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Art Industry Summit at the Park Avenue Armory

Yesterday at the Park Avenue Armory, alongside “the Art Show”, the Art Dealers Association of America [ADAA] and The Art Newspaper presented a panel on Transparency in the market: can we have more of it…

The panel included art dealers, an art consultant, an art lawyer, the chairman of Christie’s International, and the founder of The Art Newspaper. The title presented a double meaning for these panelists to deconstruct. Should we have more transparency? Is it possible to have more transparency? The tension between these two questions underpinned the entire discussion, which unfolded in three segments.

First, the panelists discussed third-party guarantees at auction. The rules on this practice are different at each auction house. At the summit, no sense of agreement was reached as to how much information regarding minimum sale prices and third party guarantees should be revealed at auction.

Second, they discussed the recent English High Court decision regarding a sale of a Leonardo Da Vinci involving multiple dealers. There is no specific legislation in place regarding these practices of dealers, and matters are often left to the common law of contract, misrepresentation in particular. Although many people in the art world “pride themselves on handshakes,” all of the panelists agreed that precise documentation and clear contracts are needed when a sale reaches a certain amount.

Third, it was debated whether or not dealers and gallerists should be able to support artists at auction. Peter Stern, an art lawyer, reminded the audience that many artists will contractually require their galleries to support them at auction. Larry Gagosian is known to support his artists at auction. It was suggested that, due to current auction practices, nobody knows the real market for Damien Hirst. How many of the sales at his record-breaking 2008 auction were real sales? And because the market preceded a huge market collapse, how many of the real sales were actually concluded? With everyone bidding for different, secret reasons, what can auction figures tell us about the true market?

An audience member asked whether or not resale agreements between artists and gallerists were legally enforceable. The answer was ambiguous. Both sides have been supported, and no court case has determined the issue. However, it was suggested that a contract in which a gallery requires a return from the buyer, without any such stipulation by the artist himself, would probably not be enforceable.

It was ultimately concluded that transparency was a good thing, of course! Although how much transparency and in what areas it should be were matters left open for debate. As to achieving more transparency, better contracting practices were promoted, as was the principle of caveat vendor.

Armory Week continues around the city.