An Occasional Rant | The Art Market


As part of an ongoing series of occasional rants...

At Melanie Roger Gallery we work with artists and strive to promote their work and their careers. We represent them and take a long term interest in the development of their practise. We do not deal in secondary market work for this reason.

Occasionally works by artists that we represent and work with come up at auction though as has been the case recently. It’s a hard one and we don’t always know the circumstances behind work being put up for sale so it is not our place to necessarily judge. We do however encourage clients to collect work that they love and believe in rather than just something they think they can make a quick buck from. We are quite open about that and in fact will actively discourage clients from purchasing works purely for investment. For a start – there are no guarantees. We believe the work we show and sell will gain in value, but equally that it will be enjoyed and loved and treasured.

Seeing works at auction is tough on artists too. Maybe it’s like being rejected by an ex-lover and seeing them moving on with someone else. It’s awkward. And, in almost all circumstances, the artist does not get a cut of any secondary market sale (although there are moves by some to rectify this in their own practise). We have overheard people saying that they must bid at auction “to support the artists”.

We have heard our own minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage speaking about the market with what can only be said was a complete lack of understanding of the differences between primary and secondary. If she does not get it, it’s hard for the general public. So here it is in a nutshell…

Primary market is sales of artists work – usually through their commercial gallery such as Melanie Roger Gallery. Other instances may be through artist run spaces or community galleries – or from the artist themselves if they are not represented. The artist gets paid for this sale. Your purchase directly benefits them. That is supporting the artists.

Secondary market sales are generally made through auction houses although selected galleries do also specialise in this area. Or it may be online through a sales site. It may be historical work or it may be what we in the trade refer to as “wet art” which is work that has (more often than not) been put up for sale by the owner to make a quick buck. The artist does not benefit from this.

Chances are you saw a work in an auction catalogue. They have reasonable budgets and like to seduce with their glossy publications. Sometimes they do posters and plaster them around your neighbourhood. They almost never ask the artist if they can do this but that may be of little concern to you.

What may be however is the fact that you are looking at one work in a catalogue that is a very small part of what the artist has made. It may be in good condition, but it may have faults - often hidden by frames in the case of works on paper in particular.  It may be a good work or it may not be. All artists have works that are better than others. Why would you buy the first work that you see? Why not go to the gallery that represents that artist? (this can usually work out who it is with a quick Google search) They will usually have works in stock by the artists they work with and have a variety of pieces to show you – more often than not – better works than the work on the secondary market. They work with the artists. They can give you the background and give big picture advice on the artist and their work. They care and we at least are always happy to share our knowledge. And, you often pay less than you would at auction.

We have had recent cases of works by a number of artists that we work with, going for significantly more than we would sell the work for at the gallery. A bit silly really when you could have come to us, got a great work for a good price, in your own time without the pressure of an auction room. And, you’ll be supporting the artist to create more work. That’s got to be good – right?

As Billy Apple has said – “The artist has to live like everyone else”.