Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Art and Father’s Love at the DMV

Matching tattoos stroll by as the man with a walking stick works his way though the aluminum automatic doors. The smell of antiseptic wipes wielded by an attentive employee wisps by my nose each time the door opens and closes as she attempts in vain to remove all the fingerprints from the glass.

An Asian gentleman sleeps quietly in the corner, a bad harbinger for today’s wait time. A room full of empty faces and occasional yawns fill the formica chairs scattered haphazardly throughout the drab grey room with buzzing fluorescent lights. I have selected a number, which seems not to correlate with the current numeric system, this concerns me greatly.

“Now serving K722 at window #4.”

The cacophony of overhead repetitive blaring is inescapable and to be expected. After all, it is the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This is the third time in two weeks I have had the pleasure of visiting this great institution of public gathering. “It’s a cosmic payback for past life indiscretions,” I say to myself as I plop down on a hard chair near the sleeping man’s domain and pull up a second for the inevitable long haul that awaits. 

I immediately fix my gaze on a woman in her nineties slowly pushing a walker in a staccato rhythm toward a line of numbered cubicles manned by DMV workers. Her catatonic movements are mesmerizing. I asked myself why a woman of such advanced age and diminished physicality would be here. Then it hits me: “To get a driver’s license!”  

For the first time I start to hope my daughter fails her test giving her motor reflexes extra time to develop in hopes of avoiding this geriatric driver. (Something of course I will applaud in 25 years).

I have spent four hours of my life at the DMV over the last two weeks in anticipation that my daughter will pass her driver’s permit test; today is retake test number three. I return positive, but now accept that failure is in my daughter’s favor. As I do the math calculating the longevity of the lady in the walker by a cursory visual exam from 50 feet away, something tells me the odds are in her favor. By the time my child gets her actual driver’s license, my fellow ancient motorist probably won’t be driving. So hit the road my blue haired risk taker, but please keep it to one year.

“Now serving E342 at window #18.”

Thirty minutes have passed and I’m desperately looking for something, anything to help pass time. No Wi-Fi, no music, no newspapers (they still print them right?), my phone has one bar, thanks AT&T. I suddenly become aware that my legs have goose bumps (piloerection for the medically interested). “I should have worn long pants,” a phrase often repeated during Tucson’s hot summer months. Air-conditioning has only one setting, full blast, even at the DMV. It’s a seasonal battle of hot vs. cold and today’s arctic blast of refrigerant air is winning handily.

Finally I see something that catches my drifting eye, no not the girl in the purple polka dot tube top draining a 32-ounce Big Gulp, but a multicolored water stained roof. I never noticed the lines of disfigured tiles my last two visits. Those days had wait times less arduous. It helped that I had adroitly come mid-week, mid-afternoon, but time was running out for my daughter to get her driver’s permit before heading out for Santa Fe’s mild summer haunts. So it’s a Monday visit, not ideal for those who hate waiting like myself. 

The DMV’s cheap panel roof had seen better days, surprisingly the insides were not old by public building standards, the tiles were shot, yes, but beautiful. The random circles somehow worked for me as some offbeat art project, or at least the best I could hope for under the circumstances. “This is better than my early morning dental visit,” I reminded myself looking for any glimmer of joy in an otherwise dismal day.

Now serving J372 at window #18.”

Suddenly I’m back in the present. I want to meet this remarkable DMV person at window #18 I am hearing so much about on the overhead speaker. This wizard of data, mover of people. A magician disposing of weary visitors in a flash using some futuristic time warp. The inspiration of hope fades as I surmise it must be a recent hire, a newbie who has yet to be jaded by the spell of the diabolical mechanical voice’s overhead whining. “I hope my daughter get’s that person’s cubicle anyway,” I say to myself knowing luck is not on our side today, as the lady with the walker finally makes it to her allotted cubicle, #18. Time grinds to a halt.

The wait for the retake exam is excruciating. The old “third time’s the charm,” is the proverbial ace in the hole I’m hoping for. I’m not sure I can bare one more trip to Tucson’s south side. It’s not the environment outside that bothers me, it’s a fifteen year old’s angst that has me frazzled with her immense hope of becoming a driver during the thirty minute ride down and then the tearful silence on the return trip. “Why can’t they just make driverless cars now? “There should be an award given to any person who can visit the DMV three times in two weeks,” I say to myself realizing immediately this is too much to ask considering it’s only the day after Father’s Day and I’ve already been presented with “You’re the best Dad ever” card, signed even!

An hour has passed and the roof tiles have lost my interest, even abstract art can only hold my attention for so long. Presently I’m focused on windows, 12 identical structures all in a perfect line, 4 x 4 foot squares through which I can see outside. There is a large 10-foot high concrete wall lined with 2-foot razor sharp barbwire, yet somehow there is graffiti sprawl lurking behind the intense metal barrier. The garish color combination tweaks an aesthetic nerve. It’s this spray paint meaning of life and creativity which help balance the immense boredom that has taken root. Art I have found, regardless of my surroundings, is the panacea that ails the suffering soul, even at the DMV. I wonder how others around me cope in this world of human bondage; they probably have Verizon. 

“Now serving K723 at window #4.”

“You go #4!” I say in a semi-hushed voice trying not to wake my neighbor, peering over the huddled masses at a middle age woman partially obscured behind a monstrous outdated PC, a large #4 plastered to her cubicle. Her static sickly smile in stark contrast to her frenetic finger movements pounding out some secret code, I begin to smile.

For it becomes clear at that moment that I’m a witness to a grand coliseum of DMV jousting. #18 is no novice as I had assumed, but a well-seasoned employee with an ability to process a nonagenarian in less than ten minutes attesting to his immense skill set and knowledge. Indeed #18 is a wiley veteran of the department, a giant killer, and #4 is his prey for the day, a race to see who can process the most human detritus in an eight-hour time limit (breaks not included). It makes sense, a way to have fun in a world of: “Wait, go here,” and “Wrong line please move along.” Doing the opposite one would expect, being the David in a world of Goliaths, fast and happy, instead of slow and cross, bravo to #4,and #18! You are the wind beneath my wings, or in this case shivering thighs.

Time slows once more as I see my daughter approaching me, my heart rate picks up speed and I seem to float above the room. “Is she smiling? I can’t tell.” She’s good at masking her emotions. (I wonder where she learned that). I think she might be sad or is she happy? The anticipation is agonizing as she shuffles towards my two chairs thrown together. It doesn’t take long to get the fatal answer, and I fall hard back to the reality of the moment. I will once again return to the Kingdom of the DMV.

“Agh,” she sighs, “failed again… and by one question!” Her shoulders slump to her sides as she confesses her failure.

I try to provide absolution using a pat on the back as one of my chairs ungraciously slips out from underneath me, but the effort is lame. It’s hard to be encouraging. Father’s Day is another year away, and I have plenty of time to rack up points before next year’s Safeway greeting card dash.

“Don’t sweat it kid, I love the DMV,” returning a weak smile that betrays my disappointment. “Let’s get out of here. I’ve had enough fun for one day.” I screech my chair waking my nearby companion. “Sorry,” I say, “I think they already called your number.” I feel a slight bit of joy as he makes a frowning face, “cosmic payback,” I think, smiling knowing I’m at least free for now.

With a swoosh from the doors, I walk out and glance back fondly at #4 as her anorexic fingers still pound away. “I hope you’re working tomorrow,” I say loudly to no one in particular, not an unusual occurrence at the DMV. The Sonoran desert heat slaps my face, and I realize that I really will be back tomorrow. For now, however, I must focus on the task at hand, the hard drive back home.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Forrest Fenn and Treasure in Santa Fe

Forrest Fenn and Treasure in Santa Fe

You heard me right, gold in Santa Fe just waiting for the lucky treasure hunter who can unlock the key in Forrest Fenn’s latest self published book The Thrill of the Chase his autobiography.  Apparently clues to discovering the gold are hidden in the book, which can be found for sale on Amazon for $75 or at  Collected Works Books bookstore in Santa Fe with part of the sale going to charity.  Or if you don’t want to shell out the bucks you can get Mr. Maxwell J. Steele’s Kindle version, also the author of Winning Slot Machine Strategies, for only 2.99.  For those of us who know Forrest, I being one of them, we have little doubt that he did just that; why not, he’s an art dealer and we do crazy stuff especially if it causes interest in history and antiquities. But if you can’t find the loot you’re still in luck because there’s gold everywhere in Santa Fe, it’s a known fact.  I’ll share some gems and you won’t even have to spend any money on Kindle.

24K hand gilded frames are on every gallery wall, and you can own this gold just by buying the art, the gold is free...

Golden Adobe Dancing Light, Mark Sublette

Any summer afternoon will provide a light show of golden adobe bouncing off the setting sun.  Head to the Pink Adobe, order a Margarita using Patron Gold Tequila and you’re in for a double dose of golden moments.

If you can’t make summer, don’t worry Fall has great golden opportunities as well, the golden delicious apples ripen and we find them plentiful in numbers at our renowned farmers market in the Rail yard district, or simply walk up Canyon Road and pick them off the trees. 

If your older, come spend your golden years in Santa Fe; it’s the #2 Art Market in the country which abounds with world class food and entertainment. There will plenty of golden sunsets to last a life time.

Finally as I get ready to release my next Charles Bloom sequel Kayenta Crossing this summer I just wanted to let you know there might be some clues in the book to my own treasure chest which I will hide say at 602A Canyon Road; it won’t be filled with gold or for that matter it won’t really be an actual chest but then again the fun is in the hunt and Santa Fe never disappoints and of course that’s where my story takes place.

Kayenta Crossing On sale June 1st, 2013 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Estate Planning for the Professional Artist

Estate planning for the Professional Artist

Having an artist pass away is a terrible loss to any gallery especially if it’s unexpected. There are widespread economic tidal waves for all those in the path.  The artist’s family, collectors and the gallery representatives are all put into uncharted waters if there has been no forethought before the tragic event.
I have lost two artists in twenty years as a gallery owner and I would expect there will be more if I’m lucky enough to stay in business another twenty years. I recently released a fictional murder mystery Paint by Numbers the plot line follows what happens if an unscrupulous dealer takes advantage of an expected artist’s death (or precipitates it as in my novel).  While the book was pure fiction there is some insight to be gained in avoiding problems with your estate if you’re an artist. Don’t put your loved ones and the galleries that represented you into a whirlwind of confusion by not thinking ahead. If your over fifty and making a living as an artist you need to read this blog, take it to heart and do some early estate planning.
It is imperative you take precautions to outline how you want your estate handled once you’re gone.  This should include price structure recommendations and distribution strategies after your death of your remaining artwork.  An accurate inventory with photographs of all your work while your still alive is very helpful to all involved and can prevent the estate from loosing track of artwork you may have located in a variety of galleries across the country or even internationally.  Set some kind of guidelines, even if rough in nature, as to what price structure should be followed when you’re gone and how the remaining artwork should be distributed. This will eliminate many of the problems your estate will potentially have. Just because an artist dies, even at a young age or unexpectedly, it doesn’t necessarily mean the work will go up in price especially if the remaining artwork is mishandled. If there is a large estate and sizable chunk of the work comes out all at one time it could bottom the value of the art, conversely if the work is raised to unrealistic values immediately it might shut down interest for the remaining work as collectors view the estate as creating a frenzy, gauging the market and in some cases the end result might deprive the heirs of expected longtime support from the estates remaining artwork. Turning off collectors dead or alive is never a good thing.
Obviously each estate will be different depending on the art, value and the needs of the estate and its heirs.  This is why it’s imperative as an artist you take responsibility for what you are leaving behind, your art. Unless you want a free for all after your death it’s best for all those involved to have a frank discussion with family, lawyers and the dealers you trust and respect. These details should be spelled out in writing, the better for all involved.  Your artwork is what you spent your life creating and you may have very specific ideas where and how you want it distributed.  You may want some specific museums to get certain pieces, and if this is the case then write this in your will. Just saying it in life to your family or favorite museum director isn’t enough; it needs to be in writing. You may want pieces left to unborn grandchildren or great grand children; this is your chance to make your wishes heard.  Maria Martinez, the great San Ildefonso potter, gave her children and grandchildren her pots while she was alive. This was her way of leaving something behind for a rainy day.  I have seen more than one new roof paid for fully decades later by an artist who understood the value of her art.
As a general rule from what I have seen in estates that have been handled appropriately, there can be a seamless transition.  Thoughtful consideration of how to distribute the remaining art works; price structure and future representation will be some of the most important aspects to workout in advance.  Art is a business, whether we want to admit it or not, and establishing appropriate price structure (just like when you are alive) is also important after your gone. Making large increase in prices can often shut down an interested market for an artists work, and if the artist was prolific there will probably be plenty of work on the secondary market to fill the needs of the collector bases which could circumvent an aggressive estate executor, family member, or executor who does not understand the art market.  Prices don’t always go up. 
If the estate is small and/or the artist didn’t produce much work and there was significant demand while the artist was alive, slowly releasing work at ever increasing prices may be prudent until the floor is established of what the new price structure should be.  In this case hanging onto artwork by the estate maybe more important then selling it too quickly. I’ve heard many an artist say they won’t be worth anything until they’re dead. This might be the case, but if you don’t think ahead it’s possible your work might be worth much less if it’s not handled in an appropriate and professional manner. The burden lies with the artist to consider the unthinkable, you won’t live forever but if you think ahead your legacy might.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Santa Fe: A must visit on your “Bucket List”

For those that enjoy a variety of art, world-class cuisine, outrageous sunsets and mild summer weather then Santa Fe definitely needs to be on your bucket list.  I’ve been going there my whole life and I still get a thrill peaking over La Bajada hill (Spanish for “The Descent”) on I-25 coming from Albuquerque and seeing the City Different tucked into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Spanish for the “Blood of Christ”). That initial view, followed by my first bite of green chile, the smell of pinion trees and visuals of ridiculously slow low rider cars all say home. 

The art scene in the summer is non-stop, with a multitude of major shows, openings and of course Friday art walks up and down Canyon Road. As gallery owners we can’t wait for the summer to start and sometimes to end. It can be challenging dealing with the number of tourists that decide to fulfill their life long dream of seeing Santa Fe, but of late the crowds have been thinner and the getting a table at my favorite restaurant La Boca even do-able, as long as its before 6.

The first thing you want to find is a Canyon Road Arts catalog.  The book is chalk full of great places to eat, many of which you would never know about as a tourist.  It also has a handy map of all the galleries on Canyon Road and what they handle, no galleries are left out, and it’s by far the best gallery guide for the road.  Most of the hotels will have a copy and you can always find free ones at my gallery at 602A Canyon Road.

After you have hit enough galleries to make your feet sore, and neck red (be sure to wear sunscreen, we’re at 7000 feet, then head to the museums again all listed in the aforementioned catalog.  This year there is a great exhibit, which just opened at the Wheelwright Museum about their founder Mary Cabot Wheelwright.  There are some remarkable artifacts from her life and a short video on the great weaver Hastiin Klah.

Lastly, if you can swing it, come to Indian Market weekend, to see it is to believe it.  The hundreds of vendors that set up around the plaza is like nothing you can imagine.  This year the show is August 18th and 19th but the activities really start on the 16th.  I will be having a book signing on August 16th for my new murder mystery “Paint by Numbers” and on the 17th a Friday afternoon opening 2 - 4 for Shonto Begay both at my gallery.  These are just 2 events we will have, but almost all the galleries will be celebrating a favorite artist, many of them related to a celebration of Native American art.

So if you haven’t planned a trip to the Hampton’s or Paris, then come to the second oldest city in America and plan to be charmed, there is no place like Santa Fe, especially in the summer.

Monday, April 30, 2012

What I look for in an Artist

What I look for in an Artist

Ray Roberts

Selecting an artist for gallery representation is not much different then selecting a spouse, expect the artist relationship can take more time to develop. Any gallery that doesn’t realize they are entering into a relationship is in trouble from the get-go.

Most of the artists I represent have been with me for 10 years or longer and a couple are approaching 20 years. That’s longer than most marriages. I know it’s a relationship because I feel bad when something happens negatively in my artist’s life and happy when something good occurs. I root for their successes no matter if it’s because of me or not.

I not only know their life’s history, when they were born, where they studied and who they show with, but I also know them as people not just a product line. I care about them as friends. It hurts when an artist doesn’t sell as much as I like or worse yet if they feel they have to move on because it just isn’t working anymore.

When I look to represent an artist I want someone who cannot only paint, but is a good fit as a person. As a gallery owner you have to deal with different types of personalities, which can be as varied as painting styles. An artist may feel one of his stable-mates paints too much like them and doesn’t want their work to hang on the wall next to them, or agonize why one artist’s prices are higher then theirs. I try to avoid conflict by having a group of artists that have their own voice and don’t look like anyone else. By having group of mature accomplished artists to begin with I have managed to have a group of individuals that root not only for the success of my gallery but also for the other artists we show.

If you’re an artist and are considering a gallery, talk to other artists and see what that gallery’s reputation is. Do they pay on time, are they going to be good for my career, do they even care? Bad dealers (and artists) get found out fairly quickly and these are the ones to stay away from. In my business I take personality into consideration. If the artist is just too difficult, even if I like their work I’m not going to be interested in developing a business relationship. Both parties should spell out their expectations. This doesn’t have to be in writing but a good verbal understanding is crucial. Money, just like in a marriage, can cause problems. Every gallery has its own way of doing business, in my own business I try to let an artist know when we pay and what bills we can expect to cover.

As a gallery I’m in the sweet spot, and it only took me 20 years to get here. I have a great stable of artists who seem to enjoy being in my gallery with their fellow artists. It didn’t happen by luck, or by taking who’s hot or sells well, but by a real evaluation of each and every artist that works with me. The smart artists do the same. They make sure the gallery owner is more than a wall in a good location but a person that cares and someone they can work with.

The next time you enter a gallery, if you sense thought in their display, and information flows from the individuals trying to sell you artwork, you have found a good gallery to spend your money with as the artist gallery relationship is a solid one.

Mark Sublette

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gallery 2032 What art dealers can expect in twenty years

Most galleries rarely plan beyond their next show, but any good business knows the key to success is forward thinking with at least a 5-year window.

So what will the art gallery landscape look like, not in 2017, but say in the year 2032?  I’ve experienced enormous change in the last 20 years as an art dealer and I expect the same for the future.  Changes I have witnessed include, the development of the internet, digital photography, social media, mobile phones, apps, online stores, online auctions, museum art shows, Art Fairs, the proliferation of auction houses, video art, computer art, oh yes, not to mention two recessions.

How does one plan for the new art paradigm?  If the art model I have experienced so far can be a guide, then expect to see a ferocity of developments in technology drive the market.  The Internet, mobile, social media, globalization, self-promotion and condensation of galleries will be the rule of order.  This pattern seems clear, which means as a gallery (or artist) you need to prepare to be a part of the ever-growing world of transparency; this can be a good thing for those who embrace and move forward. 

Currently the art world is an imperfect model with a few major dominant players leading our profession.   This means that art prices are not transparent or clear on how pricing is derived. You have a few big auction houses and dominant galleries.  The lack of central leaders will ultimately change, with a more dominant role being carried out by the Internet.   The change will result in online mega-galleries and artist owned galleries.  This is already happening with,, and to mention just a few. 

Consolidation online will result in a loss of many of the brick and mortar gallery locations.  Large cities and places like Santa Fe will continue to support art galleries as important local industries but there will be a thinning of the ranks.  This is not say that the gallery as we know it will disappear, just as movie theaters a few will still be around. The experience they foster will be as much about social gatherings and events as selling art off the walls.  Transactions, viewing, and communications will be happening predominantly online. 

The advancement of technology is perfect for a product like art (I hate the word “product” when referring to art). Video will become a mainstay as will three-dimensional viewing.  Walking into a gallery will be both a real and virtual experience. Documentation of art production from start to finish in video format will be commonplace with interactions of social comments becoming part of a piece’s history. 

Problems for galleries will include the continued erosion of the client-gallery mode.  Customers will directly interact with the artist vs. a middleman (art dealer).  This will become the preferred route. It is already happening with museum shows where the less obtrusive, commercial art museum is now an important venue for many artists.  Cutting out art galleries will ultimately eat away at gallery dominance. So what’s an art dealer to do, close up now and start looking for a new profession?

I believe, it can be an exciting time, if you plan ahead.  Realize your profits may be less, which means you need to think outside the box when it comes to revenue.  The more diversified galleries with a strong vision of representing artists as partnerships, not product producers, should continue to flourish.  As a gallery you not are only supposed to sell artwork, but also help build an artists credentials. Focusing on this will bring you support from your artists and help solidify your place as a gallery that counts and one worth keeping. Developing relationships with your artists helps both parties. 

Art dealers will continue to have an important role in letting artists create while they manage, which will be as important as selling. The current way dealers are paid will metamorphose into something different, of which I can’t foresee, but significant changes will occur.  Just as taking credit cards through the Square attached to your iPhone is happening now.

So if you don’t have a Wall or a Channel, never tweet, can’t use a digital camera or recorder, don’t recognize the letters html or haven’t heard of Ruby, you’d better hire someone who does, because what these terms represent isn’t 20 years from now, it’s today’s world. I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finding Your Art Collecting Pulse

Finding Your Art Collecting Pulse
I deal with people on a daily basis who are trying to discover their collecting mojo. What to collect? Who to collect? What makes it worth collecting? Every art dealer, like a parrot retorts, “Buy what you like,” “Buy what you like.”
“Polly” is correct, you should purchase art that scratches your aesthetic itch. This may seem simplistic and obvious, but it does provide beginning and serious collectors a road map. “Buy what you like” is a great starting point.
To help advise collectors when building a collection, here are six points to consider. These guidelines are a forensic cross section of how my mind works when buying art for myself, my subconscious and semi-conscious shopping list.
1) A piece of art must provoke me.
I look for an emotion to be triggered. Somewhere deep in my brain a piece of art must trigger my limbic system to fire approval. These triggers can be laughter, sadness, inspiration, déjà vu, or simply pleasure. Without feelings, is a piece really worth taking up your walls? I don’t buy art for color, frames or to fit in a particular place. That’s is not collecting, it’s decorating, or as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not like there’s anything wrong with that.”
2) I look for the best example of art I can afford
I would rather own one great piece or example by an artist than 20 lesser pieces. This doesn’t mean I only have major works hanging on my walls; like most of us I have a budget. There is nothing wrong with being patient until an exceptional example shows up. When it does come available buy it, that’s what building a collection is all about. If it doesn’t hurt a bit to write the check or cause you a moment of reflection, then it may not be as important as you thought. Pain means gain.
3) Condition is important.
This is especially important when purchasing older works and antiques. It’s fine to have art with condition issues if the piece’s presence is strong enough to merit the purchase. I own many examples. But if a piece is average with condition issues and your purchasing it because it’s inexpensive, this is an investment; something to sell, not a piece to keep.
4) Don’t be afraid to lead the pack.
I have collected many artists’ works before they become well known. I don’t look for obscure artists I think are going to be the next super star. Rather I look for art that compels me to take it home. Don’t be afraid to collect living or deceased artists when others haven’t made the leap. There always has to be a leader, why not you?
5) Paying a record price can be a good thing.
Now I know you’re thinking “easy for you to say,” but setting records can come in many forms. A “record price” may only be a few hundred dollars if you’re collecting an area with little competition. I started collecting pueblo candlesticks and set records numerous times which helped me acquire the best examples. By paying up, I was able to build my collection faster then if I was totally price conscious. In the long run it also brought up the market for these objects, which I felt had been overlooked.
6) Trust your gut.
This is the most important cue I use. If every fiber in your body is telling you to buy then you should probably buy. Learn to listen to your inner voice. If you don’t, these missed opportunities will be the ones that haunt you. Collecting is hard enough without regrets. If your still lamenting about the one that got away then stop. Learn from this experience and when that special piece pops up, buy it and forget about the new car you need to get. It will still be there in a year, the artwork might not.

                                       Photograph Mark Sublette by Dan Budnik