A Framework for Connectors in the Art World

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Connectors are not as rare as you might think. You may already know some connectors, or are one yourself. A connector is someone who identifies possible synergies and brings people together to work on projects if there is a correct match.

A notable connector from the fashion world was the late Isabella Blow, who famously brought Alexander McQueen and Gucci together. When Gucci consequently purchased the McQueen label, it was reported that all Blow received from the substantial acquisition was a free dress.

The plight of art world connectors is similar. While everyone else ends up with new opportunities and deals, connectors are often excluded from the very transactions they helped set up through the ideas they proffered and the introductions they made. Art world connectors are responsible for mega deals that form the contemporary art landscape, including multimillion-dollar museum acquisitions, important loans, fundraising, public art and cultural programs, the discovery of young powerhouse artists, brand collaborations and even traveling exhibitions.

All the connectors I have met are well-meaning people. They love the art world. The amorphous nature of the connector’s role is what makes them so affable and adaptable, and gives them the ability to transcend various groups and identify synergies. It is also their weakness. The art world finds it difficult to compute their worth because they do not fit into any one of the entrenched categories—they are not gallerists, appraisers or artists, whose roles correspond to a fixed system, especially with regard to being remunerated. Connectors are often forgotten by the time contracts are signed. And even if they are not, the question still remains as to the value of their contributions, which more often than not are underestimated or even devalued.

A strong argument in favor of the connector lies in the legal principle of causation—meaning, if the connector had not made an introduction, or given advice, or identified an opportunity, the deal in question would not have existed. The connector’s contribution is hence of significant value, as it “caused” the deal.

Connectors are often struggling financially, and they themselves are partly to blame for this. They dive straight into their Rolodexes of curators, collectors, galleries, institutions, publicists, artists and backers to flag possible collaborators, making introductions over coffee, by email, or in the VIP lounges of art fairs.

This is where problems begin. Ideas are not protected by copyright, such as a proposal for an artist to collaborate with a luxury brand, for a museum to commission an important work, or for revitalizing institutions or cultural programs. It is a free-for-all if a connector circulates these ideas, and more often than not, the connector does so with fervent enthusiasm, which ironically exposes his ideas to theft or copying.

What is required, and often lacking, is a legally binding nondisclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement, which can protect early discussions. Such agreements may state that the sole reason for disclosure is to determine the other party’s interest in the commercial exploitation of the idea and require the other party to keep the disclosed information confidential. If the other party does not want to move forward with the idea, they would be required to destroy physical copies and delete digital copies of the information. They would also be barred from sharing details of the interaction to third parties.

Connectors can also negotiate for a percentage of the deals they broker and have this agreement made in writing. These can be “one-off” commission agreements—such as an agreement for a fee from an artist or gallery following the sale of a work. It is also possible to negotiate recurrent commissions, such as in the form of a percentage from every sale made by a particular gallery, if the connector had united the artist and space and encouraged representation. In such agreements, it would be prudent to state when and how such commissions should be paid to avoid future misunderstandings—such as 30 days after the gallery receives payment.

Connectors can also negotiate more creatively. They may choose to be remunerated in artworks (which may be helpful to artists who usually have more art than cash), or even be given options to purchase or to sell artworks. This “right of first refusal” agreement allows connectors to buy artworks right out of the studio, or gives them priority to sell such works. An arrangement like this could work if the artist has become particularly popular and sought-after by collectors and institutions.

The role of connectors in shaping and influencing the art world is great, but they receive little in return for it. I know of connectors who, at their own expense, travel halfway around the world in economy to check on their artists’ overseas commissions because they are truly committed to how the work is presented. We need connectors to be out there discovering new artists, making new relationships and building bridges across this ever-expanding art world and hence we should treat and compensate them fairly.

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