Monday, January 16, 2012


A Scripps College exhibition's art-dealer partnership conflicts with ethics guidelines
By Mike Boehm.  Los Angeles Times: Saturday, January 14, 2012

For the direct link to the article on line, please go:,0,2400795.story

After reading this article, please see the comments below:
I have been a dealer of Ethnographic Art from Asia for more than 35 years.  On numerous occasions, I have generously loaned objects, expertise, and precious time to museums without any compensation and often with little recognition.  It is not uncommon for museum staff to rely on art dealers for information and material for exhibitions.  Why shouldn't they?  Dealers often know more about the material than the curators and certainly have important additional contacts when it comes to acquiring objects.  It is a ridiculous and prejudicial argument that dealers are not qualified or ethical enough to server as curators for museum exhibitions.

I take offense when others regularly characterize dealers as motivated purely by profit.  In fact, virtually every art dealer I know has as much passion for the arts as any collector, curator, or critic.  When buying art, a professional dealer's primary concerns are the authenticity, aesthetics, quality, and condition of the piece, not the value.  

Of course, dealers have a financial stake in the art market and in the success of related exhibitions, but so does everyone else involved. Dealers make money when they sell a work of art.  Collectors make money with their art investments, either by reselling pieces or by taking a tax deduction when they donate pieces to museums.  Museums make money, in part, by charging to view their collections.  Curators and museum staff receive regular paychecks and perks, and unless Christopher Knight is writing for the LA Times out of the goodness of his heart, he has been paid (some would say overpaid) to critique the art world.  

Dealers have to play all roles: acting as critic when evaluating quality and aesthetics; academic when researching to properly identify and classify objects; and collector when making choices that fuel the passion.  You can add in conservator, photographer, display and lighting specialist, as well as packing, shipping, and storage agent.

It might come as a surprise that most dealers are not getting rich in this business.  It is possible to make a good living, like any other profession, but only after putting in years of hard work with the hope you gain enough experience, knowledge, and reliable contacts to find those few great pieces.  Dealers regularly have to sort through piles of lesser quality pieces, as well as fakes and reproductions, spending considerable amounts of time and money out of pocket, before ever seeing any profit. 

One last note:  I was the guest curator for the 1990 exhibition of Indonesian tribal art at the San Diego Museum of Man.  The museum staff was pleased with my involvement, the exhibition was well received by the viewing public, and the art world did not implode.  


A Scholarly and Environmental Reappraisal
By Simon Romero.  New York Times: Sunday, January 15, 2012

For direct link to article on line, please go to: