To commission or not to commission (Art) |

The art of commissioning. Illustration by Jon Krause

The conversation often begins with the collector telling the gallery owner, “We love what he does. Can we get something? Well, sure, and they’ll go through the available works of the artist in question. And most collectors are happy with whatever they can get, especially if the artist’s work is in high demand. But sometimes buyers want something a little different than what’s available, something smaller, for example, or with other colors.

Perhaps this collector is looking for a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas in a particular size, or a painting by Odili Donald Odita that looks like a work he has seen and is no longer available. The conversation evolves and the director of the gallery calls the artist to ask if he would be ready to accept a private commission. It might seem awkward to ask a renowned artist to create something bespoke for your living room, but what collectors want, they often get.

These requests “come back often,” said New York gallery owner Sean Kelly, usually two or three per month on average. Applications come from architects designing office buildings or homes, museum curators, private collectors and art advisers representing collectors, and executives of companies that acquire works of art. “In June, we had five or six private orders. It’s like waiting for a London bus. You wait, and wait, and wait, and then they all come in a group. ”

Still, he noted, “We don’t advertise it as a service, and most customers wouldn’t even think about asking. But there are seldom downsides for the gallery, other than perhaps one less work for the gallery to exhibit, and the bond between buyer and artist is strengthened, making future purchases of the gallery more likely. artist’s work in this gallery.

Indeed, private orders create a “pride factor” on the buyer’s part, said Manhattan merchant Renato Danese, co-owner of Danese / Corey, who has hosted a number of private orders over the years for. the artists he represents. “The collector is part of the creative process by indicating what he wants and seeing it come to life. He’s forming a partnership with the artist, and you can’t put a price on that feeling, ”he said.

For collectors, art is not just an investment of money but an investment of time and interest. They often buy more than an object but a story about the piece, and a private commission allows them to talk about the artist and his relationship with this person, as well as the genesis of the work and its evolution. This extra involvement adds considerable personal value to the work commissioned. However, an order does not necessarily cost more than another work and, from the artist’s point of view, the percentage of the gallery is often lower than that of works exhibited and sold in galleries. The Julie Saul Gallery in New York, for example, cuts its percentage from 50 to 28 percent when there’s a private commission, and San Francisco dealer John Pence lowers his to 25 percent, “even though the commissions private are more laborious for us, ”he mentioned.

There is often more work for the dealers. The gallery takes care of the details, asks buyers what they want and discusses the pros and cons with the artists, sets times for the artist and buyer to meet and discuss, draws up a contract, sets the price and manages the money, as well as to act as a mediator for any disputes that may arise during the process. “The questions and the answers run through us,” Mr. Danese said. “We can solve problems of alterations and modifications by speaking from one side and then the other, and do it in a more comfortable way than if the artist and the buyer were trying to solve it directly.”

John Pence is regularly asked if one of the artists he represents, figurative painter Will Wilson, will be doing private portraits. Mr. Wilson sometimes takes them. However, “for private clients, I don’t offer foreplay. I keep them in the dark until I’m done, ”that’s when Mr. Pence may need to answer calls. “A client wanted a different nail polish, and John was friendly to the client and friendly to me, so I said OK Another client holding a chainsaw wanted to hold nothing in his hand, even though there was a lot of wood around the ground, and John listened to the customer, then spoke to me… I pulled out the chainsaw. Equally important, Mr. Wilson added, “John is looking for payment from customers,” what the artist is happy not to have to.

The client and the gallery must decide when the commissioned work will be finished, the structure of the payments (half in advance and the rest when completed, for example, or divided into three parts) and how the work will be approved (on the basis of a submitted design, mid-term or at the end). It is rare, but sometimes a commissioned work is rejected. Odili Donald Odita noted that in one case he was “shocked” when a client refused the painting he had created. “He didn’t like the shape – a large triangular shape – that I included in the painting,” but the artist gave the work to his dealer for display. “It was a bummer, but it sold out quickly.” He added that he kept the initial deposit and created another work that the buyer “liked very much, and the money he paid me went to this second painting.”

Mr Odita said maybe he was somehow at fault in not paying enough attention to what the buyer was looking for. “When there is a commission like this, I usually only meet with the client once, although we may have other conversations via email,” he said. “I try to get a sense of the client’s history by asking, ‘What kind of clothes do you like? What colors mean something to you? Where did you live? “In this case, he realized that he” needed to listen better, to hear the person’s comments and what they are really saying, then take that information and channel it through my sensitivity. “, did he declare.

Some artists may feel more comfortable meeting and speaking with potential buyers than others. Hank Willis Thomas said early conversations with collectors looking to order it make him nervous. “It’s not a job on specifications. I don’t want the requests to change anything, ”he said, adding that some of his artist friends have faced these situations with private commissions. “Granted, I don’t want to do all this work and have someone reject it. I have to make it clear from the start without actually saying it. ”

Jessica Stockholder, who has had private commissions arranged through her New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash, even loves the discovery process. “I like to watch what else they have in their homes,” she said. “My work is very consciously context specific, and I need to see if what I might suggest would work.” She also asks buyers to describe their interest in her work and what they might have in mind. This communication “develops a relationship with the work which is important, because artists want their work to be valued beyond the monetary aspect”.

Sometimes a buyer can search for an artist’s work along the lines of what the artist had done in the past. Mr Odita had some and said to himself, “Oh my God, I have to paint the same thing again”, but acknowledges that the commission represents a chance to “revisit a subject, asking different questions”. Art is still a business, after all. For Mr. Thomas, the biggest advantage of a private commission is that he knows he can be free to pursue a project without worrying about whether someone will buy it. “A commission can allow me to pursue something for which I have not yet had the resources to do it, and to carry it out,” he said. One of those commissions came in 2008 from renowned collectors Donald and Mera Rubell, who were looking for one of the artist’s photographic installations. “The Rubells asked me how many images from the series I intended to make. I had the presence of mind to say 82, and the money I received allowed me to create all of these pieces. This project, called “Branded”, entered the permanent collection of the private Rubells Museum in Miami.

Requests for private orders are not always accepted. Artists can bristle at being told what to do and what colors to use; they may be reluctant to do something they had done before. “I was-there-done-that, probably not.” Slightly out of the ordinary catches the eye of an artist, ”Kelly said. The artist may not have time, or a proposed subject may not appeal to the artist. “A company wanted me to include some of their products in a still life,” painter Scott Prior said. He said no. Mr. Odita was asked to produce a photograph of a large building for a family store, “and the work would celebrate its success.” Nope. “I don’t want my work to look like decoration.”


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Romona L. Lopez

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