Sunday, September 16, 2007

Art Of The Deal, Deal Of The Art

I ran into a Melbourne-based art dealer I knew at a party hosted by a law firm in Adelaide. He was there because, like me, he knew the principal of the law firm, who is a collector of my work. The Melbourne dealer introduced me to another, local dealer, who knew who I was. The dealers asked which galleries represented my work and were perplexed when I told them none. When I tried to explain that I worked outside the conventional gallery system, using the web, their eyes glazed over with confusion and incomprehension. "Do you still exhibit?", they asked, "Don't you think it's important to exhibit?" Of course, I said. Just look at my CV.
Both knew a lot about my work and me but neither could explain why. They didn't make any connection between all the information they had and the methods I used outside conventional media to disseminate it. They kept asking why I was in Adelaide: I told them, more than once, that I'd come to visit several collectors of my work. The notion seemed almost arcane to them.
The next day, when I visited a commercial gallery with two other of my collectors, I saw a different art dealer. He asked how long I was staying in Adelaide. When I told him I had arrived last night and was leaving in a few hours, he muttered something about me "flitting around".
So many gallerists I know from well-established commercial firms with reputations ranging from recognisable to renowned cannot grasp the simple idea that I travel a lot to take care of what is, after all, my business.
I care for my collectors as I would for close friends. I gave a small, acrylic painting as an 'office-warming' gift to the principal of the law firm, who was thrilled with it. At the home of other Adelaide collectors, I was shown how my work had been hung within their large collection. They also had a stack of books, magazines, and catalogues containing my work, which they asked me to sign: I added personal notes to them and referred to the relevant artworks of mine in their collection.
With each of the collectors I visit, I talk about my ideas for future works and plans for exhibitions. They buy my work because they love it – it's obvious and I am deeply touched by it – but I also recognise that it's an investment, not only in an individual artwork but also in my long-term career. I email collectors whenever I know a work of mine has become available on the secondary market and I show them work before its exhibited. I take calls in the early hours of the morning from collectors wanting to secure work a week or more before one of my exhibitions opens.
I was gobsmacked by how little the art dealers I met really understood – or cared about – the needs of their clients. Surely, they should be doing everything I've described here, and more!, not only for their own benefit but for their artists. Instead, they note my success – and the evidence of it in my ubqiuity – but don't pause to analyse it. They're simply bemused by it.
Maybe they're content with where they are right now, although I am damn sure their artists aren't. I guess they're happy to be moderately successful and to continue to adhere to a traditional, unimaginative and untaxing methodology, selling the same work by the same artists to the same people in the same way.
The trouble is, many collectors are as frustrated as artists in their dealings with galleries. Many prefer not to have to deal with galleries at all. After all, as too many gallerists have forgotten, the collectors are there for the art.


drips of paint said...

I am bemused too but also interested in the way you do it ... I also know a painter here who mostly sell her own works and visit collectors all the time...

I would do it if only I am more socialably adapt .... good for you

Spunk said...

I am so happy to see an artist take their own success into their own hands! You are a great inspiration to others, and I'd like to see you write more about your methods.

You are blessed to have the talent you have, and the smart business mind to go with it.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, which help the rest of us figure out this whole selling art thing!

Ramone said...

As a writer reclaiming her career ater a major creative crisis I find so much value in reading about the experiences, observations and musings of an artist so bravely articulate about her life. I'm glad this blog is part of your process because it is really helping me. Thank you

Donna Heart said...

I thought the notion of the 'gatekeeper' was extinct, but i see from your post that it is alive and well! They fear losing the power to determine what should and should not be seen as art in the marketplace. It's not rocket science though is it - you have a passion. Your passion is your life and your business. It is your bread and butter, so naturally you want to be the CEO and drive the direction of your business - I'm just surprised others aren't doing the same...Kudos to you
x donna