This morning Kirk Wassell of Irvine, California wrote, “Recently, I accepted a three-month placement in a Restaurant-Gallery called Bistango. I soon realized that the lighting was inadequate. My real dilemma came when I was told my prices would be more than doubled. For example, my price was $650, their price was $1500. I was astonished. Is this typical, or even appropriate? What are my rights in negotiating what my work will sell for? As I’m new at the game, am I at the mercy of the system? Could you give me a general pricing scheme?”
Thanks, Kirk. Whether your work is in the National Gallery or in Heidi Fleiss’s House of Ill Repute, your prices to the general public need to be the same. This means that only you control the final price. The percentage that various venues take is negotiated from your standard pricing. If you don’t take control no one else will, and some brigands will run over you. Wandering prices are most unfair to your collectors and spoil the steady upward progression an artist can enjoy during a lifetime of creativity. If you want to see a general pricing scheme that happens to be based on size, you can look at mine here. Over the years, a few dealers who have wandered from my standard pricing have been unceremoniously dumped.
Further, successfully offering art to sensitive collectors and the general public is all about context. Legitimate galleries or dealers with decent reputations beat restaurants hands down. Artists gain legitimacy when they show in art galleries. While there may be a few exceptions, most restaurants give little but poorly-lit exposure and random splashes of gravy.
When artists are starting out, as you seem to be, Kirk, there’s the temptation to go for barber shops, hotels, malls, parking lots, Heidi’s place, or any other joint that will take them. I advocate working diligently and getting your work to sufficient quality so that effectively-run galleries will go to bat for you. Serious buyers, whether they’re looking for art that is decorative, collector, investment or whatever, are in the acquisition mode when they walk into galleries. This is the spot for respect, satisfaction and action. While artist-run galleries, art fairs and expos are other decent venues, consistent pricing in all spots and across the spectrum of your creativity makes for long-term joy.
PS: “It’s a lot easier to sell organic vegetables from an organic grocery than from a hardware store.” (Alar Jurma)
Esoterica: “Commerce,” said Robert Ingersoll, “is the great civilizer.” But commerce is no simple business. University degrees are given just for studying it. Then you have to go out and master the stuff in the real world. Artists, no matter how sensitive, must not proceed blindly. With a little effort they can learn how to be cheap at the right times and places, as well as (often in later years) how to be expensive. In life and art, marketing is an art. Dolly Parton got it right when she said, “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.”
Choices limited for most
by Pauline Lazzarini, Rohnert Park, CA, USA
It depends on the restaurant and their percentage. I have had some good experiences with being in a restaurant and a winery… and recently a very bad experience being in a gallery. The restaurant and winery took no more than 10% commission. They gave an opening reception, web coverage and a lot of support. The gallery made me pay a lot of money for my opening. They did give me good press and web coverage, but they took 50% and then it took threats to get my money. I think Kirk just needs to check around and find a good spot. California is so full of artists that we need any venue we can get to show our work. I think he needs to just learn to call the price of his work and choose a place that does not take a large cut. Unless one is well known and collected our choices are limited.
A good marriage
by Jim Lorriman, Shelburne, ON, Canada
If Kirk has made the commitment to the restaurant then he has to ask them how they are going to earn the mark up. How are they going to work for him? What kind of marketing are they going to do? Will there be an opening? Will they provide all the food, the invitation and do a mailing to their broad client base? If the answer is no to any or all of these questions then he should be out of there. Pricing is always difficult but many years ago I developed a formula to price my work. I built in the 40% commission that the galleries charge. (I am a craftsman specializing in semi- and non-functional woodturning.) I have come to realize the value of the galleries over studio tours and various other kinds of art shows. The galleries are usually in prime or ideal locations, they usually have a steady clientele and what they do best is sell artwork. What I do best is create. It is a good marriage. It is difficult to get my fellow artists to agree with the value of the galleries. They resent the 40% commission. What they don’t understand is that if they sell the work themselves, they make the 40% but they also have the overheads of selling the work. In fact, their overheads are probably considerably higher than a gallery because they do not have the underlying assets of location, staff and new client base. You cannot overstate the necessity of bringing work to gallery quality. If artists are serious about their commitment to their work then they should heed your words. Take the time to do it right. You’ll be happier for it.
Hotel gift shop moves art
by Jennifer Young, Richmond, VA, USA
In addition to poor lighting, etc., one of the biggest problems I see with “alternative venues” like these is that there is generally no one there to sell the work. Wait staff, bankers, receptionists, etc. aren’t trained to sell art, and even if they knew a thing about the art or artist, they are generally too busily engaged in their tasks at hand to expend the time and energy. However, there are always exceptions. I’ve worked with a 5 star hotel that displayed a number of my smaller original oils and watercolors outside of their gift shop, and everything has sold. The gift shop also purchased prints of a watercolor I did of the landmark hotel. While they won’t advance an artist’s career the way a good gallery can, sometimes these venues, if catering to the right clientele, can move some art.
Triggering ‘buy now’
by Sue Johnson, Gainesville, FL, USA
The pricing business is one of striking a balance between the potential collector and me as the artist. Right now, as an emerging artist, my prices are relatively low for a framed piece. I am comfortable with that for the time being, but would like more information about how others determine this. Although I don’t want to give my art away, I also don’t want to have all of it on my walls either. I always tell people who comment on the reasonable price of my work right now, that I am emerging and if they are wise, they should buy now before my prices go up.
(RG note) Thanks, Sue. While often too debasing for artists to think about, the implication and then the proof that an artist’s prices go up is highly endearing to buyers.
by Kasey Harrington, Kingston, ON, Canada
I would recommend rental galleries as opposed to restaurants. Rental galleries allow you to keep the piece and sell when the time and price is right. In the meantime it’s a great indicator of market trends, what direction your artwork is going (or not) and to collect a little extra cash along the way. Rental galleries are often pursued by realtors eager to make a sale, homeowners, needing to impress, or people comfortable with frequent change. Often clients look to try pieces out to be sure if a piece will work… without a huge investment of money. From a retail point of view, most people will choose to keep something once it’s already in their home.
So many choices
by Dusanka Badovinac, Netherlands
I started in my hometown exhibiting on the places like City Library, in some beautiful place in nature, but also some galleries. Some other artists from my art-community (in 5 years time it is grown in the group of about 100 “artists”) started selling on the town-fairs, like vegetables. Then they went into art fairs and some of them are now selling through galleries representing them in big art-fairs. I found my art not appropriate to sell on the town-fair and now I feel punished because of that decision. At that point in my carrier I was offered advice to make 30% higher prices to be able to sell art on the right places (galleries with more rich or “serious” collectors). It is not good if you are cheap, I was told. They won’t take your work seriously. Then I lost some potential buyers among people already collecting my art. And about those right places, I never came there either. Those I think being appropriate, very often ask a lot of money for renting the space, or you need to have someone to recommend you. Small galleries won’t take the risk, big galleries wouldn’t bother. My prices are now again rather normal. When I feel positive I think that it all happened to give me time to develop my art on the right level. When I am negative I think I have a bad luck and I made all wrong decisions. In both ways I never allowed that to have any influence on my art. I keep on painting because I love the smell of paint around me and I love my process of developing. My attic is full of paintings and I am quite afraid when I think of making my next step. Not in painting but in art selling. There are so many choices to make; and so many mistakes.
Early patrons found in odd venues
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
Gallery representation is not an option for many emerging artists. In my early years when I approached galleries I was brushed off. New York artist Dorothy Gillespie advised me to take every opportunity to show my work, no matter where. I showed my work in malls, restaurants, garden shows, even, once, a boy-scout jamboree! I found my patrons (or should I say they found me) and began to build a reputation based on the quality and popularity of my work. Then, the galleries approached me. Around the state of Florida, I’ve now got five galleries that represent me, and I have a wonderful working relationship with all of them.
Bistango a fine art venue
by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA
Bistango is not “poorly lit exposure with random splashes of gravy.” To group Bistango in with “barber shops, and houses of ill repute, etc.” is an insult to all they’ve contributed to emerging artists’ careers. In any event, I hope your comments were made based on your personal experience — it’s certainly your right to have an opinion based on your observations. But if you’ve known nothing of Bistango, if you’ve not been there or met the people, and these comments are just theoretical generalizations crafted to deliver a clever answer to one person’s discontent, that approach serves no one. Bistango is a great venue for emerging artists. Owner John Ghoukassian, with the assistance of art consultant Antionette Sullivan of Studio Gallery, has been offering this Bistango “Dining as Art” venue, and at their Bayside restaurant in Newport Beach, for the past 20 years and, as such, have developed quite a following and reputation. They put on a Spring and Winter show each year in each restaurant; Bistango featuring 30 or more artists annually who are invited to display an average of 5 pieces each. There are many lovely exhibit spaces within their enormous restaurant; naturally, some are better than others as is true with any venue. Most artworks are spotted individually with lighting. Every time a new exhibit goes up, so does a new coat of paint get rolled onto every single hanging wall. Every year, two times per year! They are conveniently located across the street from The Irvine Museum, which goes a long way to patrons being in an “acquisition mode” as they enter the restaurant. (The Irvine Museum is dedicated to the preservation and display of California art of the Impressionist Period — 1890 to 1930.) Bistango has more foot traffic than most art galleries, and most patrons dine there for the specific reason of enjoying and buying art. The exhibits are well advertised in professionally produced, high quality brochures mailed to a manicured list of over 7,000 national and international recipients. Each exhibitor can invite an unlimited number of guests to the opening reception (top quality food and drinks supplied at no extra cost), and each exhibitor is provided, at no extra cost, with as many brochures as they wish. That exposure alone is something most emerging artists can never hope to achieve in the early years, if ever.
Bistango helps launch artists
by Debbie Stroman, Irvine, CA, USA
I am from Irvine, California, and actually Bistango is a very high place to sell art — they are known for this even though they are a restaurant. Kirk should have discussed this before he ever goes in to any place. I normally would not respond however Bistango has helped launch a number of new artists and I feel he should have given you more info — maybe he did and you used this in a broad context.
Happy with Bistango
by Michael Allen, Newport Beach, CA, USA
I was invited to show at Bistango and was happy with the outcome. I was asked for a framed price that would be doubled. Both Bistango and Studio Gallery host an opening reception. The restaurant is on the border with Newport Beach, close to the Orange County Airport. It is a popular power lunch and dinner destination.
The contemporary art displays and the nightly jazz separate Bistango from the typical Orange County dining room. So does the food. Your comments may be true, but I don’t think they apply in this case. I think it may be a case of the artist not reading the contract. Your twice weekly letter makes e-mail worthwhile.
(RG note) Thanks, Michael, and the others who wrote defending Bistango. Michael sold the two paintings illustrated above at Bistango.
Prices, markup, and other questions
by Roger Cummiskey, Dublin, Eire
The question that is not addressed nor spelled out clearly in your letter is whether these prices mentioned are net or retail. If they are retail then what percentage does the gallery normally take? If they are wholesale then what mark up does the gallery add? The answers to these questions would be very helpful as the position is not clear. And finally, do you pay the shipping and handling (is it included in the price) or does the gallery take responsibility for this cost?
(RG note) Thanks, Roger. The prices mentioned are the final prices the buyer pays. This is the most important price — how much the work sells for at retail — because it needs to be consistent between venues. Very few galleries work for less than one third commission these days. Forty percent to the gallery and sixty to the artist is more common. While the percentage varies greatly in different locales, 50/50 is now considered acceptable in many areas. Anything over that and the gallery would have to have a miraculous track record and be a promotional phenomenon. Most ultra-high commission venues are scalpers and don’t know what they’re doing. Funnily, it’s these high rate guys that most frequently go broke. There are some (they are called Wallbangers) who rent wall space and try to get a high commission as well. Framing, incidentally, is generally the investment of the dealer (he knows what frames people like in his area) and the retail frame price is added to the standard retail price of the art that the artist provides. Smart dealers see value in thisthey invest in the frames, switch them from (standard size) piece to piece, and make the profit. There are often exceptions to this convention for work under glass or plexi. Regarding shipping, the general etiquette is that artists pay for the shipping to a dealer, and the dealer pays on the occasions when work is returned to the artist.
Enjoy the past comments below for Wandering prices…
Old Man Tree
ink and charcoal
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 Trish Booth Pieterse who wrote, “Leave Heidi alone. She has made her mistakes, and I am sure by now she’s paid her price. It is completely a cheap shot to use her name in regard to art. She may be involved in the world’s oldest “art” …but it is not for you, or us, to judge. I find that an incredibly cheap shot.”
And also Hans Werner of Australia who wrote, “The price you received for your last work must be the benchmark for your future sales, never go under it again.”
And also Jane Walker of Den Haag, Netherlands who wrote, “This is primarily the way for a restaurant to get free art. Let the restaurant buys your work first and then if they want to show it in the dark that is their affair. Stick out for the right place to show and be consistent at all times with pricing.”
And also Todd Baxter Dawson who wrote, “My question to you is, how did you arrive at those numbers? Straight per square inch? Solely based on size x? Are smaller works charged more/less than larger ones based on size? Do you combine square inch and linear inch? Or is it all a toss of the coin?”
(RG note) Thanks, Todd. Mine are based on size progression, have little to do with square inches, and are designed to address certain price points. My prices have evolved from very low levels and get out of whack a bit from time to time and have to be adjusted as the annual increases occur. They go up, on average, about ten percent per year. There are other methods of pricing art, and we have previously talked about the subject here, here and here.
And also Gwen Pentecost of Pinetop, AZ, USA who wrote, “Even us evil artist-run galleries need to honor appropriate pricing of an artist’s work so that it’s comparable to what other venues are using – with some minor adjustments for locale. We work with our artists on pricing. It is a mutual agreement. One thing guaranteed to make me unhappy, is when an artist enters a booth show and shows work for less than he or she has set as the prices in the gallery. It’s a guarantee that he or she won’t show with me again.”
And also Glenda Shomaly of Torquay, Victoria, Australia who wrote, “The most interesting aspect of Love Letters to Art which arrived yesterday is seeing the immediate connection between your work and the Twice Weekly Letters. Having taken the concepts of each letter with my own work in mind as each of your readers surely does, means there are many different interpretations out there, all of them intriguing.”