Art is long and life is short, according to the old Roman saying, but sometimes art doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The canvas warps, the metal bends, the paper turns brown: New artworks may look like old works in a short period of time, leaving their buyers perhaps feeling as though they have been had. One such collector brought back to New York gallery owner Martina Hamilton a painting she had purchased there by the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum that now looked as though the “painting was falling off the canvas,” Ms. Hamilton said.

Art is sold “as is” by galleries or directly from artists. (Can you imagine Consumer Reports reviewing art?) Still, dealers hope to maintain the goodwill of their customers, and artists don’t want to develop a reputation for shoddy work. But it’s not fully clear what responsibility artists bear to their completed work, especially after it has been sold. That’s particularly the case for artists who purposefully use ephemeral materials in their art (bee pollen, banana peels, lard, elephant dung, leaves, mud, moss and newspaper clippings, to name just a few examples) — isn’t it the buyers’ responsibility to know what they are getting?

Mr. Nerdrum, who is known for formulating his own paints (and constructing his own frames), was contacted by Ms. Hamilton about the deteriorating painting, and he directed the dealer to offer the buyer her choice of other works by him at the gallery in the same price range. The collector, however, didn’t want any other Nerdrum painting in the gallery, so the artist rehired the same model he had used originally and painted the image anew. The matter took a year to resolve.


Daniel Grant
Wall Street Journal