How to Protect Yourself When Selling Your Art

Let me begin by saying that I am an art dealer, and MOST ART DEALERS I KNOW ARE INFORMATIVE, TRUSTWORTHY, AND HONEST.  I'm a huge advocate of collectors being educated about collecting art.  I don't have anything to hide, so if collectors know as much as me, then it just makes for more enjoyable conversations and transactions.  In today's art market, it's more transparent than ever, so the more the collector knows, the less the need to justify any prices for quality works.  This is a conversation for another day, but as a collector, there are some steps that can be taken to protect yourself against fraudulent dealers.  Some of you may have read this article about NYC art dealer, Lawrence Salander.  This just isn't for collectors, but for artists and even other dealers.  Although, it's impossible to eliminate all the skulduggery, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself when trying to sell your art with dealers.
  1. Get to Know Your Dealer.  One of the best aspects of collecting fine art, are the relationships you build over the years.  Whether it's with artists, other collectors or dealers, you will make good friends, so don't be afraid to get to know your dealer.
  2. Get a Contract.  Consignment contracts are as normal as a frame on a painting, so don't be afraid to ask for one.  Not only does it protect both parties, but the communication involved in filling one out will alleviate any confusion down the road.  Within the contract, here are a few things to identify:  (1) the artwork including title, size, and medium; (2) the reason for exchanging possession; (3) conditions of the transaction - for example: commission percentage to be paid to gallery or dealer, minimum sales price or minimum amount to be paid to owner, and negotiation procedures; (4) who is responsible for insuring the artwork; (5) condition of artwork and who's responsible for safekeeping; (6) set a timeframe. Whether it's 6 months or a year, you can always extend it.
  3. Choose the Best Dealer.  Research dealers and galleries for any patterns of complaints or lawsuits. Every dealer and gallery specializes, so choose the one that focuses on your genre or artist, because they will have the best chance of selling it since they know that market.  Ask other collectors, dealers, and vendors about the dealer in question.  You wouldn't let your daughter just marry anyone would you?  Ok, so it's nothing like that, but your collection is valuable, so do your due diligence so it doesn't fall in the wrong hands.
  4. Insure Your Collection.  Whether it's in your possession or a consignor's, you should always have your own insurance for your artwork.  You've invested your time and money in acquiring pieces that you love, so why not protect your assets.  Also, it gives you a second course of action in case the artwork is damaged or by chance you get cheated.
  5. Communication.  Keep the lines of communication open and ask for status reports.  Even if it's just to hear your dealer say there hasn't been any action, staying in touch will always let you know the whereabouts of your painting as well as keep the work on the forefront of your dealer's mind, so they might work that much harder to sell it.
Most dealers are professional, ethical, and trustworthy, so don't be afraid to try and sell your collection.  Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself; however, let your dealer do what he/she does best, sell paintings.  Contracts can be time consuming and expensive, but you don't need a long lengthy contract, just cover the vital details.  Selling your artwork is just another part of collecting art, and while there's always risk in buying and selling original fine art, it can be very rewarding as well.  I don't just mean monetarily, but in the relationships you build, the excitement of receiving a check, and the adrenaline from auctions.  Naturally, your next question is "What's the difference between selling at auction or with a gallery/dealer?"


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