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CULTURE: How Artists Are Bypassing Their Dealers and Selling Directly to Collectors

Damien Hirst poses with his work The Incredible Journey at Sotheby’s art gallery and auction house in London on September 8, 2008 Photo by SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images. Artworks Advisory

In 2008, Damien Hirst dodged his long-time dealers and took a complete exhibition of his work straight to Sotheby’s. The unprecedented sale surpassed all estimates, bringing in roughly $200 million (of which his galleries at the time, Gagosian and White Cube, did not partake), and raising a major question: Do artists need galleries to sell their work?

Hirst’s auction house stunt was made possible by his significant history of commercial success. But a number of emerging artists are toying with the same express route to market, bypassing their dealers in a quest for a greater share of the earnings, a need for quick pocket-change, or the desire to test their e-commerce earning potential. These artists often position their sales as a critique of how the art market functions; taken together, they suggest a growing dissatisfaction with the traditional gallery sales model.

Snagging a gallery was once a watershed moment in an artist’s career. Galleries cultivate a collector base, host public exhibitions, take work to art fairs, supplement or advance fabrication costs, and produce publications about the artist, with the goal of ensuring them a place in art history and selling their work. For their efforts, the dealers typically keep 50 percent of the proceeds from a work’s sale. Read More

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