A 4 Second Explanation on How the Art Market Works

Buying art it tough. DUH that’s why we have a business. And the main reason WHY it’s tough? THERE ARE TOO MANY OPTIONS. It’s like trying to order on Seamless Web — option overload. One simple way to break it down, and focus on art that’s best suited to your interests (whether you’re buying, looking, sourcing for someone else) is to break it down by market: PRIMARY MARKET and SECONDARY MARKET. Here’s a tutorial:

Primary market: the market of art that is coming from an artist’s studio either directly or through a gallery. Its artwork that has not been sold before, so in most cases it is newly created art by living artists. Think of it as going to a clothing store — like Madewell, to throw out the only example I know — there, you are buying clothes that are new and have not been previously purchased before. For my fellow dog lovers, it’s like going to a breeder. The dogs there are brand spankin’ new.

Secondary market: the market of art that is coming from a source who bought it from another source, who may have bought it from another source, who at some point purchased it on the primary market from the artist. This art has been bought and sold at least once so there is a price history for the piece. To keep with our analogies, this is the equivalent of going to a vintage clothing store or rescuing a dog. Personally, I prefer rescue dogs to bred ones but that’s NOT to say one kind of art market is better than the other — they are just different. A ton of awesome artists we love like Justine Hill, Olivier Vranken and Ricardo Mazal are Primary Market artists, and top brand name artists like Jackson Pollock, Marc Rothko, Claud Monet, etc. are selling on the secondary market.

So what does this mean for you? If you want something new and emerging, focus on the primary market and find galleries that solely work within, or focus on the primary market. Reputable galleries in this field get first dibs on work coming out of artist studios then price, exhibit, and sell those to art buyers. A few galleries we like are: Denny Dimin Gallery (NY), Davidson Contemporary (NY), Sean Kelly Gallery (NY), Julie Saul Gallery (NY), Lanoue Gallery (Boston), Rene Blouin Galerie (Montreal), Georgia Scherman Projects (Toronto), Zalucky Contemporary (Toronto), If you want something with more historical importance, the secondary market is a great option and you can find work in this vein at galleries AND auctions. Some galleries like here are Findlay Galleries (NY), Berry Campbell (NY), Hollis Taggart Galleries (NY). And the major auction houses in New York are Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips (but there are plenty other smaller ones).

Important Rules of Thumb:

About Galleries: Whether you’re buying from the primary or secondary market, buying from a reputable gallery is a good call because said galleries have researched the work, the artist, and how to best serve that artist’s particular market. And if you ever want to deaccession a piece you previously bought, you can go back to that reputable gallery and they may be able to take it back on consignment. Think puppies, people: you always give a puppy back to a breeder if you cannot keep it. 

About Auctions: Auctions have a reputation for being a high energy, big money event. That’s definitely not the norm. At Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the two biggest in the country, the average price point is actually below $10,000, and low key sales are happening there every day with people flowing in and out and talking through the sale. And the vast majority of these are open to the public. The evening sales at these big auction houses require a ticket, which are liberally distributed if you call ahead. If you’re not getting a paddle to bid (which, for the evening sales, requires a bank reference and proof of assets), you’ll probably be assigned to sit in an auxiliary room, but you can meander over to the main sale room as people trickle out throughout the night.

SO that’s the lesson for today. What did I miss and what corner of the art world can I shed light on for next time?