How a Strategy to Stop Flipping Actually Makes It Too Tempting for Collectors to Pass Up

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The Victoria Miro Gallery proudly explains to the Economist how it thwarts flippers by only selling Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s work to museums like the Whitney, LACMA, Tate Modern and others. The Economist takes this strategy at face value but inadvertently illustrates how the strategy gives collectors an irresistible incentive to flip.

Even here in this Sotheby’s sale next week of a much smaller work, the value lies in the fact that the gallery won’t sell to private collectors. You might ask, then how does a private collector have a work? Well, it is rare for a museum to be the very first buyer of an artist’s work. So Victoria Miro Gallery’s strategy of only selling to museums—which isn’t a bad one—has made the few works in private hands much more valuable than they would have been:

“Super Blue Omo” will be one of ten works in Victoria Miro’s Crosby show, “Portals”. About half of these will be new paintings that will be for sale, but only to public museums (private museums also cannot buy her work). “We don’t want her art to become all about money and reselling,” says Mr Scott Wright, who estimates that it will take another two years before Victoria Miro begins to offer the artist’s work to private collectors.
Meanwhile, the waiting list of museums has risen to 18. For all Victoria Miro’s attempts to keep the stopper in, though, the resale market for Ms Crosby’s work may be about to be released from the bottle. On September 29th, at Sotheby’s, a private New York collector is selling “Untitled”, a painting from 2011, at an estimated price of $18,000-$25,000. With its pair of bare feet in front of a mirror, this might not be the most alluring of her compositions. But it is the first to appear at auction. Food for the impatient.