I have been reading Talking Prices, Olav Velthuis’ book on the sociology and economics of the contemporary art market. Velthuis is interested in how cold and tidy economic realities are built out of messy human narratives: what do prices mean, in different contexts?
One of the interesting facts Velthuis mentions is the commissions gallerists receive in the Dutch gallery market. Commissions for mosts artists are between 40 and 50 percent. But, Velthuis says, they rarely exceed 50 percent: to do so is seen as a moral violation.
The commission that a dealer receives from an artist is not simply established on the basis of mutual bargaining power. Instead, negotiations about commissions are phrased in terms of entitlements, fairness, and, again, desert. In these negotiations, not only the time and energy of artists are at stake, but also those of dealers themselves. Says a Dutch gallery owner: “I…
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