Monday, February 15, 2010

Why go to an Art Dealer?

There is more than one way to acquire art. Why should one go to an art dealer? After all, it is quite intimidating to ring the door bell of a private dealer. It can be a pain to get to the dealers location even if they have an open gallery. People say it has to be more expensive. What possible advantage can there be.

The simple answer is time. The dealer has invested not only money but time in his acquisition. He has consulted with authorities in his field who may be able to add information or corroborate his beliefs. Just as important is that you, the collector, have the time to learn what you need to know before making a purchase. At auction, in most cases, you have a few days from the arrival of the catalog and the beginning of the auction exhibition to make your decision.

I may have mentioned before that one of the greatest living collectors said to me once, you should buy at auction what you know, not what you don’t know. In other words if you have expertise of your own or have tried to acquire the same work of art before and are well acquainted with it, all you have to do is check that the condition has not changed since you last saw it. Otherwise, the question is do you have all the information you need to make an intelligent decision about an acquisition?

There are, of course, auction houses with sterling reputations with people in their departments who really know their field but they have to occupy themselves with thousands of works of art every year and they must speak with hundreds of potential customers. The dealer had plenty of time to study his relatively small inventory and do the library research necessary to catalog the work of art.

Dealers are often specialists or have long family histories in certain fields. More than once my father and I would go into a home and focus on the same piece, even in a mediocre collection, and find out later that it had come through the firm. There is a certain eye that develops and a gallery and its proprietor have a certain taste that comes through in their collection. Is it yours?

Oh yes, about those prices. There is no rule about where you might get the best deal because each work of art and circumstance is unique. I do know of many cases, however, where a dealer has watched works of art bring many times what the dealer asks for very similar works of art. In one such case a work of art brought twice as much at auction than the dealer had asked in his gallery and he had offered it to each of the competing bidders. After the sale a member of the press went to the winner and said, why did you bid double what you could have paid to the dealer earlier. His reply, “I was tired of losing”!

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