Archive for November, 2011

The Value of a Photograph

November 12, 2011

Andreas Gursky Rhein 2A glass-mounted print of Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II recently broke the record price for a photographic work, selling at auction for $4.3m.  As reported by BBC, the auction price greatly surpassed Christie’s anticipated sale price estimate of $2.5-3.5 million.  The buyer was not identified.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York also owns a print of Rhein II, a 61-1/4″ x 10′ 1-1/2″ chromagenic print.  The MoMA collection information about the piece indicates that in the process of making the image, Gursky digitally removed industrial buildings from the scene.

Not long ago, photographs and photographic based artworks were often relegated to the low end of the art market, but this is still in the process of changing.  Although it is an exceptional case, the sale of  Rhein II  demonstrates that artworks composed of photographic and digital media are (rightly) receiving recognition of their significance as contemporary art.  It also strongly suggests that the art market believes that photographic works will retain long-term (monetary) value, a perspective that counteracts the prior prejudice against non-traditional media as unmasterly, mass-produced objects.

Lawsuits Over Unpaid Artist Royalties

November 1, 2011

Whenever a work of fine art is sold and the seller resides in California or the sale takes place in California, the seller or the seller’s agent shall pay to the artist of such work of fine art or to such artist’s agent 5 percent of the amount of such sale.   (California Civil Code §986(a)).

As the New York Times reported today, as a class action plaintiff, Chuck Close  is suing auctioneers Sotheby’s, Christie’s and eBay in relation to the section of the California Art Resale Royalties Law quoted above. If an art seller resides in California, the obligation to pay the royalty may include sales that occurred outside of the boundaries of California as well, and potentially, some sales of American artwork that may have occurred outside of the country.

According to the report, two related lawsuits for failure to pay royalties to artists seek disclosure of the identities of art sellers–including sellers who live in California– and by extension, seek to identify sellers who did not pay the required 5% royalty to artists on profitable sales.   Knowledge of seller identities is critical for enforcing the law and ensuring that artists’ rights to the royalty payment have not been violated.  The information concealed by the auctions is, as attorney Eric George noted, “the very information necessary to know whether a royalty is due.”

The same article also notes that only a shockingly small sum of art royalties have been paid under the law– a mere $328,000 over 34 years.  Clearly not all who should have paid did so.

See for more information about the California Art Resale Royalties Law.

Friction as Artists File Suit Over Resale Royalties” by Patricia Cohen, New York Times, November 1, 2011.