Artists Controversies Australia

Artists boycott Bondi Beach sculpture event

Founding director David Handley is at loggerheads with galleries over split of sales commissions

Trouble in paradise? Sculpture by the Sea is popular, but struggles financially. Anthony Caro's "Erl King", 2009, right, will be exhibited on a Bondi clifftop for this year's event

SYDNEY. Sydney’s annual Sculpture by the Sea event at Bondi Beach is riven with dissent this year, with founding director David Handley at loggerheads with artists’ galleries over the sharing of commissions made on sculpture sales at the show.

Handley has in the past agreed to split sales commissions 50/50 with exhibiting artists’ dealers, in line with standard practice adopted when artists show with other galleries.

However, Handley has advised galleries that this year Sculpture by the Sea, which was set to open on 28 October as we went to press and run until 14 November, will be taking 75 per cent of the commission and that the galleries will receive 25 per cent. He also dropped the commission rate from 40 per cent last year to 35 per cent this year. Sculpture by the Sea generates about $200,000 in total commissions each year.

Handley’s action incensed some Sydney gallery owners, who felt it was high-handed and unfair. The Australian Commercial Galleries (ACGA) Association sent out a call to member dealers, urging them to boycott Sculpture by the Sea by telling their artists not to exhibit.

This placed some artists in an invidious position, because they had, by then, been through the selection process and would have had to break trust with Sculpture by the Sea if they withdrew. On the other hand, artists told The Art Newspaper that they did not wish to get off-side with their galleries.

Randi Linnegar, the president of the association and co-director of Sydney’s King Street Gallery on William, said about four artists have decided not to exhibit this year. This number would have been much higher but most artists have already signed up to participate.

“Certainly my artists will not be participating,” Linnegar said. She predicted up to 20 artists would blackball the event next year.

“That doesn’t mean they [Sculpture by the Sea] are not going to find other people to take their place, but the people they find hopefully will not be associated with ACGA galleries, and they may not be associated with any commercial galleries who have done things to further their career. That may have an effect on the quality of the exhibition,” Linnegar said.

Jan King, who exhibited as last year’s Distinguished Invited Artist, said she would not contribute to the event until the issue was resolved. King said her gallery, King Street Gallery on William, had worked hard to promote her work for many years and should receive its usual share of any commissions.

The problem is the event is popular, but struggles financially. It has led to the creation of Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe in Western Australia, and in the Danish city of Aarhus at the request of Crown Prince Frederik, whose wife Princess Mary is Australian. But Handley wages a constant battle to keep his organisation afloat.

Handley said he reduced the commission to galleries because, in spite of a direct invitation, they “were not actively working with us to sell their artists’ sculptures”. Linnegar said this is not true.

Linnegar said Handley had “point blank refused” to negotiate with the ACGA, although attempts to resolve the problem were ongoing. “If we can’t reach some agreement, King Street artists won’t be participating ever again,” she said.

This year’s Distinguished Invited Artist is Anthony Caro, whose work Erl King, 2009, will be exhibited on a Bondi clifftop.

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Comments

18 Nov 13
17:0 CET

MARIO MIRANDA, MONTREAL - CANADA

this exhibitions are real great event for the artists and for the publics, great inspiration.! congratulations

27 Nov 10
18:10 CET

PAUL HOPMEIER, SYDNEY

The comments by Orest and Michael are curious. Sculpture by the Sea has been a great event for Sydney and that is not disputed. The problem is with the current management. In this years contract, SxS included a 10 percent increase in sales commission for sculptors represented by galleries. There was no announcement let alone consultation and if Michael knew last year he didn’t tell anyone that I know. When is it sensible for a financially struggling event to make that many enemies? The briefest consultation would have warned them. David Handley said he expected to raise maybe $30,000 by this change but it has turned out to be a large cost instead and that doesn’t include the huge loss of goodwill and grief it has caused. Orest and Michael were two of the sculptors who resigned from their gallery and it was not because of pressure from their gallery to show some loyalty. They waited about three months before it was explained to them that the price hike by SxS should

15 Nov 10
1:53 CET

MICHAEL LE GRAND, CANBERRA, ACT

My fellow artist Orest Keywan has highlighted the behaviour that acted as a catalyst for a number of sculptors to reconsider their positions and to elect to terminate their artist/gallery relationship. To be told not to exhibit without a reasoned argument as to why it was in their interests, is unacceptable. It was known late last year of the impending change to the commission structure and was indeed included in the Cottesloe, SxS contract in January this year. No representations of concern by the galleries to my knowledge were made to SxS prior to the Bondi selection process. Given the high level of sponsorships initiated by SxS that has enabled the creation of larger works by gallery represented artists and the associated exposure in a major public event which is covered extensively by all the media, it beggars belief that the galleries would not see this as beneficial to all concerned with the promotion of sculpture. Only convention and precedent assumes an even split of the 40%.

12 Nov 10
3:2 CET

OREST KEYWAN, SYDNEY,AUSTRALIA

The article is not a true representation of the situation.Rather than boycott the exhibition,artists have left galleries which were trying to pressure them into a boycott. In one case this led to 5 artists leaving a particular gallery which was the major instigator of the pressure. The galleries have over the years collected handsome little rewards for absolutely no contribution to the endeavor. I suppose an argument could be made that the parents, grandparents, carers,etc. of the exhibitors are entitled to a cut of the commission because they too nurtured the artists involved. Orest Keywan

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