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What do Art Agents do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Cleomiu, Jackf, n/a, Sam Spiro
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Art agents are professionals in the art world who act as go-betweens, working with galleries, private collections, artists, auction houses, museums, and art collectors. Some art agents focus on representing artists, in which case they may be known as artist agents, while others are more interested in working with people who want to acquire or sell art. Work as an art agent can be very challenging, but also very interesting.

In order to become art agents, people usually start by getting degrees in art history or a related field, and working in an art gallery, museum, auction house, or similar facility. They need this experience both to gain first hand knowledge of the art world, and to establish connections, because success as an art agent relies heavily on connections. Art agents must be very knowledgeable about the short and long term market for art, the history of art, currently working artists, and many other aspects of the art business. These skills can be taught, but the final skill of an art agent, a good eye, tends to be more innate in nature.

Many agents start out working for large agencies, galleries, and other art organizations. This work experience allows agents to refine their skills before entering the market as freelancers or heading up their own companies.

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Typically, art agents focus on specific styles of art or art from specific periods, such as Modern Art, sculpture, Renaissance Art, Japanese Art, block printing, and so forth. While some have more broad areas of knowledge, highly qualified specialists tend to be more prized because they have such an extensive depth of knowledge. Art agents acquire their knowledge by looking at numerous examples of art, studying the history of the period they focus on, and learning about the process of making art, from how paints are manufactured to techniques used by forgers.

When an art agent acts as an artist agent, he or she helps an artist advance in the art world. The agent works with galleries to provide show opportunities, and networks with people interested in acquiring an artist's work. Art agents are responsible for finding a market for the work of their clients, and for developing their clients professionally so that they are more likely to succeed.

Art agents who handle the acquisition of work travel around the world looking at objects for sale, providing assessments for their clients, and handling complex tasks like the sale of complete collections or the verification of the provenance of an item. Like artist agents, these art agents work on commission, which can occur in the form of cash, stock options, or trade in objects of art.

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