Sunday, October 3, 2010

ART DEALERS - The Good, the Bad, and the Rare.

"Lipstick & Rhinestones"
©JLicsko oil on canvas 12"x9"

Part 1:   In this post, and the next, I will share with you a few observations and tips culled from nearly forty years experience dealing with dealers. I have worked with a large number of galleries that have represented my work, my husbands work, or both. A few of these relationships have been exceptionally beneficial and enjoyable. 

My definition of an art dealer for the purpose of this writing is an artist's representative, either an independent person with no public viewing space, or a gallery owner who is the active commander of a gallery that exists to sell art to the public.

An art dealer has his feet in two buckets. He must be able to work with strong artistic personalities, speak their language, know where they are coming from, and understand their psychology. Equally important, he must be able to win the trust of collectors. Ideally charismatic, a dealer must be a strong sales force to be effective. It is rare to be fluent in both these worlds, and then add to that, to possess the head for responsible, intelligent, and creative business.

Most dealers own or manage an art gallery in a good location where walk-in traffic is essential. This gallery becomes the headquarters for exhibitions, openings, and day to day sales. This dealer must be proficient at developing a following of collectors, the less glamorous job of maintaining a physical retail space, managing both artists, and a sales staff made up of quirky individuals ranging from those with a seriously admirable arts background, to those who would be equally comfortable selling refrigerators.

I will share with you examples of polar opposites of independent art dealers. The first looks very much like a traveling sales man who will literally knock on doors. He will use one sale to direct him to the next. "Mrs. Jones down the road just bought a piece from you, she thought you might want to see the others I have in the car". (I'm serious). At the other end, is a sophisticated individual, usually with a good arts education, maybe some family connections, perhaps a sexy foreign accent, and the equivalent of a plush condo in New York or Palm Desert. This dealer often has worked out how to live well surrounded by extravagant art. Working at home, with a lower overhead, he is able to write off major portions of his home and elegant lifestyle as business costs.

If your are very lucky, as we once were, you may find the rarest of all, the art dealer who loves art and artists so much that he buys what he loves for his gallery. He sees his role as the conduit. He delights in being able to nurture and support his artists. His personality will have a strong influence on the art exhibited both because his personal taste permeates the gallery, and his choices may effect the artist's work. He will bring out the best in all his artists. If you find one, treat him very very well.

Next post: Part 2