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The Good Doctor/Agent

He never paid more than $5,000 for any single work of art. He travelled extensively and met with artists in half-a-dozen developing countries. He was not interested in the artists that were established; instead he wanted to discover them for himself. He travelled with an entourage of talented curators and educators that were his eyes and ears, his translators, in the countries he visited. He had people on the ground two weeks before he stepped into the country, and their main responsibilities were to look and to listen without being observed. They accomplished the initial legwork and then walked the good doctor into various studios and galleries as if he was discovering them for the first time, not the staff. He was intent on finding and purchasing the unknown artist, particularly after the artist had recently distinguished themselves or their works in some exhibition or event.

Cornering the Market

He was intent on cornering the market, bringing all the major artworks by the artist back into the United States and then promoting the hell out of the artist and the works. He had connections to several other national galleries and museums and his staff were tasked with getting the works in front of them and then into the right places and in the right markets. Once these other institutions were involved he would make certain that key pieces by the artist were available at an equitable price to expand and extend the market. If you knew the routine the usual mark-up was double what he had originally paid for the work in situ. This type of buy, pump, and dump usually took about a year to accomplish.

Doctor, collector, provocateur

For the Doctor it was the challenge, the game if you like, where he’d find, promote, and then sell the artist off into other museum and gallery collections thereby driving up the value of the major and better works he retained in his personal and his corporate collection. He sold marked up pieces to his own company for a profit.

Dealers, like the good Doctor, usually operate in the interdealer market where they buy and sell among themselves, beginning the whole process with buying and acquiring the best works of art as inexpensively as possible from the artists, directly. Then, they sell most of the art, but not all, in the retail market to other collectors and museums. A rule of thumb in looking at the difference between prices in retail and wholesale, in most businesses, is wholesale prices are about half of retail prices. He wanted to drive the value of the artist and the works up, he just didn’t want to be seen as the one openly doing it, but he did want to be the one to benefit the most from it.

I paint a negative picture of the good doctor but nothing could be farther from the truth. He helped to find and to promote artists from under-developed countries. He brought the artists to the US as his guest for the openings and receptions. He introduced the artists to collectors and buyers from around the US, and I seriously doubt that initially he profited all that much from the works. He died a number of years ago; his museum is flourishing and receiving the recognition that it so rightly deserves. I am proud to have called him a friend.

About the Author

Lawrence Klepper

Lawrence Klepper

As an artist, Gallery Management Instructor, Gallery Director, Independent Curator, and Special Exhibitions Coordinator for City art museums, college art galleries, and commercial galleries in Califor...