Selling through an auction house
While auction sales are a major part of the secondary art market, they can only be used for reasonably good quality paintings with strong provenance – not all works will be accepted for sale.
To be accepted for auction, a work will generally need to be by an artist represented by at least one gallery, have a reasonable collector base, a consistent sales history, favourable reviews in respected arts publications (e.g. nominated as a “Top 50” collectible artist) and have been included in collections or significant exhibitions at respected institutions (such as public art galleries).
When a painting is listed for auction, information about the sale price or failure to sell becomes public. Auction results from many regional, national and international auctions are published in online databases. Anyone can access these large-scale sales records for a fee, and many dealers, potential sellers and collectors do. Auction results for individual auctions are often available online without charge – careful Internet searching can unearth a lot of data for little or no charge.
Experienced buyers tend to pay more for artists who consistently sell well at auction and they tend to be cautious about or completely avoid those who have no auction records or who perform poorly or erratically.
If your painting is likely to be accepted for auction, you still need to consider the fees that that will be charged to you as the seller as well as the charge to the buyer (“buyer’s premium”). As the seller you will not only need to pay a significant commission (around 25%) on a successful sale but there may be other listing fees for inclusion in a catalogue. Most auction houses list these fees on their Web sites.
If you have just one or two paintings to sell, and you are not the artist, then the simplest way to offer these paintings for online sale is through large general sale sites (such as eBay or Gumtree in Australia) or through more specialized art sites such as ArtEdit (there are many others). The process is simple – all you need is a good digital image or images of the painting (keeping in mind that copyright issues can arise if you use images of an artist’s work without permission) and a clear and detailed description of the work, including its history (provenance) and evidence of authenticity. You should decide whether you wish to sell by fixed price or by an auction. If selling by auction, it is useful to set the opening bid at something like the minimum price you are willing to accept; otherwise you may find yourself having to sell the painting at a very low rice because there have been few bids.
If you are the artist who painted the art work the situation is rather different and some of the comments above do not apply. As the artist, you have a long term interest in keeping your art practice going and if possible making it financially viable. This requires marketing yourself as well as your work: any sales that you make yourself should be part of an overall marketing plan. Selling on eBay may not be part of such a plan and you are likely to be better served by forming a partnership with an art gallery or galleries.
Selling through an art gallery.
It may be possible to re-sell a painting through a private art gallery, particularly if it is the place where you first bought the painting. In general, though, commercial art galleries are in business to sell new paintings and will usually only buy a second-hand painting if it is by an artist in which they specialize or if the painting fills a gap in an exhibition that they may be planning. A small number of galleries are strong in the secondary market, but there are very few that specialize in Aboriginal art. Nevertheless, if you have a good painting to sell, it may be worth approaching a particular gallery once you have found out what sorts of works they mainly sell.
Administration – code of conduct, records, copyright, resale royalty
When selling a painting there are several administrative factors to keep in mind.
The Indigenous Art Code of Conduct has been set up to ensure fair trade with Indigenous artists. While it only applies to its members who have signed up to the Code (Aboriginal Art Online is a founding member), the Code also provides general guidance on ethical and practical issues associated with selling indigenous art. It makes a good starting point for selling an Aboriginal art work.
Next, you need to have records of the origin, authenticity and history (provenance) of your painting that are as complete and detailed as you can make them- these help with accurate description and marketing.
To market the painting you need an image or images of the work. Even though you own the painting, the copyright in a painting by a living artist is owned by the artist unless the artist has sold or licensed the copyright to the image. If you wish to publish an image of the work (whether in print, such as an auction catalogue, or online) then you need the artist’s permission to do so. Often the artist or his/her agent will be able to give permission –or else you can obtain permission for a fee through agencies such as VisCopy or the Aboriginal Artists Agency.
Once the painting is sold you need to consider whether the Australian artists resale royalty is relevant. The Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Act 2009 (the Act) came into effect on 8 June, 2010. Under the Act, artists and their beneficiaries are entitled to a 5% royalty on the resale price for certain resales of their work. The government has engaged Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) to collect and distribute artists’ resale royalties. Sellers of art works are obliged to provide information to CAL on all commercial resales after 8 June 2010, whether or not a royalty is payable on the resale. Note however, that the Act does NOT apply to private sales between individuals, where no agent is involved and for resales for less than $1000 including GST.