Collectors have an ethical responsibility to keep the art market fair. Here are 8 key rules to hold them accountable

Over the centuries, collectors have played a positive role in supporting artists and artistic ecosystems. At the same time, we have also all heard – and often personally witnessed – horror stories about unethical collectors.

You know those. The collector on the board of a museum who hears about an exhibition that is not yet announced and, knowing that prices will skyrocket once the exhibition is announced, rushes to buy affordable works of the artist. The collector who exhibits works from her collection in the same museum where she is trustee. The mega-collector who buys an emerging artist’s studio, exhibits them in his private museum, and feigns surprise when those works magically appear in an auction house with high estimates. Unfortunately, such cringe-worthy stories about collectors abound.

One wonders: why do such actions still occur in the art market, when in many other sectors they would be treated as “conflicts of interest”, “insider trading” or ” abuse of power ” ? Why, as collectors, have we not yet fully accepted that these behaviors are unfair to other collectors, abusive to artists, exploitative to institutions, and disruptive to the market? Why is there such a gigantic blind spot among this well-educated, well-resourced, and presumably well-meaning group?

It is in response to this questioning, and to reaffirm that collectors have an essential role in artistic production and experimentation, that we have decided to draw up a code of conduct for contemporary art collectors. It is a set of proactive and proactive standards to guide contemporary art collectors in their interactions with works of art and the various stakeholders in the art ecosystem. It aims to encourage collectors to reflect on the ethical issues around their actions and to become agents towards a more just and socially just art world.

The Code was written over more than a year, as a creative and thought-provoking effort by an international group of collectors with input and feedback from the wider art community.. It will be reviewed regularly to take into account readers’ suggestions and modifications left on the website.

The text of the Code uses the technical language of business ethics and compliance. But we have written a more succinct version of some of its key principles below.

By Pablo Helguera

1. Let’s pay artists fairly and quickly

Artists deserve to be paid. When you purchase artwork directly from the studio or through a gallery, and when you commission artists to create installations, performances, presentations or other work for us, compensate them fairly and quickly. When we lend works of art for exhibitions in institutions, lobby for the institution to provide fees to the artists. “Visibility” is not an appropriate compensation. Moreover, it is only fair that artists receive a share of any gain generated from the resale of an artwork. Let’s commit to doing this beyond what the law already requires in many countries!

2. Do not interfere with the institutions we support

Supporting museums or independent art spaces is an act of generosity, of civic duty, often necessary for these institutions. But let’s support them without hampering their freedom of choice as to their collection or their exhibition programme. It is unfair to use their financial needs to assert our preferences or our profits.

3. Be careful with free or heavily discounted artwork

Asking galleries or artists for free or heavily discounted artwork can be problematic as it can put them in a difficult and vulnerable position where they are unable to refuse for fear of losing long-term support. Whenever we play a formal role in an institution, asking for or accepting such benefits can also give the impression that the institution gives special treatment to those who offer us a favorable price.

By Pablo Helguera

By Pablo Helguera

4. Reject artwashing

Supporting art is great; however, using it as a public relations tool for our private interest and profit is unethical. Do not support art institutions or exhibitions as a way to enhance our individual, family or corporate image.

5. Make works from our collections available for exhibitions

Art is a major public interest; and those who own works of art have a set of ethical duties towards these works, including lending them for exhibitions or activating them, physically or digitally, whenever conditions are suitable.

6. Let’s keep the artist informed

Artists often lose track of their works when they disappear into private hands. Although we own the physical work, they remain the moral authors and they have the right to know where and how their work is shown. Let’s keep artists informed about their works in our collection, and consult them on any action related to these works. For example, let’s talk to them when we are asked to loan a work, when we want to resell one, when we don’t know if a detailed contract is necessary, or when we don’t know how to show, frame or preserve a work. .

By Pablo Helguera

By Pablo Helguera

7. Don’t go around the art dealer

Galleries and dealers are an essential part of our ecosystem and work very hard to support and nurture artists. Respect for their role is essential for collectors. Do not ask to buy works directly from artists when they are represented by a gallery or when a work is exhibited by a particular dealer. At the same time, let’s support galleries and art dealers who respect their artists and their duties towards them.

8. Let’s not be market speculators

Do not engage in behavior that is, or may be perceived to be, manipulative of the art market. Let’s stay away from all secret, collusive or abusive practices, from the convoluted games of reversal to artificially inflate the prices of works of art to the exercise of pressure on artists and institutions. The art market is certainly a free market, but art constitutes a major public interest, and private interests must be regulated to ensure a fair environment for all stakeholders.

The Ethics of Collecting is a new collective composed of Pedro Barbosa, Haro Cumbusyan, Iordanis Kerenidis, Jessica and Evrim Oralkan, Piergiorgio Pepe, Sandra Terdjman and André Zivanari.

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