Artists clawing back control from dealers
Galleries shouldn’t automatically own the work that they produce, say Tyson and TurkLouisa Buck | 15.12.08 | Issue 197
LONDON. Artists are taking an increasingly independent role in the management of their work, taking back some of the control from their dealers. Just a few years ago, when the art market was a less complicated place, the artist-dealer relationship was relatively straightforward. Only the extremely successful worked with more than one gallery and overall it was left to an artist’s dealer to handle the business side of things. But in today’s increasingly complex art scene, where many artists are represented by several galleries worldwide and where production costs can spiral, artists say that they are having to ensure they are at the centre of the decision-making process by employing independent agents or setting up their own companies.
Turner Prize-winning artist Keith Tyson, who is represented by galleries in London, New York, Berlin, Milan and Paris—“and that’s not counting the ones I have some other non-representational business interest with”—has employed Richard Wadhams of accountancy firm Hogbens Dunphy as his personal financial advisor and agent, with a remit to negotiate directly with the galleries on his behalf.
“I needed an independent person to distribute my work globally rather than having a centralised gallery which fed the other dealers,” explains Tyson. He describes galleries as being “like the studios of 1930s Hollywood—they all want complete control of their talent and don’t want to share them with someone else.”
Other artists who employ Mr Wadhams, who is a director of the company owned by Damien Hirst’s business manager Frank Dunphy, include Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Whiteread and Tim Noble and Sue Webster.
However, Tyson is keen to stress that his relationship with Mr Wadhams is not as all-encompassing as that of Hirst and Mr Dunphy, and that many of his fellow artists use different aspects of the company’s services, from straightforward accounting and tax advice to a fuller package that Hogbens Dunphy describes as “Artist First Management”. “Damien’s model is very idiosyncratic: just because you take an agent does not mean that you want to do a big auction or that you are trying to shave a margin out of the galleries’ profits,” Tyson says.
For him, fabrication is a key factor. “The fact that I have a lot of initial expenses means that galleries are not just show spaces, but also production houses, and it made sense to have someone manage that situation, so that I can concentrate on being creative,” he says. “Galleries will promise you the world in terms of production costs but it comes at the price of complete control. There’s a conflict of interest in having the people who retail your work being the same people that help you with production because they will try and own it.”
The issue of production costs also prompted artist Gavin Turk to set up his own studio-company, Livestock Market, this year. This enables him to make his own work which is then consigned to his dealers in New York, Vienna, Paris and London. Turk echoes Tyson by believing that, “if you tie galleries into production costs then they feel they own the work, and certainly that they have an indefinite consignment period. The bottom line is that you need to be in the centre making the decisions with the gallery working for you, rather than vice-versa.”
Overall, whatever the production or representational circumstances of the artist, the predominant desire seems to be to have a greater control over the destiny of the work, but to leave the gallery to do the actual selling. “I’ve got no complaints about any of my galleries—each one is a very necessary channel,” says Tyson.