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Dealer Padding by Robert Genn

Dealer Padding
by Robert Genn

Yesterday, a subscriber who asked to remain anonymous wrote, "I recently got into a very good gallery in another city. I included the retail pricelist used by all my galleries. When they posted my paintings on their website, each painting was marked up from 5% to 20%. I phoned the gallery and the secretary told me the owner sets the prices and marks things up for administration and handling. On my invoice, my 50% cut reflects my prices, and not the 'marked up prices'--so the fees are extra coin for him. I don't want my customers to pay this extra fee. I'm wondering if this situation ever comes up with you, and how you might handle it?


Thanks, Anonymous. I also have a couple of dealers who give themselves a little bonus with some of their artists, especially the low priced ones. Commercial galleries are businesses. True to their roots in hunting and gathering, in the need to maximize profits, these businesses can be predatory. With their roots in the need to create, artists can be less businesslike.


Dealer padding has gone on since cave art. But things are changing. Serious artists at all career stages have realized they need to establish universal price consistency. Dealers need to realize that with so many people looking around online these days, it's to the dealer's advantage to offer work at the standard, worldwide prices--the only variation being the cost of the frame.


I could cite several recent situations where customers were so turned off by minor dealer padding that they felt justified to start buying from another dealer.


Padding is most commonly done by dealers with walk in, one-time tourist or diplomatic customers who don't have the time or inclination to compare prices. Padding doesn't work as well for dealers who tend to develop long-term, serious collectors.


Situations vary from one gallery to another. The gallery you mentioned is in a culture where padding is pervasive, and you are a young artist who might use the extra push. For the time being I'd overlook the padding and just continue working with them. If you start to do well with this gallery it may be because of your work or it may be because of the padding. You can make a decision in a couple of years whether to ask them to stop padding, continue to look the other way, or switch to another dealer in the same city. However, if it was happening to me I'd tell them to take the noon balloon to Rangoon.


Best regards,




PS: "Perhaps the Internet is the wave of the future and the gallery will become obsolete." (John Ferrie)


Esoterica: A related problem is where dealers cut deals with amateur, security-minded or unsophisticated artists, get control of their output and manage their distribution by planned rarity--often at an above-average mark-up for the dealer. Some dealers can and will sell almost anything to certain customers. This situation puts an unnatural spin on the art market, confuses customers, and does little to advance the evolution of quality. Affected artists need to note when this is happening and be prepared to take control, even at the expense of perceived security. While most dealers, at least in my experience, are sweethearts, it's also true that the art world is littered with well-promoted, "kept" artists, dead and alive, who never achieved the happiness and lifestyle of the dealers who represented them.
Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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