A new initiative from Sotheby’s is offering artists and their galleries the chance to benefit directly from the ballooning secondary market for ultra-contemporary art. 

The new model, called Artist’s Choice, will kick off on September 30 with Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction in New York. Seven artists, including Kevin Beasley of Casey Kaplan Gallery, Kennedy Yanko of Jeffrey Deitch, and Vaughn Spann and Alexandre Lenoir from Almine Rech, have consigned work directly to the sale. The works are priced from $15,000 to $120,000. Galleries and artists split the hammer price according to their own agreement. 

The initiative will eventually become a recurring feature of both live and online auctions. It is a key venture from former Art Basel executive Noah Horowitz, who was appointed worldwide head of gallery and private dealer services in 2021. 

“The question we most wanted to address was how to create a win-win for all parties with total transparency,” Horowitz said. “I believe we have something of a magic formula, a channel that is not only custom-fit for galleries and artists but enticing for collectors seeking to access some of the most ambitious art being created today.”

The pitch to artists involved enabling them to take a more active role in their markets—and the ability to donate to a good cause in the process. Artists given the opportunity to choose one charity to receive 15 percent of the hammer price. This donation will be split evenly between the auction house and the artist, with one half taken from the hammer price and the other coming out of the buyer’s premium. The beneficiary could be any charity of the artist’s choosing or the money could go toward funding exhibitions and residencies. 

Auction houses, which have been impinging into dealer territory for years with private sales, have more recently experimented with different models to inch their way into the primary market. But it has proven harder than it sounds. During the beginning of the pandemic, Sotheby’s launched a digital sales platform for galleries called Sotheby’s Gallery Network. As part of the deal, it received a flat commission based on sales, with all artworks available exclusively through the auction house’s website. The venture failed to catch fire—as of press time, only four galleries have work listed on the website.

Artists Choice is more reminiscent of a new series of curated online auctions initiated by Swiss auctioneer Simon de Pury’s de Pury auction platform, the first of which, “Women – Art in Times of Chaos,” closed two weeks ago and generated more than $800,000. The full hammer price went directly to the artists—among them Chloe Wise, Claudia Comte, and Minjung Kim—and the galleries representing them; de Pury pocketed a buyer’s premium of 18 percent minus three percent of the hammer price, which was donated to U.N. Women.

“I guess imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” de Pury told Artnet News. “The fact that Sotheby’s is starting a similar concept to the one I have initiated shows that it was a good idea.” He pointed out that his initiative offers 100 percent of the hammer price to the artist: “The charitable donation should only come out of the buyer’s premium i.e. out of the portion being made by the auction company,” he said.

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