Are the days of the artrepreneur numbered?

8 02 2013
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Image via forbes.com

Interesting question arrived in my inbox today via Michael Mocksim. “You think the Frank Dunphy style era is over?”

Frank Dunphy, of course, was Damien Hirst’s manager – of sorts. According to his entry on the always reliable Wikipedia (note – tongue wedged firmly in cheek there) Dunphy is a ‘business manager, accountant and entrepreneur’. His coup de grâce was organising Hirst’s ‘straight to auction’ sale of new artworks at Sotheby’s in 2008 – the so-called ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever‘.  $200 million worth of art sold over two days. Not bad. Not bad at all.

No idea what commission rate Sotheby’s gave him. It’s not unheard of for the big auction houses to give clients 0% commission – they may have been happy to make do with the buyers’ premium they raked in on the day. A single vendor and the associated massively reduced costs in admin and customer service that come with it, not to mention the avalanche of publicity the event generated for the auction house? I’d do it for 0% from the vendor and 20% or so from the buyers. Yep. Not too shabby. So, let’s be generous and presume a 0% commission rate for Mr. Hirst. That means 10% of total sales to Frank Dunphy. 10% of $200 million. Yeah. Them’s big biscuits.

So, have we seen the last of the Dunphy-esque art entrepreneurial management style? I believe that people like Frank Dunphy appear on the scene when a market is being driven by speculative bubbles, regardless of the industry. Then they retreat once the bubbles start bursting – or are sidelined by the same people who were happy to exploit their entrepreneurial talents while things were going well. But when the cash stops flowing in? Why pay a sizeable percentage of your hard-earned dollars to someone who no longer manifests the alchemical gifts he or she seemed to harness during the boom-time.

The smell of money brings them out of the woodwork. Don’t worry. They’ll be back.

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