Chapter 38. The Case of Resale Royalties, Part 2
One would think that if the renowned and well-respected Newfoundland artist Mary Pratt, as well as CARFAC (the Canadian Artists Representation), publicly supports the creation of a resale royalty, then its probably a good idea whose time is long overdue.
In fact, CARFAC has been lobbying members of parliament and officials for years to introduce such a system. The resale royalty, currently under pre-budget proposal by the federal government, would stipulate that a 5% royalty of the sale price of an artwork be returned to the artist. Theoretically, perhaps because it appeals to a humanist tradition founded on doing the right thing, this scheme would alleviate some of the tensions that exist between art, artists and commerce in the art kingdom.
In a recent Art in America article entitled Art and Commerce, writer Douglas Dreishpoon quotes Matthew Marks, a well-known American dealer and proprietor of galleries in New York and Los Angeles, as proclaiming that he does not believe in the Resale Royalty Act because the only people who benefitted from it are already successful artists or their estates. Marks goes on to suggest that the resale royalty does not help those artists who could actually use the money, whose work has no resale market.
Marks is making an important distinction here between a primary and a secondary (that is, resale) market, and between the types of buyers in those markets, each type purchasing artwork for completely different reasons.
By using the term successful in describing artists, Marks appears to mean those artists who have developed a primary market for their work usually achieved through gallery representation and, by default, a secondary market, too. The secondary market buyer usually makes investment decision purchases based on the reputation and credibility of the artist, which have been developed to some extent through a history of gallery sales. Thus, the dealer is partly responsible for creating both a primary and a secondary market for an artists work and, ultimately, for creating societys recognition of the artist as successful. In this sense, then, it seems that successful can sometimes mean an artist who is an income-generating unit managed by the dealer. Mary Pratt, as a successful Canadian artist, would be a case in point. She is one who would benefit from a resale royalty because of her reputation. Her work has a resale market.
However, I dont believe that those not-so-successful artist members of CARFAC would gain the same benefit offered by such a royalty. The primary market for consumer art generally consists of people who buy because they like what they see: their decisions to purchase are aesthetically or intellectually based. These purchases are not usually dealer-advised investments. And, true, the large majority of work bought by the art-buying public is by lesser-known artists. Yet, those artists are the ones who, by Markss definition, are not totally successful. Theyre the ones the resale royalty should benefit, but who, because of their lack of wide recognition, do not have multiple resales of their artwork and therefore would not see any royalty benefit.
Secondary market sales of their work are almost non-existent, partly because of their perceived lack of investment potential.
And so it goes
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