art advisor is the exclusion of third parties and third party interests. The law imposes a fiduciary duty on the art advisor not to do or agree to do anything that would benefit anyone else other than their client. An art advisor cannot generate or intend to generate any profit, any benefit, for anyone but that client without disclosure or agreement on the part of the client.

Excluded third parties that can receive no legal benefit from the actions of an art advisor without full disclosure and agreement on the part of the client include: artists, gallerists, other collectors other clients, other art advisors, museums, framers, art handlers, and other service providers, etc.

The client – again, to stress this important dimension – is not obligated to ask for this, to ask for the exclusion of this. All art advisors are obligated to understand this and practice this by law.

A further deep responsibility of an art advisor as an agent and a fiduciary, is to have no undisclosed profits. In fact, the law mandates that art advisors are obligated to turn over any undisclosed profits. Every undisclosed profit an art advisor makes is automatically owed by law to the client.

Again, the client is not obligated to ask for this, not obligated to enforce this, nor make this an explicit provision of their relationship with the art advisor. If the matter ends up in court, an art advisor’s default fiduciary obligation will force full disclosure and the disgorging of all undisclosed profits.

The exposure to this liability lasts years after the transaction. Therefore, years after a transaction, if for whatever reason a client is not satisfied or has the intuition that there was some conflict of interest or some breach of trust in a transaction, that client can go to a court and force full disclosure of all people connected to a transaction and the disgorging of any undisclosed profits. Even if they were unrelated, and even if the client benefitted.

This is one of the curious things about fiduciary obligations. Even if an art advisor argues, “Well, if I give that hidden advantage to somebody, it will close the deal, my client will be happy, they’ll get the work that they want, but I’m not going to disclose this, because it would reveal to much information, or potentially compromise someone else’s interest.” That is no defense because of the legally imposed obligation of the singular loyalty to the client.

Even if a client agrees to allow an art advisor to generate a benefit for someone other than the client. For example, you (the art advisor) come clean or you actually included a high level of detail in your discussions with your client about how many other people are involved in the deal, what possible benefit that could accrue to them – even there, you don’t necessarily have a defense, because the law imposes an additional burden. You must have acted fairly from the perspective of an independent legal review, regarding the disclosure to the client of the existence of any potential actors who are gaining a benefit, and all other relevant information so the client can make an informed decision.

Even if everything looks great, and everyone is in agreement in the moment, a court can reverse everything and take away any benefit that has accrued to the art advisor and return it to the client, even years after the fact, in cases where the court does not agree with advisor’s and the client’s understanding of fairness. Counter-intuitively, the court may not necessarily take away any benefit received by the client and return it to the art advisor.

Fiduciary obligations take you off the rails of contract. All art advisors are fiduciaries when they’re agents of their clients. This is independent of whether you have a contract or not. So, an art advisor who breaches fiduciary obligations is liable for any unfairness or any lack of transparency, well after the transaction is over.

In closing, I want to note that fiduciary obligations on art advisors are to balance what are called “agency costs.” Agency costs arise when the art advisor or agent takes discretionary but imperfectly observable actions that impact the client.

The fact of operating within the confines of typical art world discretion subjects the art advisor to moral hazards and conflicts of interest, and fiduciary duties are precisely there to address wrongdoing, if it becomes manifest, or if there’s an intuition on the part of a client that it could be present.

In sum, despite not being well-known, fiduciary obligations and the agency relationship are at the core of art advising. In fact, the art advising profession is defined by them, whether art advisors are familiar with this fact or not. The vast increase in the role of art advising means that many people interacting with the profession are doing so without understanding how exposed they are. We hope, with this panel, that we can increase awareness and foster dialogue around this important issue.

I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your questions later on.

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Art Advising Panel Discussion at Sotheby’s Institute on April 1st


Art Advising 2.0 :
Vertigo & Accountability

Wed., April 1st
Panel Discussion and Dialogue: 6.00-7.30 PM
Wine and Cheese Reception: 7.30-8.30 PM

Sotheby’s Institute of Art, 570 Lexington Ave, New York, NY

Register here or use the order form below.

The rise of the art advisor tracks the globalization of art business. Art advisors act as a bridge to new classes of collectors, but the role is often not clearly defined. Gallerists, dealers, art fairs and collectors encounter a heterogeneous profession. This event explores current ethical and business questions that art advising creates and the legal obligations that their relationships rely on.

Panelists

Dr. Noah Horowitz, Managing Director of The Armory Show and author of Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market (2014). His writings and interviews on contemporary art and economics have appeared in The New York Times, The Observer, artinfo.com, Das Handelsblatt and ArtTactic. He holds a PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Megan Fox Kelly, board member of the Association of Professional Art Advisors. She specializes in, and is a frequent speaker on, advising private collectors, museums, foundations, estates and trusts on buying and selling post-war and contemporary art.  She is a U.S.P.A.P. certified appraiser, has a Certificate of Appraisal Studies from New York University, and holds an MA in the History of Art from Brown University.

Sean Kelly was trained as an artist, became a Curator, Museum Director and Director of the Bath International Festival in Britain. He moved to New York in 1989 and opened his eponymous gallery in 1995. A successful and edgy visionary with a political sensibility, Sean Kelly represents a paradigmatic group of contemporary artists including Marina Abramović, Antony Gormley, Rebecca Horn, Joseph Kosuth, James Casebere, and Kehinde Wiley. He is a member of the Art Dealers Association of America and is on the advisory boards of a number of educational and arts organizations worldwide.

Dr. Richard M. Lehun, Esq. is a founding member of the New York Stropheus Art Law collective, responsible for artist-gallery, consignor-auction house, agency, and other fiduciary relationships. He completed a doctorate in fiduciary law from McGill University while cross appointed as a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School. Richard Lehun has a Magister in Aesthetics from the Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main, and a fine arts diploma from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (dffb).

Moderation

Judith B. Prowda, Esq. is an attorney, mediator and arbitrator focused on art law, copyright, entertainment and commercial law. She is Senior Lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and author of Visual Arts and the Law: A Handbook for Professionals (2013). She is Past Chair of the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, and is Chair of the Section’s Committee on Fine Arts and Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution. In addition, she is a member of the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association.

Art Advising 2.0 – Vertigo & Accountability is a collaboration amongst Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the Association of Professional Art Advisors, and Stropheus Art Law.

 

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The Rise of NYC Art Fairs – NYSBA Event – Part 2


Are brick and mortar art galleries the loss leaders in an art world, potentially spiraling beyond viable limits? More than ninety art fairs now define the rhythm of globalized art business. This development has profoundly altered the relationships amongst artists, gallerists, and collectors.

This panel discussion explores and critiques the impacts and challenges – legal, ethical and business – of the rise of art fairs. This is part of an initiative to create dialogue amongst lawyers, artists and emerging and established art professionals working in the primary or secondary markets.

Moderator: , Chair, Committee on Fine Arts, New York State Bar Association, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law (EASL) Section, Attorney and Faculty at Sotheby’s Institute of Art

Panel:
, Gallerist
Elizabeth Dee, Gallerist
, Attorney at Stropheus Art Law
, Litigation Partner at Sullivan & Worcester LLP

Here in Part 2, an audio/video recording of Richard Lehun’s PowerPoint presentation can be found in the section on his presentation below. A dedicated audio recording of Nicholas O’Donnell’s comments also precedes his text.

Judith B. Prowda, Moderator:


New York Art Law Attorney Judith B. Prowda In Part 1 we began with Gallerists Ed Winkleman and Elisabeth Dee. Ed offered an overview of the research on art fairs he is conducting, in preparation for his upcoming book, Selling Contemporary Art: How to Navigate the Evolving Market. Elizabeth reported on the chances and risks that art fairs impose from her perspective as a dealer and a founder of an art fair.

Here in Part 2 our speakers are attorneys Richard Lehun and Nicholas O’Donnell.

Richard M. Lehun is a founding member of Stropheus Art Law, New York’s pioneers in the provision of unbundled legal and business services to artists, gallerists, collectors and museums. Richard is one of the few to have completed a doctorate in fiduciary law, cross-appointed between McGill and Harvard Law School. He is responsible for gallery, museum and auction house ethics and fiduciary duties at Stropheus Art Law. He’ll be looking at the ethical problems that fairs raise.

Nicholas O’Donnell is a litigation lawyer at Sullivan & Worcester LLP and the practice group leader of the firm’s art and museum group. He has spoken frequently on the topic of WWII restitution litigation, including at a conference in Heidelberg last January about the Cornelius Gurlitt affair. Nick’s widely read Art Law Report offers commentary on legal issues affecting visual artists – the visual arts community. Nick will present on legal issues that art fairs carry with them.

I’m grate­ful for my employer, Sotheby’s Insti­tute of Art, for gra­ciously host­ing this event, as so many New York State Bar Association, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law (EASL) Section events, in this beau­ti­ful space which is my sec­ond home. This pro­gram is part of an ini­tia­tive of EASL’s Fine Arts Com­mit­tee to cre­ate dia­logue amongst lawyers, artists, and emerg­ing and estab­lished art pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in the pri­mary and sec­ondary mar­ket. Two years ago we pio­neered a pro­gram on legal issues for artists and gal­leries dur­ing Bush­wick Open Stu­dios Week­end, geared to the pri­mary art com­mu­nity. Last Octo­ber we held a pro­gram on Gallery Ethics and have posted an audio pod­cast and transcript of that pro­gram on the Stro­pheus Art Law web­site, and we will do the same for tonight’s program.

Richard M. Lehun:


 

New York Art Law Attorney Richard LehunTo situate our discussion let me quote Michaela Neumeister de Pury: “Whenever I hear about a new art fair starting, it is almost physically painful for me. The art world is becoming a Gypsy circus.” And Jerry Saltz, who I’m sure many of you know, categorizes the situation like this: “The downside, the beloved linchpin of my viewing life is playing a diminished role in the life of art. And I fear that my knowledge of art, and along with it, the self-knowledge that comes from looking at art, is shrinking.”

We’re in a situation where there are significant contradictions. By looking at ethics in my presentation, I’m going to be looking at contradictions. And what is an ethical problem? An ethical problem is when you have to make a choice between outcomes. Both outcomes contain good and bad, and you’re in a situation where you have to resource that decision, and you have to carry with your stakeholders the consequences of those decisions. This is an area that I spend a great deal of time with in my practice; trying to figure out what burdens on decision-making mean when there is no clear answer.

Art fairs are unavoidable, and they are a contradictory phenomenon, and contradictions increase complexity. The main problem is, the more complex things become, the fewer people can typically do something, or do it well. Those who can master the complexities profit immensely. Those who can’t, as our past panelists have repeatedly underscored, may be threatened with extinction. With the rise in the complexity comes an increased risk of failure, and not only of a financial dimension. The art context is a web of relationships. Those relationships have always been difficult, fraught with idiosyncrasy, failure, and injustice. I don’t think that the art fairs themselves bring an entirely new dimension of dysfunctionality. What they do is bring a different dynamic of dysfunctionality that people may or may not be adequately prepared for. So how do the art fairs affect these relationships? That’s what I’m going to try to cover in very few minutes.

I’m an attorney and my special interest is conflicts of interest. I want to know how we can best deal with these types of situations. I’m concerned about how stakeholders – this means artists, gallerists, collectors and museums – succeed or fail when confronted with contradictory needs and conflicted obligations.

Let’s look at some of these contradictions that affect specific groups.

We have the contradiction, that on the one hand, collectors and visitors value accessibility. This means they get to see a lot, and you get to see it in one place, and it’s very efficient. We know that collectors and advisors are time-poor. They want to consolidate research, search, and purchase. As Don Thompson wrote in The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, comparison shopping at fairs is easy. A single dealer might with difficulty get three Gerhard Richters to show a client. Dealers at Art Basel can show twelve of these at the same time. There is the impact of the herding element; that the sheer number of people and the sold stickers alleviate collector uncertainty.

Fairs are playing to the experience economy. People don’t just want to go one place and have one kind of limited aesthetic experience; they want to interact with a globalized jet-setting world where they experience something. Fairs replace quiet sessions in the gallery with a shopping mall, blending art, fashion, parties in one place. Collectors buy impulsively. They may never visit the gallery of the dealer from whom they buy at the art fair. With each fair, collectors become more accustomed to purchasing art in a shopping mall.

Okay, so that’s good for the collectors somehow, one thinks. Previously, collectors had to consider the interests of the gallery to gain access to works, and indirectly or directly, the interests of the artist, because they had to go through the gallerist, and behind the gallerist one assumes, in most cases that there was an an artist. Collectors are now rendered significantly less conflicted by art fairs. They have simpler choices. If we want to analyze what’s going on at that level, it’s not just the efficiency, it’s also something beyond that. Ethical choices of collectors are diminished by art fairs. Their lives and relationships are simplified. They can spend more money easily. This decrease in transaction costs seems like a benefit, but it also means that their virtual, idealistic investment is discounted. There is significantly less incentive to invest in the dealer and the artist. Even as the gallerist makes more money, social and contextual capital is being lost. The structural degradation of social and contextual capital is a significant structural downside of the art fair.

The art fair has a structural bias toward undermining the threshold investment of the collector in the artist and gallery relationship. Being able to see works on what may appear to be a level playing field ignores the fact that art fair politics, as has astutely been pointed out here, is no less determinate at art fairs than it is at galleries. But there is a difference here, a very important difference in the frame of reference. In their own gallery, a gallerist answers to stakeholders like artists, collectors, and others. At an art fair gallerists must uphold the fair’s standards and interests. A fair does not represent anyone. It does not have an agency relationship to anyone. If anything, it survives on visitor interest. As we saw in the previous slide, attracting collectors by lowering the ideal threshold investment makes money for the art fair and gallerist. The art fair cultivates and depends on these organic relationships, but it is structurally conflicted and motivated to removing barriers to trade by undermining those relationships. The art fair piggybacks on relationships, while needing to undermine them in fact.

We’re still on the potential benefits of the art fairs in terms of accessibility. But there are other important potential conflicts. You might be able to see a work at the fair, but is it for sale? Or is it for sale to you? Very difficult to know at times. The incentive in the old system of galleries to hang works that were pre-sold, borrowed, or otherwise unavailable to build the feeding frenzy was negligible in comparison with that of the art fairs. There is an obvious moral hazard here. What a gallerist may or may not have done in the confines of the gallery, where their practices were under scrutiny over time by a group of often knowledgeable actors, shifts dramatically under the pressures and opportunities of an art fair cycle.

Thus the lessening of the investments by the collectors is mirrored by a weakening of obligations by the gallerist. And in the first law of thermodynamics we know that that energy is going to go somewhere. And that loyalty is going towards the art fairs themselves, at the expense of other stakeholders. The problem, however, is that gallerists can’t have the same kind of perspective as an art fair, which is a money making machine essentially. The gallerists, contrary to art fairs, are often agents, representatives, and in fact fiduciaries of their artists. More on that in a second. Let’s look a little more closely at the structure of the gallerist’s conflict with art fairs.

I invite the audience to read these two quotes. Now, I’m going to refer to Matthew Slotover a few times, not because I have anything against him, or believe that he is a pernicious agent in the art world. Simply, he’s representing a perspective that is clear and necessarily differs from that of gallerists like Ed Winkleman.

„And of course, galleries are not obliged to do art fairs. Art fairs really exist for the galleries—the galleries are our clients, and we’re there to serve them. It’s up to them whether art fairs exist; if they don’t want them to exist all they need to do is stop participating and art fairs would immediately not exist. So I think there are a lot of things being confused here.“ Matthew Slotover, Artspace Interview, 2013

„Because getting into the right art fairs (or not) can truly change the fate of a gallery, dealers are spending more and more of their time strategizing and networking other influential art dealers.“ Edward Winkleman, How to start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery

Slotover obviously knows a lot about art fairs. What makes his opinion so glib here? He is not actually responsible to anybody. He can make it up as he goes along. He does not owe a duty of loyalty, so he can be as self-interested as possible without moral ambivalence. Ed, on the other hand, is a gallerist. He has a duty of loyalty and absence of conflict of interest regarding his represented artists. But if a gallerist cannot fill demand without being at art fairs, then serving Matthew Slotover’s doublethink becomes increasingly important.

I’m not going to repeat the figures about the necessity of art fairs to the dealer’s life, we’ve had enough of that. I will sum up with a blog quote: “The most expensive booth at the Frieze Art fair will go for $80,000, but the greater risk for dealers lies in not participating.” In conclusion, the costs and economic advantage of being at an art fair will reduce the ability of mid-range galleries to remain viable. The gallerists have the choice of embracing the new paradigm and its hidden costs, or risk their existence. This conflict of interest is having a profound impact on the art world as we speak.

So then, let’s talk about what this does to our artists. Again we have quotes from Matthew Slotover and Jeff Poe:

„You know, artists can make one work a year or a thousand works a year, and they make that decision based on what they are comfortable with, what their public desires are, what their credibility desires are, and how many great ideas they have. But artists are extraordinarily strong personalities in most cases—they’re not going to let their galleries tell them what to do because of an art fair.“
Matthew Slotover, Artspace Interview, 2013

“If they are any good, they make art because they have to. They don’t do it to please the market. So for some artists, hanging out here can mess with their heads. Also, let’s face it, this is not the optimum place to exhibit work. The subtle notes in artworks are drowned out by the cacophony.”
Jeff Poe, Blum and Poe

The mythical notion that artists can exist on idealism alone, and that their personalities are immune from being affected by market forces, is an act of willful blindness, self-serving towards the art fair ideology. And let me be clear, I am not here to do a cultural critique of art fairs. I’m here to look at the ethical conflicts involved, so that we can discuss them, so that decision makers at the art fairs can respond to them, as well as all other the stakeholders in the process.

It is clear that gallerists are by law fiduciaries of the artists they represent. The investments that galleries are forced to make in the art fair model impoverish their brick-and-mortar galleries, lower the collector’s necessary ideal investment, and lower their necessary investment in the collectors. This means that their ability to represent artists changes. Their role becomes one to broker access to art fairs, but the art fairs do not represent the artist. So, on the way to adapting to the new reality, potentially surviving and making more money, the artist’s reliance on the gallery is also reduced. What’s the point of a solo show, or gallery representation, when the gallery does not bring the artist to the only game in town?

In fiduciary obligations, the key thing is loyalty. So all gallerists that represent artists are fiduciaries, and the primary responsibility they have by law to those relationships is loyalty. One of the very special things about the artist-gallerist relationship is now being shifted by the art fair ideology. And we need to be aware of what that means.

Those who are perhaps less familiar with the definition of the fiduciary relationship are invited to spend a moment on the text of this slide and I’ll come to my conclusion.

Fiduciary concept’s central rationale is “nurturing and enforcing commitments to act loyally toward the interest of others […]”
De Mott, Fiduciary Obligation Under Siege: Contemporary Challenges to the Duty to be Loyal, 1992

“The principle of altruism requires that any conflict of interests between the parties […] must be resolved in favour of the beneficiary, who is entitled to the ‘single-minded loyalty’ of the fiduciary.”
Hoyano, The Flight to the Fiduciary Haven, 2011

Loyalty, pre-art fair, could mean a vast spectrum of different responsibilities. Loyalty post-art fair may mean little more than more art fairs. Post-art fair could mean for the gallerist being nothing but a broker for the art fair ideology. This fundamentally reduces the scope of what a gallerist needs to provide, and in fact, they may fail as a fiduciary if they don’t produce this outcome. What used to be a fiduciary obligation in a broad sense to the potential of an artist’s career etc, shifts as gallerists become conflicted by the obligation to bring that represented artist to a fair, or they’re not doing their jobs, while the at the same time undermining their very relationship to that artist and their collectors.

This makes the gallerist’s life more complicated. It will become much harder to balance interests. At the same time, not chasing the money will not be an option. So there is no going back to the past practices. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

And the artists are also not unaffected. They must be complicit to survive. This is why I say, those who care about what they do have to sit down and go through these questions carefully. The whole point of thinking of things in fiduciary terms is to treat certain ethical questions as more than just happenstance.

There’s no time like the present, and in fact there will be no time like the present, to take a moment to strengthen our capacities with these ethical issues. Thank you for your attention.

Nicholas O’Donnell:


 

Art Law Litigator Nick O’Donnell
Good evening everyone. First I want to start by thanking Judith and Richard for inviting me and to Ed and Elisabeth. It’s really great to be here, and for their thoughts. It’s really a privilege to participate. I’m going to talk little bit about relationships.

The interaction between a client and a dealer, whether at a brick and mortar gallery, or an art fair, is the commencement of a legal relationship. It might be a successful relationship, it might be strained, but that’s what it is. So what I want to talk about tonight are some of the ways that the formation of that relationship, and its rights and duties, might be affected by the fact that it is happening at an art fair. My focus is going to be on US and NY law given my practice, but hopefully we can issue spot on things that can arise around the world.

It seems obvious, but the starting point is to remember where you are. In the absence of an agreement, in most instances for the sale of art the place of the transaction will supply the law that governs that transaction. So New York law will govern Frieze, Dutch law will govern TEFAF, and Hong Long law will govern Art Basel Hong Kong.

The nature of an art fair also creates practical differences in the formation of that relationship. Consider: every art sale involves some sort of diligence, whether cursory on the spot or in depth, a negotiation of the essential terms of the transaction, and an actual exchange. A contract, after all, is an exchange of promises: I will do this if you do that. But every contract has explicit terms and implied terms, and the practical aspects of an art fair, and the law of the place where it is, will all go into what constitutes the resulting agreement.

Diligence and preparation. What does the buyer have time to investigate, and what are the consequences of proceeding with the transaction?

This is as much a matter of risk management as it is a legal question. But whether you are a dealer at a show or a buyer, your starting point has to be the rules of the show. Is there anything in the materials in which a buyer agrees to a set of terms incorporated by reference? That is, when you attend or pay for something, do you end up signing a form that says something like “buyers agree to abide by the rules of the X show”? If so, those rules will be a part of your deal.

If you are a dealer, the same will hold true most likely at the application stage. Even without a single buyer, the dealer is probably setting foot more firmly in the location of the fair. Art Basel, for example has a choice of law provision in its application form in favor of the location of the particular show (Canton Basel, Florida, Hong Kong).

What is it? What representations and warranties are inherent to a sale, and how does the dynamic of an art fair complicate how you can rely on what you have been told?

If you’re in a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) jurisdiction, like New York, the mere exchange of information will give rise to enforceable obligations related to that exchange if there is ultimately an agreement.

UCC 2-313 provides that

(1) Express warranties by the sellerare created as follows:

(a) Any affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer which relates to the goodsand becomes part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.

(b) Any description of the goods which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the description.

( c ) Any sample or model which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the whole of the goods shall conform to the sample or model.

(2) It is not necessary to the creation of an express warranty that the seller use formal words such as “warrant” or “guarantee” or that he have a specific intention to make a warranty, but an affirmation merely of the value of the goodsor a statement purporting to be merely the seller’s opinion or commendation of the goods does not create a warranty.

We can well imagine how this will play at an art fair rather than a gallery. Hundreds of people are passing a booth each hour. Routinized conversations ensue. The sellers give a standard litany of descriptions-they think, if they can remember. Buyers have spoken to dozens of people that day. Was it this dealer, or another, that talked about the condition of the paining or the location of origin. Which conversation becomes “part of the bargain”? So where advance homework is wise in a storefront, some system for noting what you heard from whom—or what you told whom—may matter if and when a deal is struck.

To illustrate the point, imagine a buyer who attends a fair of rare cars on Long Island. He talks to several sellers at the fair, but he is taken with one conversation in particular. This Chrysler LeBaron, he is told, belonged to a certain specific individual. Because of that, he buys the car in a handshake deal. The handshake representation about who owned it? “John Voigt.” You may well laugh at the idea of being as senseless as George Costanza, but the larger point is that once you shake hands, exchange promises, make a deposit, or otherwise commit yourself, what happened in that one conversation among many could turn out to matter a great deal.

Consider a less ridiculous scenario. In a conversation at a booth, the buyer observes a signature at the lower portion of an etching that looks to her, a sophisticated buyer, to be Picasso’s. She asks the dealer, what is that? “That’s signed Picasso” he says. Or did he say “that’s signed BY Picasso?” or did he say “that SAYS Picasso”? Do either remember accurately. The buyer purchases it. In a way that is so much less likely with an auction catalogue, there is now an issue with WHAT 2-313 warranty was made. This scenario happened to a client of mine in a more old fashioned context, and the particulars were more easily sorted out, but the dynamic of the show makes it one to look out for.

Here too geography will matter of course, and whether a civil law or other jurisdiction implies warranties into a contract like this. Many don’t.

Before we leave this topic, remember that an expression of VALUE is considered an opinion, and not a statement of fact within 2-313 or other law. But a claim of comparable sales is an expression of fact.

Did you make an agreement?

Let’s take a step back and talk a little about the basics of contract formation in this context. With apologies to the lawyers in the room who have done their best to forget about first year of law school, it is worth repeating that an agreement does not consist of what you think it meant, it consists ordinarily of the objective manifestation of the parties’ respective intent to be bound.

The New York Statute of Frauds, Gen. Obligations Law § 5-701, like most, requires that any agreement must be in writing to be enforceable if “By its terms is not to be performed within one year from the making thereof or the performance of which is not to be completed before the end of a lifetime.”

The key thing to remember here is not whether it IS performed within a year, but whether it can be.

So contrast: a visitor from a civil law jurisdiction sees a contemporary work at Frieze. She has a structured payment coming to her own business, so she needs some time to make the full payment, but she is willing to commit. So she says I’ll give you 50% now, 30% in six months, and the rest a year from today, after which I’ll pick it up. The dealer, happy to obtain 80% within six months, agrees. She’s never heard of the Statute of Frauds. But six months later he’s heard nothing, and he sues. Strictly applying the statute of frauds, he should win, right? Strictly, no. a year from today is not within a year. Cases have gone to court over this issue, and the party seeking to enforce the agreement has not always prevailed. Good news for them recently, although addressing a different aspect of the Statute of Frauds concerning auctions (this is the Jenack case), the New York Court of Appeals reserved some choice words for relying on the SOL disingenuously:

It bears repeating in such a case as this that: The Statute of Frauds was not enacted to afford persons a means of evading just obligations; nor was it intended to supply a cloak of immunity to hedging litigants lacking integrity; nor was it adopted to enable defendants to interpose the Statute as a bar to a contract fairly, and admittedly, made.

But here, seller in particular, beware.

I started by teasing out some of the geographical implications on the choice of law that might apply to an art fair transaction. But, as I like to phrase the foundation of all legal questions: so what? Who cares where the fair is?

With regard to the most important aspect of any sale, title to the object, you will care a great deal. Consider again a pair of scenarios, different only in geography.

First, in New York at an art fair views a striking Max Beckmannn domestic scene on consignment from an identified and reputable seller. He views its condition, and notes its presence in the catalogue raisonné with approval. The provenance provided is orderly and has no gaps or suspicious activity. He buys the painting for $25 million, which is noted in the local and international press.

Two weeks later, he receives a letter from a lawyer. The painting, the lawyer argues, was sold at the auction at Galerie Fischer in Lucerne in 1939 after being looted from a Jewish family in Frankfurt. The provenance he was given was fictional; the catalogue raisonne confused this work with another version. The lawyer’s client wants the painting back. Oh, and the reputable and known seller has gone bankrupt and fled to Zimbabwe with our buyer’s money.

Now imagine the same scenario, but at Art Cologne. What happens, and why does it matter?

Assuming that the buyer really did not know of the painting’s history, the location will not only be important, it will probably be dispositive. In New York and elsewhere in the United States, a thief cannot pass good title. So purely as a matter of title, the buyer will lose the painting. He may have some defenses like laches if the true owners knew of the painting’s intermediate location and failed to act, but that is necessarily an uphill battle, and his burden to prove AFTER a trial.

In Cologne, or Maastricht? More than likely, as a good faith subsequent purchaser, he will keep it. Even within the western art market, an increasingly seamless one, different places make different judgments about who should bear the risk of loss in that situation.

World War II looting isn’t all that matters by location. Assume fairs in the same two locations, New York and Cologne, but for a Giorgio di Chirico. The same facts apply, but assume that in 1955, the true owner had located the painting in a Geneva gallery, sued for its restitution—and lost to a “good faith purchaser.” Now, even in New York, the seller is not passing a thief’s title, he is passing adjudicated good title. So the buyer may get the painting after all.

Lastly, assume the di Chirico hypothetical: but fair number two is in Rome, where just last week, a new government passed a law declaring all Italian metaphysical art to be the national patrimony of Italy.

The buyer in New York may now be better off. Unless it was imported to the US AFTER the patrimony designation (in which case there could be customs problems, and a visit from the Asset Forfeiture Unit of their friendly local U.S. Attorney office), it’s here and it’s probably not going back. But within the EU? That jurisdiction that favored good faith title may be out of luck.

So, to foster the discussion, remember: where you are will affect whether there is a relationship, and how it plays out in the short term, and if people ever disagree. Thank you very much.

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