Connecting, that is what it is all about. Art dealers are synergy, connecting the dots of complementary but disconnected elements and making everyone happy. They are fluid, engaging and go-getters, wired into the framework of the industry and always making things happen.
At a basic level, they buy and sell works of art, either as an independent dealer or on behalf of a company that specialises in this field. It is that black and white, though that is not to say the work they do is not complicated or important.
Let’s break that profile down. The kinds of services they tend to offer include finding, acquiring and selling important – otherwise known as high value – works of art, viewing auction sales and advising clients on strategies – retaining or selling at a certain point in time – and giving counsel over tax and inheritance matters.
An art dealer’s role can diversify further, with some offering services in how to build and maintain a collection, the logistics of transporting and shipping – they’ll often work with specialists like Cadogan Tate – and droit de suite (the right granted to artists or their heirs).
As is evident, buying and selling is an umbrella term that expands into lots of other interesting and related categories, making for a rewarding and exciting career. Being surrounded by intriguing individuals, brilliant works of art and dealing with high volumes of cash is a thrilling way to earn a living.
It doesn’t just stop there. Art dealers set themselves further apart from their contemporaries by specialising in a certain period, movement and/or artist. While many can offer a diverse portfolio of works, it is better to have at least one area of focus.
This way you have an expertise, and when it comes to making deals happen, you are in the best position possible to achieve the best result possible for all stakeholders. It is life knowledge more than anything, as there aren’t really any formal qualifications.
As such, an entrepreneurial way of working, an ability to show foresight and a genuine appreciation for the works being dealt with, are all prerequisites to successful art dealers. Making money is important, of course, but driving art dealers is the beauty of art and what it stands for. Everything else is a bonus.
In general, there are two types of art dealers. There are those involved at a primary level who engage with galleries, while at a secondary level, there are those who focus on the secondary market. The two are by no means exclusive and dealers will float between the two, but ultimately it depends on the kinds of work they are dealing with.
Dealers will tend to work with a number of clients, including artists, galleries, investors and collectors. There is no average number, as it is influenced by whether you work alone or for a dealership, how renowned you are and how many people/organisations you are happy to commit yourself to.
Financially, it can be very lucrative, but this is not easy money, far from it. Some arrangements can be commission-based and others service-based. For the latter, if you’re pushing well-known works by prominent artists, your return is going to be rather good. If you’re working with emerging artists, then naturally, your take is going to be modest.
Being an art dealer is an exciting career choice, and one that is always moving. It is arguably the only role that sees you engage with the industry at every level, from artist to gallery to auction house to collector. No single day is ever the same and there are incredible highs to be found. Art dealers really are having their cake and eating it … after a bit of elbow grease of course.