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Dealers v auction houses

That the Donald B. Marron collection of classic and modern art worth more than $300m is to be sold by 3 leading American dealers (Pace, Gargosian, Acquavella) and not Christie’s or Sotheby’s marks a distinct break in a trend.

In the last 100 or so years dealers like Paul Durand- Ruel, Amboise Vollard, Henry Kahnweiler, Leo  Castelli,  Marlborough Gallery and White Cube dominated.

Then the auction houses began to achieve higher and more publicised sales. The Peggy and David Rockefeller collection and Yves St Lauent one were sold through Christies, Alfred Taubmans’ through Sothebys.

Indeed in the digital age of Internet and museums being more aggressive the market place in art was becoming more crowded.

I recently read Michael Schnayerson’s Boom.

This chronicles the rise of the American mega-dealers like the three referred to above in the disposal of the Marron collection.

It is probably of more interest to financiers than art lovers. It reflects how trading in modern art at its highest level is about lucre.

My friend Ken Howard has a theory that in the Cold War America had to come up with something to rival Russia’s cultural pedigree and so created Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns) then Minimalism then Conceptual art, all of which fetched staggering sums.

The auction houses still boast of the prices they achieve but to do so apply strategems like guarantees whereby a bidder guarantees up to a certain figure and if the work goes for more than that, take a percentage of that profit.

They also charge buyer and seller a hefty premium and there is no latitude to negotiate.

The dealer offers a more personal service, you can view and, in Marron’s case, they will herald the collector more.

Significantly much of his collection work was acquired by them. Nonetheless it’s still about money and we can expect the battle to continue.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts