Managing sale of an artist's work
September 27, 2017 12:09 PM   Subscribe

A relative who died last year was becoming successful as an artist; her bigger oils were selling for £30,000 and are in museum collections, and books have been written about her. A reasonably well-known dealer wants to take on management of the remaining paintings. How best to optimise this so the paintings are not flogged off to make quick money?

The artist lived London. I'm in the USA and cannot travel to help. What should the artist's heirs aim for in the contract with the new dealer? Her previous dealer had a falling out with the family after her death.

There are not a great many paintings still unsold; ideally we'd like the dealer to maximise their value and realise it over a number of years.
posted by windsock to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Consulting with a law firm that has a specialist art department (e.g. Boodle Hatfield, Hunters and others) would probably put any management arrangement on a sound contractual footing and limit future grief. A reputable dealer ought to be fine with this.
posted by holgate at 12:38 PM on September 27, 2017

I'm not entirely sure I understand the question. In almost all dealer arrangements, the price of the works sold is set by mutual agreement between the dealer and the artist (or artist's estate, in your case). So, the solution to your problem is simply to ensure the agreement doesn't allow the dealer to set prices and then not to agree to a price below you're comfortable with.
posted by saeculorum at 12:41 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

"ideally we'd like the dealer to maximise their value and realise it over a number of years."

I take it you're not the executor of the estate, but merely advising that person? How to estimate the value of the oeuvre? Can you articulate your goals into clauses of a contract? Here're a few attempts:

- Only 1 painting will be sold per year.
- Reserve price will be £20,000 in 2017, rising to the maximum of a) £5,000 per year, or b) the price of the last sale, unless no painting has sold for 3 years, at which time the reserve price will revert to £10,000, and to £0 after an additional 5 years.
- Reserve price for 1st painting sold per year will begin at £100,000, decreasing £10,000 at the start of each month for the duration of the year; resetting to £100,000 at the start of a new year if no painting has sold in the year. Second painting will reserve at £200,000....

- Painting #1 has a reserve price of £30,000, and will go on sale in year 2017; painting #2 has a reserve price of £70,000 and will go on sale in year 2020; painting #3...

Of course, the dealer is free to refuse these stipulations.

You clearly think that value will not be maximized by a quick selloff, but the dealer may think value will be maximized by a quick selloff. That's what contracts are for.
posted by at at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2017

We had a similar issue a few years ago in the family. Nthing the idea to get legal advice. What happened in our family was that one older relative managed everything as he was an art dealer, selling mostly through auction houses, and later it evolved he really did not know what he was doing and the paintings should really have gone to a more knowledgeable dealer.
What i most regret about all this is that at the time everyone felt a quick solution was needed due issues of storage and emptying her studio. In retrospect this was dumb, it should have been put in (professional) storage until an independent expert could evaluate the paintings. Instead they sold far under value in bulk and later on resale we saw what might have been achieved by a knowledgeable dealer. I guess what i am saying take your time, don't act under pressure if you can and get a second opion.
posted by 15L06 at 1:34 PM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

Can't you put it with a gallery as opposed to a dealer? They have more vested interest in maximising returns and building the artists post humous career than a straightforward dealer.
posted by stevedawg at 3:34 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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