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Primary and Secondary Art Market Do you know the difference?

In the art market there are two main sales channels and knowing the players and how they buy or sell art is essential for all the industry operators.

The Primary Market and the Secondary Market are two sectors with different features, where the artworks are enhanced, bought and sold by professionals of the art market (art galleries, auction houses, art dealers) with the aim of capturing the demand and supply inside the collecting world.

Let’s discover the main differences:

  • Primary Market: concerns the trade of artworks between the artist, usually living, and the first purchaser, which generally are clients or art galleries
  • Secondary Market: it refers to all sales after the first one; it goes from public bodies (like auction houses or online sales, be it dealer-to-dealer or collector-to-collector) or private (collectors or galleries)

Besides, the price and artworks range differentiate considerably this two markets

The primary market:

  • It can determine the market of an artist’s artworks, affecting his future prices
  • The main professionals operating are the galleries, which determine the positioning of the artworks on the market and establish the price
  • In the first market there is a more direct relationship with the artist, often through study visits
  • In the relationship between artist and art gallery there are then different contract forms stipulated between the parties

The secondary market:

  • It is a more open market, where its existence is determined more by demand than by supply
  • Much of the market is now conditioned by auction houses, which rely on public sales to have greater visibility
  • From the point of view of the typology we can mention Modern art, Old Masters, Antiques and for what concerns contemporary art it encompasses of Post-War & Contemporary Art
  • Another essential part of the Secondary Market are the art fairs, especially those dealing with artists with an already consolidated research, which can be found at Frieze Masters

There is no lack of galleries that carried out an activity of discovery and enhancement of artists, which are now real celebrities, such as Leo Castelli, Gagosian or David Zwirner; there are also historical and traditional galleries that deal exclusively with the Secondary Market and are committed to curating exhibitions and making publications on the works of the great artists of the ‘900, such as Gallery Tega and Tornabuoni or even Hauser & Wirth.

Whatever market you are targeting, it is always good:

  • To have a precise idea of what you are looking for and, in the case of an artist, what type of collaboration you are looking for; because of the importance of this research, it is necessary to know how to choose carefully the gallery to turn to
  • Never forget to carry out a proper due diligence on the work and its documentation, which must be updated and on time
  • Refer to industry professionals – galleries, auction houses or art dealers – able to guide you to find the right positioning for your works or the most suitable work for your art collection 

Knowing the inner division of the art market becomes vital, as it allows the artist to know the galleries to be selected to propose his artistic research and the collector to decide whether to build his art collection on emerging artists or on the names of already established artist.

And you, what market do you choose?

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