Artists boycott Bondi Beach sculpture event
Founding director David Handley is at loggerheads with galleries over split of sales commissions
By Elizabeth Fortescue. News, Issue 218, November 2010
Published online: 09 November 2010
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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