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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Watching Evolution in Progress

Felix Salmon has recently posted a must-read piece that compares today's art market with the pre-2001 securities market.

I've written in the past about how we are seeing more transparency in the art market as time progresses. Obviously though, as Salmon so capably points out, one couldn't yet call it a rational or fully transparent market.

While I can somewhat understand why dealers at the very top end of the market would think that they can and should engage in the sorts of practices that Salmon describes, it continues to astound me that dealers specializing in works at much, much lower price points think they can do so as well.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I was in a Chelsea gallery looking at work in an outstanding group show. I was interested enough in two unsold pieces to consider a purchase. I asked the gentleman working the desk for a price list, and he replied coldly that they didn't have one. I would need to talk to someone for that information. That sort of attitude and approach raises my hackles--and not just a little bit. I left the gallery, in effect deciding against purchasing either work. I'll bet these two young artists will never know that their dealer's practice cost them my sale. I wonder how many others they have lost in the same way.

As collectors are empowered by having access to information, they will continue to demand more straightforward treatment during the purchasing process. Some gallerists have realized and embraced this trend. They will continue to see better sales--surviving as the most fit of their species when the market begins to soften, as it surely must. Those that resist change in a new environment will be the first to become obsolete.

It's not often that laypersons have the chance to view evolution in progress. Followers of the art market have that opportunity today.

Update: For collectors aspiring to game the system this week by sneaking into the Armory show early, The Observer gives all the tricks you'll need to know.

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