Souren Melikian used the recent coincidence of the Old Master auctions and the various dealer shows in London to do a little comparative study of the wares on offer by both sides of the retail art equation. Melikian scores it hands down for the dealers:
For the last two decades, the most knowledgeable among them have gradually taken on the role of clearing houses for the greatest paintings handled by auction houses. They, better than anyone, are in a position to assess the importance of a work within an artist’s oeuvre, and the availability of the artist in the market. Newcomers to the market are no longer experienced enough to rely on their judgment, because the most gifted connoisseurs can only ever be as good as the sum total of what they have had occasion to train their eyes on. Wisely, many collectors now turn to dealers, even when buying at auction.
Indeed, the best dealers are the most rigorous judges when it comes to assessing not only authenticity, but also condition — and condition, of which there are many grades, is a key factor in the making of art prices. They are glad to help with advice, which is in their own interest. If well served, clients will come back to them and a relationship useful to both parties gradually builds up.
Art dealing is changing fast. The fittest, or quickest at adapting to the market environment, will do well, better probably than auction houses with their phenomenal overheads and vast staff. Many dealers are effectively turning to art brokerage — this requires no cash outlay — and some may bow out, unable to find to the fuel to keep the engine running.
For Old Masters, It’s Dealers Choice (New York Times)