Select Art Agent

Common Sense Rules For Artists Selecting An Art Agent

© Uriél Dana 2015.

Bernard Poulin recently asked on one of Linked In’s professional art forums, how does an artist find a legitimate agent/broker to represent our work? These are a few of my rules after thirty years.

There are some common sense things to watch for.

You ask for references and check them. You also ask for their art background or experience in the arts and check those references.

Read the person’s reactions to the work. Recently someone contacted me about agenting the work but when they came from out of state spent almost no time looking at the art, let alone engaging with it. (My place is a small museum with nearly forty paintings; the artwork is framed, tagged, and lit impeccably). Ok, I think, she’s not interested. She then asked for my client list? Sorry, that’s not how it works. This was a con artist wanting my client lists to sell other artists work to my collectors.

Agents have their own clients. Ask potential agents their primary area of focus? (Example, designers for hotels, private collectors, etc). An agent will make money off their clients wanting your work. Do not give them the name of your collectors, you’ll just be losing money and clients. You do not need an agent for clients you already have. Your clients would not be so for long if they are chased by your agent trying to sell them art.

Ask directly how much of a percentage do they take?

Ask, who pays for shipping, packaging, insurance? If you not get an answer it will be because they not know their business.

Never, give anyone exclusivity.

Never give anyone your art to keep to show or exhibit. You will have no way of getting it back if they are corrupt. You also have no idea if it will be insured or hung correctly to prevent damage. Agents use imagery off of a disk and bring private clients to you. (Never ask for their phone number or details of your agents clients. You will see neither agent or client again).

Whether agent or client, art should never leave your studio until it is paid in full.

Commissions require 50% down (non refundable) and must be paid in full before leaving the studio. Most agents charge 20% to 30% (depending on how much they do) and I add this to my price.

Do not let an agent undersell your gallery or it will ruin your career. In fact, never, never undersell a gallery yourself. Not to family, not to good friends. Galleries spend years building up your reputation with exhibits and advertising, and with it, your prices. If you undercut them no one will ever pay full price again. Your current collectors will stop buying your work because you have devalued their investment. Amateurs always think no one will find out. Trust me, it will get out and finding representation will be impossible once it does.

Agents will represent “you” in many venues. What does this person tell the art world about themselves; about you? Are they a Harvey Weinstein type predator or an elegant communicator such as Meryl Streep? The agent you choose will be strongly perceived as the kind of person you are.

Last, but not least, do not expect someone to rescue you. Know your own business. My Grandfather use to say, “Oi, you must know how to do your own books before you let someone else manage your money, or you won’t know if their cheating you!”