Turning Commission Disasters Into Done Deals (oh the value of agents)

January 23, 2021
by Susan J Mumford

 I once lined up an art commission that was a near catastrophe. The story highlights how having someone in between a commissioner and artist  can make all the difference.

Thanks to some early-morning networking I was doing at the time, my expertise as an art  consultant was recommended to the manager of a major London hotel. He  was seeking a work of art for the lobby and I was one of several consultants who pitched for the job. One of the two artists I put  forward was selected. What could possibly go wrong?

The initial sketch was completed and approved, and the hotel paid  the 50% deposit. This was non-refundable, unless the job was not  completed.

Several weeks passed, and I spoke with  the enthusiastic maker. He spoke about how he had been developing the  idea and was busily working away in the studio. Excellent news. I asked  to see progress photographs and he was happy to oblige.

And here’s the catch. He had certainly been  developing new ideas, so new in fact, that they were now entirely  different from what was proposed in the initial sketch and not at all what the hotel was seeking. After speaking on the phone again, it was  clear that an in-person studio visit was needed.

I arrived at the studio mid-morning, greeted by a cheerful artist.  He was delighted with the work of art and was eager to show me. And  that’s when I broke the news. He would need to restart his work, based on the original sketch. He did so, and the piece sought by the hotel started to materialise. After a couple more weeks, I sent progress images to the hotel manager, who was delighted with what he saw. A few more weeks on, and the completed piece was approved and  remaining 50% was paid.

Though the delivery was  several weeks late as a result of the diversion, the painting we installed was even better than what the hotel had envisioned. The artist  was delighted to have such a happy client, and furthermore, the addition of such a commission was great for the artist’s  CV.

Creativity is a wonderful attribute, and sometimes it unknowingly leads one on a new journey without a maker taking notice that the road has diverged. Even the most experienced of  artists can experience this, so placing an objective individual to communicate between artist and commissioner can be absolutely paramount  for success and enjoyment in your work. 

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Susan J Mumford

SUSAN J MUMFORD is a serial entrepreneur in the art market. She ran a gallery in Soho, London, from 2006-11, which was followed by the creation of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) in 2009, an international network with multiple chapters. In 2012 she launched Be Smart About Art, an online-accessible professional development platform. Then in 2018, she embarked upon her latest enterprise, ArtAML, which unites technology and art market know-how to help dealers keep dealing and buyers keep buying in the face of anti-money laundering legislation that hit the art market in 2020.

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