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Demystifying the business of art

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With a head for business and a heart for art, Mitchell Klink is on a mission to demystify the art world and make it more accessible.

Mr Klink arrived on-island from Atlanta in February, but has already made an impression, having been invited to join the board of trustees at the Bermuda National Gallery. While art is his first love, Mr Klink earns his keep as a senior manager at professional-services firm EY.

He has a varied background in the arts through his work with museums, galleries, artists and collectors in the United States and beyond. As a volunteer, Mr Klink led tours and gallery talks as a docent for more than ten years at Atlanta's High Museum, considered the leading art museum in the US southeast.

Mr Klink spoke on “Art and Business — Creating Value” at the business breakfast series hosted by Hamilton Princess and Beach Club, which invited the BNG to organise the talk. The hotel displays an impressive collection of international art including original works by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, and Ai Weiwei that adds value to the visitor experience and thereby to the hotel, and provides increased visibility for the artists.

The intersection of art and commerce is brought into focus by the annual art market report prepared by bankers UBS. In 2018, $16.5 billion of art was bought and sold worldwide, the report says.

If we don't view art through a business lens, Mr Klink says, we risk devaluing the work created by artists, vilifying galleries by concluding that they extract rather than add value, and winding up with a caricature of collectors as “hoarders who are just trying to make a buck”.

When considering how an artist prices their work, Mr Klink says, we often factor in only the cost of time and materials. But artists also maintain a studio, have often paid for an art education, and have marketing and international shipping costs.

Retail galleries, which provide a significant distribution channel for art, typically split sale proceeds 50:50 with artists — those who show at the Bermuda Society of Arts, by contrast, keep 85 per cent — and that can lead people to conclude that galleries take too much money from the system.

But gallery expenses include the cost of real estate, art handlers and assistants, operations, and marketing. “The easy vilification of the gallery owner doesn't stand up,” Mr Klink says.

Mega-collectors, he says, are sometimes seen as “modern day Medicis”. Meanwhile, civil servants Herb and Dorothy Vogel acquired more than 4,000 works of art over 45 years while living in a 450-square-foot, rent-controlled apartment in New York after committing half their income to the acquisition of art. Upon retirement, they gave away 50 pieces to a museum in each of the 50 US states.

Mr Klink said: “When you examine and look at the business side of the art world, you realise there is value in each participant's contribution. It makes us more appreciative of all the participants.

“I want to live in a world where the things that artists create are valued. Part of value is the buying and selling of work. The art world doesn't exist without the transaction.”

Saying “the art world is an opaque world — it excludes by its very nature”, Mr Klink said there is a need for more transparency around those transactions.

“The only part of the art world that is truly transparent is the auction world,” Mr Klink said. “There is a catalogue that tells us about the artist, and who has owned the work before. A price, or at least an estimated cost, is listed and the sales price is published. There is 100 per cent transparency, which is driven by the market.

“In contrast, in the United States there is often no price at all shown for work at galleries. A person might have $1,000 to spend on a work of art, but they are intimidated by having to ask the price.

“I love the mystery and mystique in the creative process, but we are done a disservice when there is mystery about what it takes to buy a work of art.

“Most of the art that I have bought in the last ten years has involved two payments over a six-month period. I bought on an instalment plan. Most people don't even know it's possible to do that.”

Mr Klink has been greatly impressed by the breadth of participants in the art community here.

“The number of artists, relative to the population, is huge and robust,” he says. “There will soon be the annual plein-air festival. Many, many places with larger arts communities don't have that.

“Having two proper collecting and presenting museums is phenomenal.

“There are a couple of very interesting collectors here, and more who are quiet, and there are also some significant corporate collections that are considered assets by the companies that own them.”

The gallery scene, however, is more challenging. “We would love to have more buyers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Klink says he will persist with efforts to make the art world easier to negotiate.

“I love art, it is one of the things that gives me the greatest enrichment in my life,” he says. “If I can demystify and make art more accessible, that is my purpose with art.”

Guest speaker: Mitchell Klink at the Hamilton Princess's business breakfast series (Photograph supplied)
Question time: Peter Lapsley, executive director of the Bermuda National Gallery, answers an audience question while Mitchell Klink looks on (Photograph supplied)
Strong turnout: Mitchell Klink speaks at the business breakfast series hosted by the Hamilton Princess (Photograph supplied)

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Published September 16, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated September 17, 2019 at 1:58 pm)

Demystifying the business of art

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