Q: “The gallery that represents me does not want to give me the names of, and information about, the people who have bought my paintings. It's gotten so I am afraid to even ask. I understand their rationale but am wondering what you think of that practice. I have lost track of my work.” –Susan M.
A: I think it’s a terrible practice! I write a lot on this blog that we’re in the same boat, meaning the artist and the dealer. When I hear of a situation like this, I realize that some artists and dealers are traveling not just in separate boats but on separate oceans.
A good and reputable dealer should create an invoice with the name and contact information of the person who buys your work. There should be three copies: one for the collector, one for you, and one for the gallery. In some states, this is the law. In other states it’s up to the gallery owner. An attorney affiliated with Volunteer Lawyer for the Arts can tell you what the law is in your state (Google that name as well as the name of the nearest big city near you).
Even if a dealer is not legally bound by state law to reveal the name of the collector, it's a shitty practice not to. This is your artwork we're talking about!
The best artist/dealer relationships are built on transparency. It's not only common practice for the dealer to give you the information, it's often the case that she'll introduce those artists and collectors at openings, perhaps even host social events that bring them together. That has been my experience, anyway.
I consulted Ed Winkleman's book, How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, and here's what he had to say:
"There is a big difference of opinion throughout the industry on the importance of guarding your collectors' information. I fall on the side of advocating transparency but understand how having been betrayed can make some dealers more cautious. Trust and credibility on both sides remain as important a part of the dealer-collector relationship as they are of the dealer-artist relationship."
(I know this is not just theoretical. At an opening of mine a few years ago, a cockily self-assured type who identified himself as a collector proffered his card and said, "Call me after the show comes down and we'll talk." I've also received email from collectors who state their desire "to work outside the gallery system"--or as one more honest person put it, "I make it a policy never to pay retail." Dude, go to Loehmans.)
Not to get all Dr. Phil on you here, Susan, but if your dealer won’t give you the name of the folks who buy your work, he doesn't trust you. How can you trust him to work on your behalf? It's a bad relationship. If you can't resolve this issue, you may want to look around quietly for other options. I think you know what you have to do.
Now I'm going to turn to my experts: you.
. Artists, have you dealt with this issue successfully?
. Have you left a gallery because of this problem?
. Dealers, do you divulge or not divulge?
. Collectors, your thoughts?
. Do we have any lawyers reading who want to weigh in?