Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Collector or Dealer?

An interesting entry recently posted on the Art Law Blog

notes that, “A motion to dismiss was denied last week in the case of the memorabilia collector who claims he was duped into selling a bunch of previously unknown Diane Arbus photographs for $3,500.” So it looks like Bob Langmuir and Bayo Ogunsanya will be going to court afterall.

The blog entry states, “Langmuir admitted to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he knew the photographs were rare Diane Arbus prints before the second transaction with Ogunsanya. Langmuir told the reporter that at the time of the second transaction, he tried to ‘stay calm,’ but he was ‘burning up.’”

Sounds like bad news for Bob, except for one thing.

This blog entry, and nearly every other article on the affair, characterizes Bayo Ogunsanya as an innocent “collector.” In fact, as Bayo admitted to me himself, he was a dealer who for years had been buying items at storage unit auctions and selling them at flea markets, ephemera shows and on eBay. I met him as a dealer at an African American ephemera show, and when I went to his house he had a room full of material that he told me he was putting on eBay.

As anyone in the business knows, this makes all the difference. A dealer has a certain moral obligation not to take advantage of the uninformed civilians from whom he purchases his goods. But when a dealer buys from another dealer, it’s each man for himself. Every dealer has equal access to the secrets of his trade. Energy and intellectual curiosity separate those who bother to do their work from those who do not.

Bayo Ogunsanya had every chance in the world to do the research that Bob did. He’d owned the Hubert’s Archive for more than a year, and he lived within a subway ride of the some of the greatest galleries, museums and libraries in America. If he wanted to research the Hubert’s Archive, he could have. Bob Langmuir, after his first buy from Bayo, got curious and did the work. And even after his second buy, when he supposedly “knew” he was purchasing Arbus photographs, he faced still another year of painstaking research before the first few photos were authenticated by the Arbus estate.

The fact is, Bayo Ogunsanya should have done his homework. He did not, and he paid a price for his lack of curiosity. It will be interesting to see if the court, unlike the media, can grasp the elemental distinction between “collector” and “dealer.”

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