Yesterday, Joe Radovich of Surrey, B.C. wrote, “Together with two other painters I’m having a two-day show in our art clubhouse this weekend. My question is, when someone buys, should we give it to them right away, or should we keep it hanging for the duration of the show?”
Thanks, Joe. I prefer shows to stay up until the last minute. I like the idea of maintaining integrity and showing the whole range of what I chose. Also, I don’t like to see above-average paintings diminishing my remaining efforts by prematurely flying out the door. Whether as a group in a church basement or as a solo in a prestigious gallery, it’s a retrospective and it deserves to be seen.
In my experience, collectors prefer a show to stay together and are quite willing to return again at show’s end to pick up their booty. In the case of dealers, they often prefer this system as well — it gets the customer back into the gallery.
But these days, for commercial considerations, we sometimes find ourselves being overruled. The oft-heard remark “I’d have bought that if it wasn’t sold,” drives art dealers prematurely into rest-homes. Many dealers think when work is removed, even lesser remaining work looks rarer and more desirable. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a risky practice. I once had a show where the dealer slapped brown paper around everything as it was purchased and encouraged bewildered folks to put down their wine glasses and move on. Toward the end of the show people were coming in, seeing only three miserable little paintings still hanging, looking at me as if I was a dysfunctional loser, and remarking, “Not painting much, eh?”
A better system is to have the “opening” on the last day of the show. Customers stand around juggling cheeses and waiting for the great dispensation. This way, work stays together so people can schmooze and take lots of time to decide. Dot-wielding sales staff have the luxury of further interaction.
In your case, Joe, I would encourage your customers to leave the happily red-dotted stuff up until the end — unless they happen to be momentarily catching a flight to Samoa.
PS: “It’s not our art, but our heart that’s on display.” (Gary Holland)
Esoterica: Shows can be stressful. They range from indiscriminate rummage sales to snobby events where everyone says nothing in fear of appearing stupid. Artists have the most to lose. “To have all your life’s work and to have them along the wall,” said Andrew Wyeth, it’s like walking in with no clothes on. It’s terrible.” Many artists these days think shows are demeaning, artificial and unnecessary ballyhoo. In 1807 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres said he thought shows should be abolished. I’m afraid shows are with us for a while yet. Best to make the best of them. Let people get to know you through your stuff.
‘Wall of Fame’
by Diane Arenberg, Mequon, WI, /Santa Fe, NM, USA
When I owned a gallery, we requested artists bring extras to replace sold work. When a piece sold, it was removed from the wall and the sticker with the red dot went on the “Wall of Fame”. That way, when a person came into the gallery, they couldn’t say, “I would have bought that one if it weren’t already sold.” If someone commented on the lack of sales, we would happily point to the Wall of Fame where the tags of red dots indicated otherwise. The exception to the rule was the image that was on the show card. That one needed to remain in the gallery until the close of the show. We just didn’t see the point of taking up precious wall space for work that was already sold.
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Artists’ and collectors’ differing taste
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
I’ve done this “take it or leave it” thing both ways, although when someone buys a painting, I find that I’m anxious for them to have it right away. On the other hand, I’ve been in two-person shows where the other artist retained sold paintings in the exhibit, and I heard people remark that he’d “had a successful exhibit.” In the future, I believe I’ll ask the collector if he/she can wait, or whether they need to take it with them now. I’m “lucky” enough to not sell a large number of my paintings at my shows, so replacing a few that have been sold is not a big problem. And I’ve learned that what I consider an “above-average painting” bears little relationship to what collectors prefer, so replacing a painting is by no means guaranteed to diminish the quality of the show. I’ll have to think more about your idea of having a reception at the end of the show — quite a different approach, and worth considering.
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Shows at a tourist destination
by Cello Bennett, Cape Coral, FL, USA
At my husband Gale Bennett’s (d. 2008) shows, paintings at the Musee Baudy in Giverny, France, I experienced over and over the frustration of would-be buyers saying, “I’d have bought that one if it hadn’t already been sold.” We chose a third path: with the exception of a few very large paintings or a painting which had appeared on that year’s exhibition poster, we let the new owner take the work and replaced it with another one. This involved a bit of extra effort in editing and re-printing the exhibition list. All paintings which had been sold were mentioned at the bottom of the list and marked with tiny red dots. Using this method we increased exhibition sales by 10-15%.
Keep the flags flying
by Serious art dealer
Serious art dealers representing serious and important artists need to leave the work hanging for the advertised duration of shows, whether group or solo. There is a sanctity in an artist’s opus that is representative of the progression of that artist often right until minutes before the opening. This statement of dated unity is what brings in the critics and gives them something to talk about. Win or lose, this is our way. Some shows are complete duds where no sales are made but they are nevertheless steppingstones in an artist’s total career. It is also well known that non-selling shows often create the most buzz for the gallery and do a lot of good will. This is one of the hazards and beauties of managing a serious gallery. While bottom lines are important, an artist’s integrity of development is more so.
What to do with Zen-like compulsion
by Steve Moore, Boca Raton, FL, USA
I tried for years to practice painting what I felt would be considered the proper progression of still-life, landscapes, and the human figure. I was an unhappy camper. I finally accepted my non-art fate a few years ago and started drawing what I enjoyed. My first career many years ago was as a draftsman (when it was done by hand with a pencil), I now find myself drawn (sorry) to mechanical subjects for their symmetry and orderliness. I know this is not art, it is barely illustration, but I find it a form of meditation (which I thought I had solely discovered until finding The Zen of Seeing by Dr. Frederick Franck.
My conundrum: I would like to show my pictures, not to earn an income but just to connect with other human beings through my art. Do you know of a directory of funky off-beat stores or galleries that might consider showing what I do?
(RG note) Thanks, Steve. It seems to me that your excellent work is going to find little acceptance within the commercial gallery system, however funky. You need to develop a ‘cult following’ online through a network of equally compulsive aficionados. You might empower your guruship by linking up with other mechanical draftsmen who find solace in the activity. Who knows, you might start a movement where Zen-like practitioners sit cross-legged on high stools drawing excellent wrenches and faucets. The world needs more orderliness.
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Problems with the changing scene
by Kathy Clarke, Salisbury, VT, USA
I recently spent time by a pond in Pennsylvania on a sunny morning under a maple. Two boats snuggled on the shore among tall iris leaves — two oars, upright, leaned against the canoe. The sunlight and dappled shadows on the dull gray metal surface put me in a frenzy of mixing and painting — THEN-POOF — those luscious shadows — gone.
Prepared for this fleeting moment, I had laid down those exciting passages first. I stopped and returned the next day. Though it was the same time and similar weather, nothing was the same.
This points to my question: I see many landscape paintings devoid of “life” — thud and sputter. It’s easy to detect ones painted from photos. Or by painters who have a formula and slap it down. It’s as if the painter’s level of engagement and intent comes through the brush for all the world to see. How do you sustain engagement throughout a whole painting while the world keeps spinning around?
(RG note) Thanks, Kathy. I’ve spent my whole life in the knowledge and fear that those boats will be moved in the morning. The best solution for earthlings living today is to take a digital photo. For most of us, the challenge, as you say, is to make your painting so it doesn’t look like a photo. It’s an acquired skill that you can teach yourself.
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Machinations of an art dealer
by Victoria Silverstein, Brooklyn, NY, USA
I attended an art show at a gallery where a friend was displaying 4 or 5 paintings along with other artists. The gallery owner had requested that the artists bring many more paintings than the amount each artist was allowed to display. Over the weeks of the show, if people needed to cash and carry a painting, the director would put up another one of that artist’s work, and the walls always remained full of paintings.
This gallery owner had high hopes of selling the artists’ works a week after the opening, which looked like only friends of the artists just having a good time drinking, eating and talking, and not too many who appeared to be art collectors. It had a slightly “spring break” atmosphere with mostly young professionals there to support their friends in body and socialize. It got really packed and noisy and uncomfortable at which point we left. This wise gallery owner on the following week also had a “buyers opening,” where she had invited interior designers, clients she knows would be interested in particular types of work, and others who buy art.
And then she had a closing event on the last day. So it looked like she covered all the bases. And her formula seems to sell paintings, although she asks the artists to limit pricing and she takes a small commission. One of her intentions is to make art accessible to the local community, and she invites emerging artists as well as others. The paintings were varied in styles but all of professional quality for this group show…
I think leaving the work up on the wall during the duration of the show is preferable, since they are hopefully arranged to complement each other. And sold paintings with red dots show the people at the show that not only are the paintings looking good but also that sales are happening and that artist’s work is currently desirable.
‘Momentarily’ catching a flight to Samoa
by Lionel Woodcock, Wimborne, East Dorset, England
I love the differences in language across the pond. My friends in Canada and US use “momentarily” to mean this will happen very shortly. We in England mean that it lasts only for a few moments, even seconds. The chaotic scene of buyers with recently purchased paintings under their arms, having an impossibly short time to get on board, everything falling around their ears, wrestling for overhead locker space, is worthy of that marvelous Marx Bros film.
Enjoy the past comments below for When to let them fly away…
Spring in Arizona
acrylic painting, 8 x 10 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Gils Martin of Paris, France, who wrote, “Commercial shows should be miniature Public Gallery shows with the added personal friendship of a knowledgeable advocateur.”
And also Bal Bizet who wrote, “Moving paintings around in a show for me right now is like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Better to jump.”