The works, by noted artists including Richard Wright, Liam Gillick and Bob and Roberta Smith, were withdrawn from Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated Sale on 12 April, reportedly after artists and galleries involved raised concerns about the sale of these works on a public auction platform. The works, with an estimated auction value of £200,000, are held by the Artist Pension Trust, an entity that provides long-term financial security for the artists who invest 20 of their artworks over a period of 20 years.
Established in 2004 by Moti Shniberg, APT currently holds the largest collection of contemporary art globally, consisting of 13,000 artworks from 2,000 artists, and grows at a rate of 2,000 additional works per year. “The artworks in the trust are gradually sold over the course of 20 years for the benefit of the APT artists, providing them with future financial security. The funds from the net proceeds of each artwork sold are distributed to the artists in the following manner: 72% are distributed to the artists in the trust, with 40% to the individual artist and 32% among the artists in that trust based on the number of artworks they have deposited. The remaining 28% are used to cover the operational costs of the trusts,” explains APT of their patented mutual assurance model.
The trust stores, insures and lends the works to exhibitions with the ultimate goal of selling through private sales (sales began in 2016 and to date over 60 works have been sold for approximately $1.2 million). APT decided to test the auction-route with its emerging artists earlier this year. Collaborating with Sotheby’s on a selection of artists with successful auction track records, despite the first sale at Sotheby’s New York garnering positive results (the sale totalled $231,000, far beyond the $160,000 estimate, the highest lot went for $26,000 and only two out of the fifteen works didn’t sell), the sudden withdrawal of works from the 12 April auction follows purported conversations with some of the artists involved. They indicated it would be more lucrative to opt for gallery sales in lieu of auctions, which can often set a market value for an artist that can be hard to break.
It has been noted, however, that while the competitive atmosphere of an auction can achieve higher figures than galleries for desirable works by well-known names, the same cannot be said with as much assurance for emerging artists. A failure to sell publicly can both ‘burn’ a work and taint a young artist’s career. While these galleries and artists alike are keen to continue the more discreet model of private sales, it remains to be seen if the galleries will be as eager to adhere to APT’s financial model and distribute a substantial chunk to APT and its invested artists.