Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So you want to be an Art Dealer

Tax time is around the corner and you’re an accountant searching the web for inspiration about a career change. Fifteen years in the trenches and piles of unfinished returns all of a sudden have left you with an unappealing taste for crunching numbers. A right brained, fun job is what the doctor ordered.

Well I was a physician in a prior career, so before I give you a prescription to change careers you may want to investigate the art profession a little deeper. I can hear your longing voice in my head: “You have such a great job, I’m sick of tax time, I wish I could sell art, it looks fun,” and “It can’t be that much work, beautiful paintings they must just sell themselves,” Yes it’s a great job, yes it's fun, and I can assure you most paintings don’t sell themselves, though occasionally they actually do.

So here is my Jerry Maguire manifesto on what it takes to be an art dealer.

First, don’t go into the art world if your only qualification is you really like art, and you hate your current job. It's true, having a passion for art is a big part of being a competent art dealer, but it's only one component. Having a great eye is also very important, but having a good understanding of business in general is probably just as important if you plan to eat. You must have a long horizon for success, three years is not a long time line.

1. Longevity counts: Shoot for being the Billy Bob Thornton of art galleries. Mr. Thornton’s big break came with Swing Blade. He was an overnight success, except it took him more than a decade struggling before Hollywood recognized his artistic abilities. My own experience was it took me ten years before collectors started trusting what I had to say and believed my expertise and commitment to the profession. There is a correlation between 10,000 hours of training in a field before you can call yourself an expert. The day you quit adding numbers and begin to sell art for a living expect to struggle. In the art world, trust is an important factor, and so is reputation. I know first hand why seasoned art collectors, dealers, and artists want to see a track record. I have seen my share of fly by night dealers who look for big bucks and could care less about the client-dealer relationship, these relationships are earned.

2. It helps to have a strong back; sounds strange but true. Every time I move a heavy sculpture or move an unwieldy painting, I wonder if the big boys on Madison Avenue have ever had to deal with this part of the job… My guess is I’m sure they have, they just won’t admit to it, unless plied with copious amounts of alcohol at the end of a long show. Until you have enough capital to hire someone to be your back, get used to lifting and remember to use your legs.

3. You need to like working with people; especially artists. If you prefer your artists to be deceased and hate the thought of working with living artists, don't do it. Artists have enough obstacles without having to deal with gallery owners who think of them as just a product.

4. Artists are a special breed. They are driven to create and are happy when they are doing so. They depend on dealers to sell their work. If you can’t handle the responsibility or worse yet don’t take it seriously, don’t work with living artists; they have families to feed and count on you to make sales. If art is a product, you’re not an art dealer. I was in a well healed tourist town once looking at opportunities to open a gallery and talked to two local art dealers. Both talked only about how much product they moved (art), not about the artist who created the works and promoting their career, needless to say I marked the town off as not art friendly.

5. Patience and love of human interaction are a must. If the thought of having someone ask if you are the artist who created the works in your gallery is unfathomable, then don’t open a gallery. Not all people have the same level of sophistication when it comes to what they are looking at, and it’s your responsibility to treat all clients the same, even if at the end of the summer season you have started a list of “the stupidest things I heard over my summer vacation.” No one is perfect.

6. Finally, something you would never guess crucial to being successful in the art world and wasn’t a factor when I opened my gallery, is having computer skills. If you feel you're old school and having a gallery is only about hanging art on the walls, you’re in trouble from the get go. I would recommend a different profession. Don’t open an art gallery, you will fail. Remember this is a business, and you must support your business with the latest in technology, even if your own skills are limited. Yes, there are still plenty of the old guard art dealers with no email, website or cell phone, but they are not starting up, they are dying off; you will read about their demise most likely on your iPad.

Bottom line, love what you do, and do what you love, but make sure you can add numbers, sell, have a good back, have a nice smile when someone enters the room, and understand that a URL is not just your gallery name but one of the keys to your success…

Mark Sublette

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tips on how to sell to your artwork before you purchase it

Tips on how to sell your artwork before you purchase it.

Santa Fe is known as the second largest art market in the country which means a lot of art changes hands.  One thing you may have not thought about as you leave the gallery with your newly acquired treasure is what will do you do if you ever decide to sell the piece?  Here are my tips on ways to dispose of artwork:

First of all not all artwork is the same. Many galleries sell what would be described as "designer art."  What this means is it may have been chosen more for the color, size or even the way it was framed rather than for being a collectible piece.  The difference can be like splitting hairs as by definition almost all artwork, whether it was purchased as a hedge against inflation or to go over the buffet,  was chosen in some aspect for how it would look in your home or office.  The difference is weather the art you just purchased will have a resale value.  If you had to get rid of the piece 1) could you? and 2) would you loose money or hopefully at least break even?

As a buyer you should be able to answer this question.  If you can’t then you may need to think a little harder about what it is you are purchasing.  Most good galleries can answer some basic questions like: where did the artists train, are they in museum collection, how long have they been painting, how much does the artist produce and do they sell, has any of their artwork gone to auction and if so how does it do?  Will you resell the piece for me in the future?

If the gallery owner or seller can’t answer the majority of these questions, you may need to rethink what your doing.  Again most established art galleries cannot only answer these questions and many more but will have handouts about the artist’s accomplishments.  

As a general rule the more museum collections and well known private collectors that have acquired pieces by the artist the better it bodes for your purchase.  Auction records that reflect current retail prices are a good indicator, though there are exceptions.  Sometimes pieces that  come up for auction are not the artists best work or could even have some condition issue which is why they are coming back up for resale.

An artist that has academic training is a good indicator of quality, but I personally have three artists with no formal training and they are absolutely gifted, they are also in museum collections.  Maynard Dixon, one of the most highly sought after artists of the West, had only 3 months of formal training yet now is looked at as one of the best painters of his generation

Knowing whether a gallery will resell pieces you have purchased is a good thing to know from the beginning.  Many won’t as they feel their responsibility is to sell the artist's work and not resell works they have sold in the past.  Unless the artist’s work has gone up substantially since you purchased, the piece you may purchasing will loose money.  It’s important when you purchase art, unless you have some special gift in the field, that you buy what you like and not for an investment.  It’s true many artists work do go up. I watched a yellow Marilyn Monroe sell at Christies auction house in 2007 for 28 million that was purchased by the original owner in 1962 fro $250 dollars.  This is about as good a return as any thing possible but it still took buying the right artist, the right piece and hanging onto it for 45 years.  If this had been sold in 1966 he may have lost money.

One of the most interesting aspects about what’s happening in the art world today has been the Internet.  This is a great educational resource to use before you ever step into a gallery.  For instance Santa Fe's Canyon Road Arts book  has a companion website The site has all the galleries and their websites on Canyon Road in Santa Fe listed.  A quick visit to some of the galleries online can tell you a lot about what you can expect before you ever walk through the front door.  The better the site and the more information and content the more likely for a good experience.

When it comes to selling your artwork on the web there are many outlets  which can allow you to sell directly to other art collectors or interested parties.  Ebay of course is the longest standing one, but others include, and ArtUFind.  The last site ArtUFind is very compelling because it has been tailored for the art market, yet keeps prices low to sell.  Artwork listing for a single Classified starts at $5/month and for a paid membership its $15month. The site charges no commissions to sell the artwork just monthly fees that can be cancelled at anytime.  It’s a great source for galleries as well with 5000 current gallery listings, and 800 museums all on the homepage.  There is no charge to use the site, its free to join and the directory listings of museums and galleries is the most compressive and up to date on the web today.  Collectors benefit to by having alerts sent to them for artists they are actively seeking

© Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Image courtesy Christies Auction House