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This art adviser created a novel way to ensure that artists get their fair share

And she knows of at least 10 international galleries that have begun to employ the same work retention agreement, including her own.

This art adviser created a novel way to ensure that artists get their fair share

In a year when racial and social inequities emerged into painful relief, Destinee Ross-Sutton forged space in the insular art world for Black artists to thrive—with equity. When the art adviser, curator, and artist advocate was asked by Christie’s in June 2020 to cocurate a virtual exhibition of 22 artists of African descent called Say It Loud, in which 100% of the proceeds would go directly to the artists and their representatives, she was apprehensive. Proceeds are one thing. But what about the secondary market, where the original buyer sells the work at auction for a profit? Shouldn’t the artists get a portion of that, too? This entrenched system, she says, is “another form of exploitation of Black labor—really, labor of anyone.”

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Ross-Sutton negotiated an agreement with the auction house stating that a prospective  buyer must retain a purchased work for three to five years; if sold after that, 15% of the resale proceeds would go directly to the artist. Plus, the artist or their representatives would have the right of refusal, meaning they could decline to sell to a would-be buyer. The role of the agreement, she says, was “to make [buyers] aware of their function within the art world,” which should be supporting the artist. Ultimately, it worked: the pieces sold for more than $300,000 collectively, and a second Say It Loud show with Christie’s opened earlier this month, this time as a physical exhibition and auction. Ross-Sutton now knows of at least 10 international galleries that have begun to employ the same work retention agreement, including her own; in December, the Ross-Sutton Gallery opened as a pop-up in New York and since April, it has a permanent space in the SoHo neighborhood. More than 120 works have been sold so far.

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