Recently, I attended a pleasant dinner with one of my more successful art dealers. As most artists know, galleries are going through a fair amount of rationalization these days. We noted several prominent galleries of our acquaintance that had recently closed their doors or made the switch to online only. We also discussed the problems dealers have with represented artists who also have state-of-the-art, personal websites. As one who believes in the gallery system, I thought our discussion might be of interest to you.
I’ve found that picture framers are often a bellwether to what’s going on in the art market. My dealer told me his frame dealer reported that frame sales were essentially flat, but for the first time in living memory, sales of frames to artists had overtaken sales to dealers. The next day I phoned a friend who owns both retail and wholesale framing companies. He reported something similar. Ten years ago his main wholesale business was with galleries; these days his art-framing sales were to designers, artists, customers of artists, and art dealers, in that order.
On the retail side, artists who bought stretched canvases from him were sending in their clients to frame the completed works.
A lot of this transition is due to the advent of the Internet. Even a few years ago my friends and I were agreeing that folks wouldn’t buy art on the Net. How wrong we were. Many of my best dealers now do 40% of their business online. And they’re doing it not just locally, but worldwide.
An interesting parallel I would have never thought possible is Yoox. It’s an international online fashion clothing operation based in Italy that sells up-market duds (Prada, Armani, Jil Sander, etc). Yep, expensive couturier stuff you have to try on to see if it fits. This company, started in 2000 by Federico Marchetti, is now one of the largest rags retailers in the world. They don’t have a store.
The one thing Yoox lacks is the personal touch, which is one thing an artist’s website can have in spades. Customers can stay connected, watch projects unfold, follow an artist’s travels and triumphs and wait around to nail just the right piece. I’m thinking this is the new template and I’m guessing this is what the art world is in for.
It’s personal, but I’ve found my own dealer-empowering but modest website to be a friend-maker that quietly helps me get on with my life and do my thing.
PS: “Just because you love clothes doesn’t mean you love shopping in stores.” (Bridget Foley, Women’s Wear Daily)
Esoterica: It may be that the art world is changing from rarity and control to direct personal service and availability. While the middle-man has traditionally offered variety and advice, he seems now of less value than he once was, and often finds himself representing dead artists who tend not to have websites. (Dead artists are currently alive and well like no time in history.) Some dealers respond by corralling and controlling often substandard living artists — the “dealer’s hack syndrome.” One ill-advised brick-and-mortar dealer of my distant acquaintance has taken to taping over the names of artists who have websites. Oh, my goodness.
The changing times
by Dianne Mize, Clarkesville, GA, USA
Although there is exhilaration browsing among the works of live artists in a brick and mortar gallery, it makes sense that artists are moving towards virtual galleries, considering the advantages over brick and mortar. I, for one, plead guilty. Considering that a work sold online yields instant payment whereas an artist must wait (sometimes weeks) to be paid by a gallery, that the artist receives his/her full price rather than sharing up to half that price with a gallery, and that works need not be framed to be sold online, it make sense that artists not already established in galleries will choose the virtual route.
It is sad to think about a day in the future when the experience of brick and mortar galleries might not exist, but humans being the creative creatures they are, who knows what new role physical galleries might take. It is possible that necessity will mother an invention none of us has envisioned.
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Artist successful online
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
Although I’ve always had a blog and website, in 2010 I got serious about selling my artwork online. I started a second blog and website to support a “weekly watercolor” project and installed “Buy Now” buttons on both websites. I established a “fan page” for my art on Facebook separate from my personal page. I began an email newsletter. I approached all of this as an experiment, and its success has greatly exceeded my expectations. I have established new client relationships throughout the U.S. and around the globe, having now sold original art in six countries. My Internet sales went from nearly zero through 2009 to 20% of revenue in 2010 and around 50% in 2011 and so far in 2012. I keep my physical and online prices consistent. The online exposure has helped me teach more workshops. And I enjoy it… having been an engineer in my former life, I like getting into the technical things. It keeps both sides of my brain active.
Working together with galleries
by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada
You have articulated the art evolution of the last decade that many of us have stumbled through learning as we went. I think some galleries and shop owners could view this as a revolution. I would rather paint than sell or keyboard click. I am much better at giving things away than selling so I leave sales mainly for my partners and galleries. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk to and listen to people but I would rather be perfecting my art.
The Web has created the possibility for anyone to display their art and to spread their vision and portfolio. Artists can Blurb, Blog, Twit, Tweet, Facebook or even Face-plant every day. This is all good and I do a certain amount of this self-promotion but I would rather paint. It takes some time and effort to stay on top of the HTML mysteries created by some back-room hacker and to prevent CYBER sneaks from posting bad things. I would rather create something more lasting than a blip on a computer screen.
Artists need to be fair and honest with their galleries, partners and patrons whether on the Web or in person. I try to be more than fair to everyone and deliver 150% when 100% is what was ordered. I am privileged to have some very fine galleries carry my art. Their prices are the same as my prices. My self-promotion is intended to support both the galleries and my art. My sites also promote and link to these galleries. These partnerships should be two-way streets where everyone can get where they want to go. This art evolution is not a revolution if we all work together.
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by Marjorie Tressler, Waynesboro, PA, USA
Snobs, and that is what most gallery owners are, scarf wearing snobs. We had one gallery near here and that is what they were, snobs, both the old owners now dead and the most recent, who lost their business to the bank. They treated the very artists who used their framing business like dirt and would not even give the artist the time of day, and no I was not one of them, I was one of the chosen few. Their attitude did not fair them well. The artists stopped using them as framers and when they wanted to charge their artists up front for a show and still take a commission the artist said NO!!! the gallery business just dropped out from under them, because the art was not selling and the framing business dissolved. Now the gallery owners are selling furniture at a discount store.
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No online business please
by Joseph Jahn, Nibe, Denmark
I don’t want anyone buying my art over the Net. A painting is a presence, a thing, and not a window. At least my paintings. I want my clients to stand in the presence of The Thing. I’ve only had two Net enquirers in the past ten years–one from the US and one from Norway. The one from the US I advised not to buy without physically seeing the painting, and the one from Norway chose four paintings from photos which I sent to my gallery which they visited a month later and bought two of them (large paintings). I don’t see how anyone, unless they already know the artist, can buy a painting over the Net. It would seem to me they don’t understand what paintings are, or what they should be, when they work.
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No future for online galleries
by Marion Evamy, Victoria, BC, Canada
I’m an artist and a gallery owner, and I believe there is some clarification needed with what constitutes “online” art purchases. I fully agree that the Internet can provide another very effective way to reach an art buying audience. However, I would be surprised if any of these strictly “online” — no physical presence — galleries will ultimately survive. I predict they will eventually lose out to the time honoured gallery on terra firma that can provide art to an audience, who want to experience an original work of art, by a living artist, with something new and interesting to offer, including something called old fashioned person to person contact, perhaps even with the artists themselves!
Those folks purchasing their clothes online still visit the retail shops first to determine which “size” is right for them — before placing their order via the Internet. Unfortunately, the businesses offering a physical presence are now supporting their less expensive online competition!
(RG note) Thanks Marion. You’re right, the lines the Yoox outfit is selling are all heavily advertised household names. Pre-sold, if you like. In the gallery business, the deadly app is the “Clicks and Mortar” combination. Savvy dealers collect the names of gallery visitors and email info on shows the visitor showed interest in. Clients, already familiar with the artist’s work, then phone the dealer to see if such and such is sold. It’s called Internet-telephone axis. On the other hand, the straight online sales system seems to work best for well promoted, well known artists.
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A great opportunity
by Cody DeLong, Jerome, AZ, USA
I think most galleries are missing a great opportunity here. Instead of running scared and trying in vain to keep customers from finding artist’s websites (impossible, ever heard of a Google search?), the gallery should search out a few good up-and-comers and cut a deal. It works like this. The artist gets representation, including perhaps some co-op advertising, exposure in a better area than where they might live. Plus there’s the gallery’s client list which, if the gallery is worth their salt, is far superior to the artist’s mailing list.
The artist agrees to send the gallery their best work from each month’s total output, in season. The gallery embraces the artist’s own website, perhaps even promoting the artist’s website right alongside the gallery’s. Am I crazy? (crickets) Ahem, No. Every avenue should be used to raise the profile of the artist’s work; this is after all what you’re selling. Now when a potential client visits the artist’s website, each image that’s currently on display in the gallery will say “Available at Intelligent Savvy Gallery” with a direct link to that gallery. The gallery gets the benefit of any PR efforts the artist does which brings traffic to the artist’s site, which now has lots of links back to the gallery’s site, where most of the actual sales will occur. The idea is you work together artist and gallery.
Here’s the catch, if a gallery wants to represent an artist, they must actually put up some significant wall space, in season, and promote. The artist in turn helps promote, and gives the gallery their best work. Will some clients bypass the gallery and buy some of the “B” paintings directly from the artist? Yes, undoubtedly some of that will occur, but as the artist’s skill and reputation grows, the best work (in the gallery) will bring higher prices, sales will increase in volume, and before long the artist is selling nearly everything worthwhile through the gallery (or two) and will have no time to mess with the “B” paintings anyway. The artist is motivated by the exposure to a better level of clientele than they might find on their own.
Using this model means many galleries will have to cut their roster of artists down to a level where they can give each one a respectable amount of wall space, time and energy. The old ‘shotgun’ approach of splattering over 60 artists on the wall to see what sticks, is dead. They will have to choose artists who are honest and have long term business goals and, gasp, some genuine skill. The artist must be productive and communicate with the gallery regularly. Most artists only need about three or four galleries if each one is moving some work in season.
Look, most professional artists I know really don’t want to spend a lot of time marketing themselves, everything is measured in terms of ‘time away from the easel’. They do it in a serious way only when their gallery has failed them. We much prefer delivering good work to a gallery that’s actively marketing for us online, advertising, mailing list, shows in season, etc.
Galleries were once successful based on building relationships with art buyers who walked in the door. Some of that needs to be done online now, but they also need to treat their artists like business partners to survive. The end of one era marks the beginning of the new. I think the best galleries will adapt, and the best artists will continue to be successful.
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The value of identical frames
by Bill Westerman, Worthington, OH, USA
At the present time I am coordinating an International event that is a Cultural Art Exchange between U. S. artists in Worthington, Ohio and Japanese artists in Sayama, Japan. The first exhibit on September 13, 2012, was at the McConnell Art Center in Worthington, Ohio which featured 56 pieces of two dimensional art of many different mediums. This exhibit will be delivered to Sayama, Japan for exhibit in their new Citizens building November 19, 2012. The Sayama artists will be sending their art to Worthington for exhibit at the McConnell Art Center on October 25. Both of these exhibits will remain on site until January.
We decided that custom frames would be prepared for all of the paintings, and we had a local frame firm make 56 BLACK frames. The primary idea was that if all the frames are identical and not of some gaudy appearance, then gallery visitors would concentrate on the art. We have been receiving many comments that verify this.
I have found that over the years about 80% of the persons buying my art, decide that they want to have the pieces reframed to suit their personal preference. This led me to the conclusion that artists and galleries would be far better off to use a standard muted frame to sell the art. We are not in the frame business; we are in the art business. If I were in the frame business, I would offer multiple choices for persons to buy. Instead, I am producing art, to give the patron buyer multiple choices of art.
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Anatomy of a Commission
by Evelyn Dunphy, West Bath, ME, USA
I happened to watch your slide show Anatomy of a Commission while having my tea this morning. I am both exhilarated and depressed (only kidding!). I love it. I paint in watercolor, and it does seem sometimes that opaque mediums offer more opportunities to continue working. Although seeing Turner’s originals in the National Gallery in London this summer as well as Mary Whyte’s watercolors makes it clear that it isn’t the medium, it’s what you do with it. Incidentally, my advertisements for my workshops in your Workshop Calendar have been the best more responses than the national art magazines and other online sites. Thank you!
Featured Workshop: Keiko Tanabe
acrylic painting 30 x 40 inches by True Ryndes, CA, USA
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 Shelby Dillon who wrote, “Thank you for your input on this… technology and time march along, whether we are willing to keep up or be left behind!” And also Arni Anderson who wrote, “I need a rep or dealer who will do it all for me. Know anyone looking for an artist?” And also Karla Pearce, Owner, Karla Pearce Art Gallery, 607 Victoria St. Kamloops BC, Canada. (www.karlapearcegallery.com) Ph: 250-828-2032 who wrote, “I am currently looking for artists to show in my gallery.”
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