Egalitarian Issues in Art Buying
[Bekman had] two clear goals: to help emerging artists become more appreciated, and to encourage a broader swath of people to feel comfortable buying art.The fact that Jen's goal of encouraging "a broader swath of people to feel comfortable buying art" is apparently bearing fruit makes the other article, on the anxiety of buying art, a rather odd companion piece, but it's worth a read all the same. Titled "The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety," it outlines the reasons people who clearly have the money and wall space don't take the plunge and make the purchase:
To further those aims, she initiated several online projects, including Hey, Hot Shot! (heyhotshot.com), a regular competition for emerging photographers that offers winners representation by the gallery; and personism.com, a blog about photography, design and current events.
In September Ms. Bekman introduced another Web site, 20x200.com, which sells limited-edition high-quality prints of photographs and fine art for as little as $20. Almost at once, the site was in the black and gaining attention.
Five and a half months later, it counts among its customers art collectors from around the world, dozens of magazine writers and editors, a MoMA executive and many artists, including well-established ones like Brian Ulrich and Alec Soth.
In May the Griffin Museum of Photography, in Winchester, Mass., will honor her with its Rising Star award, given, the museum says, to an emerging force that the photographic community is watching with great enthusiasm.
Art paralysis: It is a widespread and often crippling malady, striking everyone from the new college grad in his or her first apartment to the super-rich banker, lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. How many are affected is not known, perhaps because the victims are often too embarrassed to come forth. Who wants to admit that "I’ve had these posters since college, I know that as one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists I should get some real art, but I don’t know what that means"? Or that "It’s not that I’m trying to make a minimalist statement with these empty white walls, I just don’t know what to buy"? Or "I walk into those snooty galleries in Chelsea and feel like I just don’t belong"?Ouch.
The article goes on to detail a litany of complaints about buying from galleries, like no prices available, too many galleries to know where to start, intimidating staff, the awkwardness of backing out of a purchase after the gallery has poured on the hospitality, etc. etc.
There are other causes of art anxiety discussed as well, including:
- there are those worried about making an unfashionable choice
- those obsessed with investment value
- those who return to a gallery for months, even years, never buying a thing. (Some of these suffer from a form of art paralysis that Stephen Nordlinger, the president of the Foundry Gallery in Washington, calls red dot syndrome — a desperate longing only for those pieces bearing the red dots that show they’ve been sold.)
- there are the people whose reasons make no sense at all, at least to those doing the selling.
I'm gonna try Mr. Higgins' patience a bit here, I'm afraid, because here's the thing: Mr. Higgins is projecting his own insecurities onto the actions of the gallery staff and, more than that, he's being a bit disingenuous IMO about why many of the people of his socioeconomic stature feel the need to buy art in the first place. Portfolio managers and others who might mingle with "One of the American Top 10 Orthodontists" feel social pressure to announce their superior tastes to their peers. As such, I'm not sure why the "intimidating" galleries are considered the culprits here.
Joseph Higgins, a 43-year-old portfolio manager in New York with a $900,000 mini-loft in west SoHo and a house in the suburbs, is one of the rare sufferers who will speak openly about his art paralysis. He blames it on galleries, and overcame it, he said, by breaking free of their grasp.
“You’re going into an intimidating space and having a curator or a gallery owner ask you ‘Do you like this style or this art’ when you have no idea what the price tag is,” he said. “It’s hard to say, I’m browsing, after someone spends time with you in a gallery and tells you ‘I’ll put it under a light for you’ and sets you up in a little room and brings you a cup of coffee.”
Mr. Higgins started out by using paintingsdirect.com, a Web site that sells the work of hundreds of artists from around the world in categories ranging from landscape to “fantasy.” He has bought 14 paintings there and has little patience with those who would sneer at such a site. New York may be a world capital of modern and contemporary art, he said, but he finds the same “edginess” online that he does in the galleries of Chelsea, at much lower prices.
But let me back up and discuss the first thing: projecting of insecurities onto the actions of the gallery staff. First and foremost, it's their job to create an atmosphere in which you can quietly contemplate a piece you'd like to consider. The quiet room, the coffee, the extra lighting...none of these things obligate you. If you can't accept these niceties and still leave the gallery without a purchase it's not the gallery's fault. Many galleries are actually just happy to discuss the work with a sincerely interested collector. Each such conversation helps the gallery staff member practice selling the work, so in one sense you're doing them a favor. I don't advocate wasting their time on work you're not interested in, but most galleries appreciate that making decisions on art can take time. Enjoy their hospitality, thank them for their time, say you're going to think about it, and leave. Seriously. It's that simple.
But back to the idea that spawned my title. There's something rather incongruous about the notion that those with new money want both the comfort of making purchases they might find in a local department store and the societal prestige of having good taste in fine art. I totally understand why they want the comfort (and many a good gallery is deft at making each individual feel personally comfortable in their space), but to get as defensive about the "sneering" galleries as Mr. Higgins seems to, when the entire point for many people who find themselves in need of the social prestige good art lends them is to announce to their Masters-of-the-Universe peers that they are their equals in the elite playgrounds, as much as in the boardrooms (in other words, that they are not common folk), well, it makes me want to recommend they just suck it up. If you're gonna talk the talk, then walk the walk.
OK, so I should give Mr. Higgins a break here. I'm unfairly using him as my example. I don't know why he buys art. Perhaps it's because he really loves it and he's right to avoid situations that might make him love it less. But for those in the category of "one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists [who] should get some real art," well, since their motives are suspect to me anyway, I don't have much patience for their moaning about the atmosphere of galleries.