The Report on the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry, is a
detailed analysis of the health of Australia’s strongest artistic sector’s
contribution to the nation’s cultural economies. The report was released
on Friday September 9th 2002, and chaired by Rupert Myer.
Due to its recommendation of up to $15 million in increased Federal and
State funding, the Report is already enjoying widespread endorsement
across the arts sector’s managerial classes.
Its advocacy for tax relief for cultural gifts of up to 125%, and
strategies for broadening understanding and acceptance of contemporary art’s
presence in our society, are also warmly welcomed in the visual arts
industry. However, there are a number of anomalies in the Report’s
approach to visual arts commerce that place this year-long analysis, at
odds with today’s free market economic realities.
On paper, between primary commercial gallery sales of new and
established artists’ work, as well as ticketed and door counts for
attendance’s to major visual arts exhibitions, the visual arts industry’s
status as a value added growth opportunity highlights its potential to
become a substantial contributor to the nation’s internal and export
Yet the Report reflects mistrust of the dynamics of the commercial
marketplace. Recommendations that artists should be "protected"
against "fly-by-night" galleries using sales percentages as
operating capital, highlight the suspicious stand off between commercial
and publicly employed visual arts experts. Yet, it does so without
sufficiently clarifying the artist’s engagement with the commercial
marketplace, which will always need to be cool-headed if not totally
In spite of years of publicly assisted legal and financial advocacy,
guiding Australian artists in how to deal with the art market promoted by
the Australia Council and NAVA, many artists still fail to take simple
commercial precautions, such as collecting consignment notes when
delivering their work to galleries.
Does this tell us that publicly funded advocacy campaigns aren’t
working? Or, is it carelessness born out of the blinding emotional relief
that often occurs when a gallery welcomes an artist’s difficult ideas
with open arms? Do public sector driven interpretations of how the visual
art market should work, take this into account?
Others complain about galleries slow reimbursements for sales billed
for sixty days, but at least some of those same galleries are generous in
advances against unsold work as well as offering payment plans to
Australian commercial art galleries take as much as 10% less in
commission fees than their international peers. But, they are expected to
do the same amount of work on behalf of the artists they represent, to
promote sales and widen critical exposure in today’s competitive world.
In this country, galleries serve the additionally important function of
introducing the concept of buying contemporary art into our society, so
must continually cultivate new collectors to buy their artists’ work.
In other words, galleries are paramount in building the visual arts
market place in Australia. That’s a lot of cultural socializing, a lot
of dressing up and being friendly – on behalf of financial stakes in the
risky business of bold and dangerous new visual ideas!
As a curator for a private collection in the UK in the 1990s, the first
time I bought a piece by British bad boy artist Damien
Hirst it cost as little as 2,000 pounds. While it is worth many times
that now, the point is Hirst had absolutely no guaranteed commercial
standing at the time.
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