Sotheby’s is entering the primary art market, with a new initiative to sell works directly from artists and galleries.
Artist’s Choice, the auction house’s new sales channel, is set to launch Sept. 30 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction in New York. Seven works by artists such as Alexandre Lenoir, Atushi Kaga and Todd Gray will be on offer, with estimates ranging from $15,000 to $120,000. On the sale price, a donation of 7.5% paid by the artist and the gallery and matched by Sotheby’s will given to an institution chosen by the artist. Artists and galleries will receive the remainder of the sale proceeds and decide among themselves how to divide it, while the auction house will collect a 25% buyer’s premium.
“This is not a new stand-alone auction, we will incorporate Artist’s Choice into Sotheby’s permanent sales,” said Noah Horowitz, head of the new initiative as well as Sotheby’s Gallery and Private Dealer Services. While this isn’t the first time auction houses have entered the art gallery realm, it’s not yet clear whether this move will threaten dealers working in the primary art market.
Should medium-sized galleries be worried?
“It’s a cyclical thing,” said art advisor Todd Levin, director of the Levin Art Group. “Auction houses have entered and exited the primary market on many other occasions,” he said, pointing to the Christie’s alum. operation of two galleries in New York and London.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s enter primary markets when the industry slows and auction houses have time for other businesses, said Levin, who believes the delineation between auction houses as a market secondary and galleries as the primary market has faded over the years as territorialism in the art market collapses. “Those battle lines have long been crossed and erased many times,” he said.
While Levin thinks this new venture will have little impact on larger, established galleries, midsize and younger galleries may be concerned about Sotheby’s ripping off artists they’ve spent years developing. “It would be great if auction houses stayed away from smaller, mid-level and younger galleries,” he said.
However, Horowitz said the venture will benefit small and medium-sized galleries and the artists they represent. “The goal here was, as we see these lines blurring, how can we do this in our own way that creates a win-win for all the different parties?”
Other art dealers agree. “I don’t see this as a competition,” said Keith Schweitzer, director of Lower East Side-based gallery SFA Projects. “If artists stop participating in galleries, gallery programs would be threatened. But it looks like the artist and the gallery will do it together.
However, Schweitzer isn’t so sure whether Artist’s Choice will have a significant impact on the art market. “Because it’s Sotheby’s, it’s not that revolutionary,” he said. “My fear is that they work with galleries that they normally engage in. It then becomes a big echo chamber.”