Flippin’ Piece of Art

While I am not really plugged into the visual arts gallery/museum world, one topic I have seen come up repeatedly is the sense that the creator of a piece should realize some benefit when the price of their work skyrockets during resale. Apparently there has been some specific concern about buyers targeting the work of contemporary black artists with an intent to quickly flip works for significantly higher prices.

According to Artnet, Christie’s  Auction House worked with curator Destinee Ross-Sutton to create a type of covenant placing conditions on the resale of art works in their “Say It Loud (I’m Black and Proud)” show.

Each artist will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their work. All buyers must also sign a contract with extensive conditions. They must agree not to resell the work at auction for at least five years; if they do want to sell, they must give the artist right of first refusal; and, if they sell to someone else, they have to give 15 percent of the upside back to the artists.

I was initially skeptical about how effectively this type of agreement could be enforced. Though if Christie’s had the will to enforce it, they certainly have the clout and capacity to penalize bad faith purchasers. According to the article, the conditions didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of buyers and most of the pieces have already sold.

According to the specialist at Christie’s coordinating the show with Ross-Sutton, the buyer covenant will benefit the auction house by providing them with insight into sincere collectors of works by artists of color.

The project also has the benefit of giving Christie’s access to collectors it might not have met otherwise, and insight into their preferences and holdings. “We’re excited to cater to this emerging clientele as well as develop programs that specifically cater to collectors of color,” Cunha adds.

Curator Ross-Sutton sees the success of a purchase agreement backed by an organization like Christie’s as an important message to artists not to underestimate their ability to insist on similar conditions.

Ross-Sutton hopes the experience will empower artists to take charge of their careers, including by pushing their gallery representatives to implement similar sales restrictions. “Many artists do not realize the power they have,” she says. “We cannot only put the blame on these so-called ‘flippers’—artists have to be more discerning and so do galleries.

I was trying to think of a parallel situation in the performing arts. Even though the value of a performance is more variable and transitory, I am sure there is some corresponding situation, perhaps with playwrights, choreographers, designers, etc, with which this situation might have relevance, (other than the lack of representation of people of color in many of these roles), but I feel like I am suffering from a momentary lack of imagination.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


4 thoughts on “Flippin’ Piece of Art”

  1. Playwrights receive royalties (like composers) when their plays are produced. Major choreographers — ie., Balanchine, Graham, Cunningham — issue a license to a dance company for performances of their choreography. The license also guarantees the artistic “integrity” of the choreography, that is that it is performed as originally created.

    For example https://www.balanchine.com/licensing-the-ballets

    Selling/re-selling visual art works is really not comparable. Some may not be aware that an art gallery most often gets fifty per cent of the sale price.

    • Yes, I was aware of those things. I was just trying to think of a parallel situation that might be in need of adjustment. Though I suspect the fact that people are consuming more content digitally probably factors into a conversation about whether people are receiving payments commiserate with the number of eyeballs they are reaching

  2. The difference is that a theatre company does not “own” a play by Tennessee Williams. It pays what is essentially a “rental” fee for the privilege of performing it. If I buy a painting and hang it on my wall, that’s a done deal. The artists gets paid, the gallery which sold it to me on his/her behalf gets paid. I suppose there are any number of visual artists these who are selling directly to collectors, via the internet. More power to them. Unfortunately, composers, playwrights, choreographers can not do the same.


Leave a Comment