Collectors looking for prized works of art on the primary market often agree to buy secondary pieces for museums. Some say it’s unethical

His first solo exhibition in a museum caused a stir during Art Basel Miami Beach in December.

Hordes of collectors rushed to Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art to to see “Jadé Fadojutimi: Yet another pathetic mistake” and his eight layered colorful abstract paintings.

Insiders know that galleries routinely sell artwork literally outside of museum walls, and this exhibit was no exception. Each of the three Fadojutimi—Pippy Houlsdworth dealers in London; Gisela Capitain Gallery in Cologne; and the Taka Ishii gallery in Tokyo – each sold a few paintings straight from the show.

Indeed, over the past two years, amid a rapid expansion of global wealth and an intense focus of the arts industry on women and artists of color, the London-based Fadojutimi has become one of the most sought-after talents.

An installation of “Jadé Fadojutimi: Yet, Another Pathetic Fallacy” at ICA Miami. Photo: Katia Kazakina.

His galleries have sold his works for up to £250,000 ($327,000), but very little is available. Only one has made it to the primary market so far this year and was offered to Frieze Los Angeles by Taka Ishii, Houlsdworth told Artnet News.

Predictably, auction prices soared, peaking at $1.6 million, the price fetched for one of Fadojutimi’s works at Phillips London last October.

“There are a lot of top institutions waiting for a work from Jadé,” Houlsdworth said. “The museums we are currently dealing with have been waiting for at least two years for work. It is not a sudden event.

There is, however, a way to get to the front of the queue.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

The shortcut is known as “buy one, give one” or BOGO in art trade jargon. With competition becoming increasingly intense for some artists, collectors often agree – even beg – to buy a work from a gallery for a museum for the privilege of buying another for themselves. .

When done well, advocates say, BOGO creates a virtuous circle, benefiting all parties involved. But the arrangement has become increasingly controversial because of how it blurs the lines between supposedly independent museums and the for-profit art market.

BOGO was a hot topic at the Talking Galleries conference in New York, where a panel of young art dealers described its various mutations as telltale signs of a bubble.

Panelist Alex Logsdail of the venerable Lisson Gallery called BOGO “very, very problematic” because it creates a false sense of demand.

Nicola Vassell, who opened an eponymous gallery in New York during the pandemic, said it was “frustrating everyone”.

“Relying on a donor to find an institution in which to embed a work by this 25-year-old man is not acceptable, it is not sustainable,” said Kibum Kim of the Commonwealth and Council Gallery in Los Angeles under the applause of the audience.

“Galleries: The Next Generation,” a panel at the Talking Galleries New York conference on April 4, 2022. Courtesy of Talking Galleries.

The phenomenon has gained traction over the past decade, starting with mega-galleries like Hauser & Wirth, which at one time sold multimillion-dollar Mark Bradford paintings to collectors only if they also bought them. for large museums.

Since the pandemic, the trend has spread significantly to galleries lower down the financial pyramid, with creeping speculation being one of the drivers.

And some people love it.

“It’s a win-win,” said art advisor Benjamin Godsill. “Galleries are happy, museums are happy, collectors are happy, artists are happy.”

Indeed, entering a museum collection is not only a major blow for an artist; it also gets galleries bragging rights—more prompt payment for one work while the second awaits the tedious approval of the museum’s board of trustees.

Museums, meanwhile, can continue to collect at a time “when the cost of contemporary art has exceeded the acquisition budgets of most collecting institutions,” Godsill said.

He helped orchestrate the gift of Titus Kaphar’s painting loss contour (2020) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on behalf of Dallas-based clients. The work, included in the artist’s solo debut with the Gagosian Gallery at the start of the pandemic, is now listed as a gift from “the Hartland and Mackie family” on the Met’s website.

Collectors are thrilled to own another painting, Godsill said. Both works cost around $400,000 at the time.

Artist Titus Kaphar poses for a photo with his work, Where I come from, at the Gagosian Gallery in London on March 17, 2022. Photo: Justin Talls/AFP via Getty Images

Collectors have their own financial incentives and can deduct the purchase price of an artwork if they purchase it as a gift from a non-profit organization. If they give him the year after they bought it, they can even deduce its fair market value…a legal vacuum which can result in substantial savings given the yawning gap between primary and secondary market prices for the hottest artists.

“Everyone is trying to figure out how to maximize the value of the work,” said Thomas Danziger, an art transaction lawyer. “It’s a good way to do that.”

Museums? They love it

In recent years, much of ICA Miami’s permanent collection has entered the museum through BOGO arrangements, according to artistic director Alexander Gartenfeld.

“We work with a network of collectors who are more than happy to help the museum,” he said.

Gartenfeld and his team of curators maintain lists of artists whose work interests them, tracking their upcoming exhibitions.

“If our interests align, we work together on the acquisition,” he said of collectors. For particularly expensive works, those costing millions of dollars, the purchase is sometimes divided among a group of patrons.

When asked if the installation encourages collectors to manipulate museums, Gartenfeld rejected the suggestion.

“It’s a ridiculous idea,” he said. “And guess we have no idea who we’re working with. These are long-term relationships, not random people. We only work with nice people who build great collections, collectors who want to do the right thing.

But the very premise of BOGO is not for all collectors.

Pallbearers (2020), right, by Derek Fordjour. Courtesy: the artist and the Petzel gallery.

“It gives buyers license to do whatever they want with the second work,” said Mihail Lari, a Los Angeles-based collector, adding that it reinforces a “precarious situation” of scarcity and inequality.

Advisor Wendy Cromwell said she had several BOGO deals, including one involving a painting by Derek Fordjour that her clients had purchased for the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Title coffin bearers (2020), it depicts a funeral procession of black men carrying a coffin.

Clients of Cromwell, whose collection focuses on social justice, “felt this was really important work at a very important time in our lives,” she said.

Cromwell had followed Fordjour’s rise from his first solo exhibition at the Sugar Hill Children’s Art and Storytelling Museum in 2017. When the artist joined the Petzel gallery, she broached the subject of acquiring a work for her clients.

The gallery wanted to place the paintings from its first exhibition with Fordjour in museums. When the hammer showed interest, Cromwell’s clients agreed to finance the acquisition.

“There was no immediate promise made that they would get a painting,” she said. “It wasn’t, ‘If you buy this, you get that.'”

But Cromwell admitted that buying the work for the hammer “brought them to the front of the line”. Later they were offered – and bought – a painting from the artist’s studio that was not in the exhibition.

Yet problems arise when such conversations are not initiated by museums.

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said he receives offers from collectors to acquire specific works for the museum “all the time”.

“We’ve been pressured to take things we don’t want,” he said. “We don’t.” LACMA has only accepted five works in recent months out of more than a dozen offers, he said.

In December at Art Basel, Houldsworth had two more works by Fadojutimi for sale in addition to those on the walls of the ICA. Of the total four, two went to museums, one to a private foundation, and another to a private collector – who purchased a painting for one of the museums.

The demand is so intense and the supply so limited that the gallery doesn’t even bother with a waiting list.

“There are a lot of conversations,” she said. “And very few works.”

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