There’s a funny thing that happens in the private art market that really isn’t very funny when it happens to you. Because the best art is rarely for sale publicly—and because art buying is too much like being on a treasure hunt—it isn’t uncommon for someone to approach a collector known to have work by an in-demand artist and claim to have a serious buyer for it. After some blandishments and extravagant promises, the “runner,” as a person in that position is known in the trade, secures an image of the work supposedly only for that exclusive client.
In truth, there is no client. But the enterprising runner, knowing there’s a hot market for the artist, starts shopping it around to advisers and private dealers. The runner will take it to directors at some of the important galleries that make money from secondary market sales. As the chain of interested intermediaries extends, eventually someone gets the bright idea of offering the work to a collector who has been known to buy that artist’s work before. Lo and behold, the original collector gets a text and an image offering her the work she already owns.
It’s funny—but infuriating.