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Art

Tamara

The media revels in art scandals, especially around authenticity of art works and the legitimacy of how they have reached the marketplace. But bad press does the art world no favours. The current controversy over the sale of a purported Albert Tucker painting through Christies auction house has raised again the issue of the relatively unregulated nature of the art market and therefore the importance of having mechanisms in place to track the provenance of works of art. This can help to prevent the passing off of fakes as original works.

The art market is a fragile creature and is particularly vulnerable when the economic climate is volatile. The possibility of a purchased artwork being revealed as a fake scares potential investors and undermines their trust in the advice being given by those they would expect to be honest experts - the auction houses, galleries, dealers, art advisers and valuers. One can see the potential for conflict of interest where high value sales yield a concomitantly high commission for the intermediaries in the sale.

It is likely to be one of the reasons that the artists resale royalty scheme is being so strongly opposed by some of these art world intermediaries. It has been evident, at times, that some of them are indulging in practices which warp the market. An example was revealed in a surprisingly candid interview by auction house owner Rod Menzies in ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, a Four Corners ABC TV program in 2008 where he described the ‘ramping up’ process which artificially inflates the price of one art work to set the bar higher for a range of other works by the same artist sold by the intermediary shortly after. The program described the art market as “an industry governed more by wink and nod than by a clear set of rules. The art is a feast for the eye; the business behind it is opaque and secretive.” The program highlighted the problems with Indigenous art to make the case for a code to regulate questionable practices. But this also applies beyond the Indigenous art sphere.

One of the benefits of the artists resale royalty scheme to the reputation of the art world is that in requiring full disclosure of the details of any sale by an intermediary for works sold over $1000, the work’s progress from first sale through the series of subsequent resales leaves an indelible trail and therefore the origins and authenticity of work, who is buying and selling it and comparable prices over time becomes much more transparent.

One can’t help tending towards conspiracy theories when, as in my case, I was contacted recently by the head of a London based dealership in art, design and antiques. I refused to dignify with a response what I regarded as his misleading and biased questions obviously intended to be used to discredit the resale royalty scheme. What he went on to publish rode roughshod over the statistics provided by Copyright Agency (the body responsible for managing the scheme) which they are required to accurately report to government.

Contrary to the views being put by anti-resale proponents, these statistics indicate that in its short life the scheme has delivered over $2.3 million in royalties to artists, the majority of which is going to living Indigenous artists and their communities. This inconvenient truth makes it difficult for the protestations by bodies that are making the majority of the profits from the sale of artworks on the secondary market to look other than self interested.

So, why is it that the London dealer and his international confreres are trying to discredit the scheme by publishing erroneous information? They have variously claimed that the scheme would cause destabilisation of the art market, diminution of dealer profit, administrative burden, and ultimately not benefit those it was intended for. However, on all counts the evidence is clearly the other way. So perhaps the darker reason is the one not being disclosed: that the scheme shines a spotlight on dubious practices by some in the art industry who need to clean up their act!

Tamara Winikoff, CEO National association for the visual arts (NAVA), Australia

Editors Note: This article was e-mailed to us at AAD by a friend, as Tamara's thoughts which have been introduced into the public domain. First published 14 / 8 / 2014