The real estate developer and art collector Craig Robins at his headquarters in Miami. (photo via NYTimes)

Up until now most of the discontent being expressed in the art world has emanated from artists who were the first to feel the impact of the recession and critics who see the art world and the art market being conflated as being a bad thing … but now collectors and galleries are starting to vent.

New York Times reporter Randy Kennedy has written about a case that has a Miami collector angry at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea:

Mr. Robins asserts that he sold a painting of a dark figure by the highly praised South African-born artist Marlene Dumas through the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea in 2004 with an agreement that the sale remain confidential. But the gallery, which did not yet represent Ms. Dumas, told her about it, Mr. Robins claims, causing her to become angry with him because, like many artists, she prefers to see her paintings remain long term in prominent collections.

According to Kennedy, other collectors are also unhappy:

… some collectors contend that it is the dealers and artists who are guilty of manipulation by operating in such a highly selective manner, artificially suppressing the supply of popular artists’ work in order to drive up prices. And if they have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a work of art, the collectors ask, why should they necessarily be required to keep the painting — or to try to shepherd it into a museum collection — if they decide they no longer like it or want it?

Jeffrey Deitch and others are also interviewed in the piece but the article becomes a little surreal when Adam “Art Critics, Get Real!” Lindemann is interviewed:

“I think sometimes there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy from some of these dealers,” said Adam Lindemann …

“I’m not buying a can of sardines here,” Mr. Lindemann said. “I’m buying something that I’m in love with. But times change, and sometimes you need to sell things.”

Oh, but Mr. Lindemann, didn’t you write, “The truth is, in America, once you accept someone’s money, you accept the strings attached … ” in your March 10 attack on critics of the New Museum? So the rules apply to everyone else but not to you and your friends?

“Lawsuit Describes Art ‘Blacklist’ to Keep Some Collectors Away,” New York Times (April 16, 2010)

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

8 replies on “Do Chelsea Galleries Maintain Collector Blacklists?”

  1. It seems the central issue to his complaint is whether or not artists should be able to exercise any control of who they sell their work to. Theoretically even Wallmart is legally entitled to reject your business (by virtue of their stores being private property). People who make and sell unique items (like say a high end frame shop) certainly are free to work or not work with whomever they please, so I don’t see how he expects to get very far with this law suit…

    1. Part of the complaint is that the gallery told the artist, even though they supposedly promised the collector they wouldn’t. I guess part of the problem is do galleries have a right to do that? I have to admit I’m a little on the fence about this.

      1. From a strictly legal point of view, is there a signed contract between Robins and Zwirner promising confidentiality? I think it’s probably important to draw a distinction between the actionable legal issues and a debate about the ethics of a blacklist or other gallery practices that manipulate prices.

        As an artist, I have no problem with any such “manipulation.” The artist is not going to see any money from the resale. In this case the blacklist is the artist’s as well. For me the larger issues raised go towards artist’s rights to control their work to the limited extent that they can.

        If anything I’m surprised that more blue chip artists with long waiting lists don’t sell work with strict contractual obligations attached. I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to draft a document that states that if the collector wants to sell the work, he must first offer it back to the artist at an agreed upon cost, with exceptions for donations to selected institutions.

  2. Artificially suppressing supply to increase demand is an intelligible strategy if we’re talking about X-Boxes or diamonds but I’m getting my noodle pretty twisted trying to figure out what that might mean for art. And potential collectors who see the art market as an ordinary exchange of commodities based on supply and demand probably should be blacklisted in the same way that I shouldn’t be allowed to fly an airplane, even though I think airplanes are cool. I wouldn’t know what to do and the plane would crash.

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