The Blacklist: What it is and How to Avoid it

In 2004, the highly popular South Africa-born artist Marlene Dumas allegedly blacklisted art collector Craig Robins, because he had sold one of her paintings through a gallery while he was supposed to keep it in his collection. While the question if this kind of protectiveness and manipulation from the part of the artists and dealers is still justified on the current art market belongs to another discussion, the fact remains that Mr. Robins’ reputation as an art collector has been severely damaged. As a new-to-the-scene art collector, having a bad reputation is the last thing you need, so how can you avoid being blacklisted?

When you as an art collector have found an artwork that you would like to buy, it will rarely happen that you buy it directly from the artist, but instead the sale will go through a dealer, such as an an art gallery. This happens on the primary market when it involves a new art work sold for the first time and on the secondary market when ‘second-hand’ works are in play.

The relationship of an art dealer and buyer (the collector) is not primarily based on cash flow, but rather, mostly in the case of highly sought-after works, on trust. The dealer will try to avoid at all costs to sell a piece of art to a so called ‘speculator’- sharks that circulate on the art market with no other scope than to buy art and resell it with steep profit as quickly as possible, in this way undermining ethical practices, creating artificial exclusivity and possibly damaging the reputation of the gallery and the artist. Such speculators, pretending to be art collectors, can end up being black listed by galleries and as we have seen in the case of Dumas, even by artists, rendering it impossible for them to buy art again and make a quick flip. Watchdogs are outting predatory buyers by reporting them to sites like the Artflip Blacklist, an online index especially created for the protection of galleries and artists.

To protect the artist’s market and themselves, gallery owners may ask a not yet established art collector to sign a ‘right of first refusal’; this protective measure requires that in the case a collector wants to resell its purchase, he first has to offer it back -for the same price- to the gallery he bought it from, before putting it on the market. It may also bar the collector from reselling the works for a period of time or indefinitely. Before signing anything, just clarify what expectations precisely you are supposed to abide by, since occasionally these rules are only stated in the purchase invoice or believe it or not, assumed.

In any instance, if you read the rules closely, ask what the expectations are and your motives as an art collector are honest, both collector and seller should be happy with the transaction.

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