Seattle artist Kate Vrimoet reveals the pernicious effect of the charity auction. Remember that the artist may only count the cost of materials in the value of the donation which only further compounds the problems she describes here:
Seattle has an abundance of consumers, but few real collectors. What does that mean? Many people look at art, experience art, enjoy art here in Western Washington. They visit galleries and museums and studios. They attend performances and readings. But the collectors understand they can acquire a delightful work of art from an emerging or mid-career artist at one of the many many auctions held in support of artists in this part of the world. These hearty collectors obtain this work on average at 40% of retail value. The fallout of the practice of artists donating their work to arts organizations is drastic.
The inherent value of an artists work goes down – when it sells for 40% of the retail value it’s only worth 40% of the retail value.
This means that every artist’s collector has just lost value on the work they previously purchased as well.
In addition, what happens is that collectors stop buying directly from artists. Why should they buy from the artist when they can get the work at bargain basement prices from the art auction? Who doesn’t like the hook of a great deal?
Conducting business through these art auctions helps generate a specific art buying audience that buys less (or no art) outside that system. Why would you pay full-price when you can get it for a 60% discount? A portion of the art collecting audience just waits for the close out sale.
Meanwhile the money that’s raised through these auctions can go to grants that often support established, income-earning artists. So one artist donates to benefit another, but in the process, hurts their own long-term bottom line.
Finally, the galleries sell less, because, if the collector isn’t buying from the artist, they’re not buying from the gallery either. Three well-respected Seattle galleries are in the process of shuttering their businesses this year, Francine Sedars, Grover/Thurston and Featherston.
I understand there is some potential but passive value in meeting with collectors at these venues, but very few artists are good at schmoozing their way into a sale.
The argument that these auctions provide exposure is false. This is simply more of the mindset of “don’t pay the artists.” These organizations are not honoring the artists being auctioned when the financial stakes are so high. It’s not an honor to be poor. Anecdotal evidence reveals that artists do not get repeat business from these giveaways.