Art Market Revolution Unlikely –

Art Market Revolution Unlikely –

Since Damien Hirst announced that he would be bypassing the normal dealer route and selling his work directly at auction through Sotheby’s there have been more than a few people who have speculated that Hirst has set a precedent that will result in artists bypassing their dealers left right and centre and going straight to auction. I beg to differ. Consider this – In order for an artist to sell their work directly through auction they must still be alive which means that they would presumably have to be have a dealer representing them and selling their work. An artist without a prestigious dealer representing them would be unlikely to have the sort of track record required to successfully sell their work directly through auction and to be seen to not have a dealer would cause people to question the value and desirability of an artist’s work making success at auction even less likely.

In order to achieve success at auction an artist would presumably have to have their work sell for a higher price than that which the gallery representing them sells their work for otherwise the overall value of their work would suffer. The problem is, however, that one would have to presume that potential buyers of such an artist would know the price that their works sells for at the gallery and would not want to pay any more than they would pay at the gallery.

It is true that an artist would most likely receive a greater percentage of money from the sale of the work if sold through auction as opposed to selling through a dealer but for most artists the negative consequences would far out weigh any potential positives. There are only a few artists in the world who would have the sort of financial security that would allow them to risk being snubbed by art dealers one of whom is Damien Hirst. Hirst has done pretty well for himself with the Sotheby’s auction especially considering that the dealers that represent him actually bought works at the auction for what one would presume is far more than they would have normally paid. Having paid more for the works than normal, I am sure that the dealers will subsequently increase the price they sell the works for thus increasing the value of Hirst’s work even more.

It is quite clear that the success of the Sotheby’s Hirst sale was due largely to the novelty and hype associated with the event and as such would make a repeat performance by Hirst or any other artist unlikely. Art market revolution?? I think not.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

10 Responses

  1. I agree. In any case I think it’s overall good for the market to have the news about the auction coming out on the same week as the economy headlines. It shows the strenght of the art market and that there is still a lot of money circulating out there.
    Btw, I put a link to your blog on mine. Come visit sometime: Cheers!

  2. I agree absolutely !

  3. What about the success of Faile who sold their work directly online by via lottery? Works that do very well at auction now. They still exhibit and sell through dealers but they established themselves with a direct connection to the market online that they control. The galleries and dealers will continue to be an important part of promoting and building the career of an artist but their role has been diminished and replaced by exhibition and “word of mouth” online. The auction houses have better resources and facilities to promote artists online. For the Hirst auction Sotheby’s produced a series of short segment commercial quality vignettes and longer format interviews that were distributed on their website, facebook and youtube to bring attention to the sale. Like the music industry the artists have more direct control now of how they reach the market. There is no way to continue with business as usual as technology and the markets access has created a paradigm shift.

  4. I personally think Hirst has made the right choice in selling through an auction site, he doesn’t need Galleries now.

    I think an artist should wait till they have the same credibility as Hirst though before risking their work in an auction house.

    Art market revolution??

    Well as for the revolution Nick, I think we are on a verge of an Art Revolution, when a Recession bites, people always buy art as an investment.

    By the way Nick, I have placed a feed to your site on my home page.

    Feel free to start a Art Market Group on


  5. Hi crtn, thanks for the comment. I agree with your comment that there has been a change in the way art market business is conducted but not to the point where the traditional bricks and mortar dealer has become obsolete. Technology has provided an additional and complementary way of selling art but has not negated the role of the gallerist or dealer.

    Nicholas Forrest

  6. The democracy of the web is anathema to the elitism of the collectors like those buying Hirsts.

    The collectors will buy from any venue that has what they want and pay what the market will bear. The irony though is that Hirst is not really doing anything radical (other than being the rare Bit who publicly embraces Capitalism over the Wipe-Your-Ass Socialism of the Brit Cognoscienti).

    Sotheby’s getting their cut of the sales is different in what way over Larry Gagosian getting his cut of the sales? Oh – the published price? The auctions are not angels, it would not be the art world if deals were not cut ahead of time.

    –Mat Gleason.

  7. Hi Mat,

    Thanks for the comment. In my opinion, the issue is not so much who gets the cut (note: Sotheby’s did waive it’s sellers fees) but the way that the prices are defined. The value of an artist’s work is usually defined by the sales prior to the first auction of a particular work. Damien Hirst is one of only a hand-full of artists alive today whose work does not seem to adhere to the usual process for defining value

    Nicholas Forrest

  8. I paint my inside mind with color point touches.
    it is seems a shattered light.
    the color points touches are making a foam.
    the color points are working with my faith and my life.
    and it makes more powerful illuminate.
    we can not see the sun through the pictures.
    when you step behind you will see it much more clearly.
    one day we going to realize our llives are so stupid, and know nothing.
    this is a faith what i beleve. i can tell you the truth.
    i will keep try to show for our invisible love.

  9. I think your reasoning doesn´t hold water. As a fine-art auctioneer I see artists who are very well known in my area come to sell their art through me. Thing is, art dealers kill them with their comissions: we charge them 10%, dealers up to 60%.
    What kind of a bang do dealers produce for that kind of buck?

  10. Dealers provide ongoing promotion as well as organise exhibitions, provide support and advice and many other things. I am not saying that that is worth up to 60% but it is certainly worth a considerable amount especially to emerging artists.

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