Monday, March 01, 2010

The Pusher Paradox (and a posting notice)

#class is up and running well (now that Mother Nature has settled down a bit). Some very lively discussions have been taking place and I'm personally learning quite a bit about a range of things (like off track betting, the impossibility of managing two long-hair dachshunds at once, and a few things I didn't know about the art industry as well). #class was selected as an artforum.com Critics' Pick, by the way. Eva Diaz's brilliant contextualization appears here.

#class continues this week (with a truly packed schedule) but I'm gonna miss some of it, I'm afraid, as I'll be attempting to teleport myself between two other events, the PULSE New York art fair and INDEPENDENT. We are very excited about our presentations in both locations and hope you'll stop by to see us!

In addition, should you be at that other fair :-) taking place in New York this week on Friday, March 5th, I'll be participating there in a discussion titled "From Outside In: The Socioeconomics of Contemporary Art," moderated by Sarah Douglas and including Marion Maneker (Art Market Monitor), Sergey Skaterschikov (Skate’s Art Market Research), Sarah Thornton (author, Seven Days in the Art World, [W.W. Norton, 2008]), and Judd Tully (Editor at Large, Art + Auction). It takes place 4:00 - 5:00 PM at the The Armory Show, Open Forum Lounge, Pier 92.

Because I'll still try and stop in for as many of the #class events as I can, though, something has to give and so I suspect posting here will be very light until next week.

Having said that, though, I'm gonna whip up a little tough love souffle today.

In thinking through a comment an artist made at #class (that she didn't feel her dealer was doing enough to sell her art...during the "Great Recession" no less), it clicked for me that there is frequently a central paradox to how many artists view what it is they expect from their commercial galleries. I'll be blunt, this usually occurs at points when those artists don't have a waiting list (and to be honest, the overall market being large but still limited, many of them never will, so unless we discuss this openly, their resentments will likely continue).

I've had probably 9 dozen such conversations with artists represented by other galleries over the years and it usually goes like, "I don't understand why they can't sell my work. I mean, did they call back that collector who signed my book and wrote "nice paintings" on Thursday? I sent them three names of collectors I met at a party last year...and I know they sent them invites, but why haven't they followed up yet?"

I'm not kidding. The conversations are usually that frantic and desperate sounding. It would seem so obvious as to not need mentioning, but apparently it isn't so I'll attempt to make one point perfectly clear: Dealers are as motivated as anyone in the world to sell the work they invest quite a bit of cash in presenting...it's not as if they're ambivalent about making back the money they've invested in an exhibition or at a fair or even in their inventory. Believe me.


To me, a dealer provides a service for their collecting clients, giving them the information they want (even when they don't yet know they want it), and facilitating the process by which they learn about an artist's work and come to truly appreciate it. They're not school yard drug pushers. They aren't doing their artist clients any favors by badgering someone into buying something they haven't learned enough about or sincerely decided they must have. If a collector gets a piece home (having been razzle-dazzled into writing a check) and then rethinks that purchase, the best part of placing a work (having it prominently displayed and bragged about and hopefully leading to other sales or opportunities for that artist) will not happen.

But it's not the expectation by artists that their dealers should be able to make reluctant collectors buy work anyway (and I'm sorry, but the idea that an artist wants that is just gross to me) that forms the paradox. It's that these same artists, once a sell is finally closed, will complain about the terms it took to do so. Their arguments go, more or less, "I can't stand collectors who demand 20% discounts. Don't they know how poor I am? If they want the work they should pay full price. And they should pay right away. I'm tired of collectors dicking artists around like this. Pay up or forget it." (That's virtually verbatim to a real, recent conversation, by the way).

The paradox lies in that third sentence : "If they want the work...."

If they want the work, the dealer doesn't have to work hard at all to sell it, my dears. You cannot have it both ways, expecting a dealer to move heaven and earth to generate a sale and then demand that they only sell to someone who'll agree to your ideal terms. (What a dealer may need to do to close a deal, especially in this current economic climate, would make an experienced battlefield surgeon squeamish.)

In short, the sentiment seems to completely shift at the point that the dealer tells the artist someone wants to buy the work. Up until that point it's all "You're not working hard enough...call more people...call them back...follow every lead...turn over every stone...here's someone you haven't called yet...why do I need to find these people? Isn't that YOUR job?" After that point, when the dealer has finally managed to pull a sale out of the thin recessionary air, it's all "What do you mean they want a discount? I spent three months slaving over that piece. They're rich, I'm poor, this is obscene. They're 'thinking about it???' Do they want it or not? Tell them to make up their minds."

It actually IS my job to create a market (and to be very, very clear, these are not conversations I've had with artists we represent...but rather with other galleries' artists who asked for my advice...maybe my artists complain to their other dealer friends, I don't know), but in having the opportunity to think it through at #class, it occurred to me that this paradox should be at least discussed openly. If you expect your dealer to exhaust every option in their quest to turn up those collectors who want your work and do what it takes to make those sales happen, you're gonna have to accept the reality of what that means some times.

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29 Comments:

Anonymous Charles Browning said...

I'll agree with everything you posted Ed. It seems with many artists, once they have a gallery, tend to think that means their work will be broadly desired. It's an amazingly small number of people who can afford art AND who actually want to collect. Artists need to realize that there is not an automatic market for their work.

That having been said, I do sometimes feel the artists frustration at the wealthy collector (much wealthier than artist or gallerist) demanding some grotesque discount, or being offered it by the gallery to attract future sales. But as you point out, the market dictates the terms, and the power is with the money. And since the discount is near universal, that just has to be factored into the pricing.

3/01/2010 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger JM said...

Art dealers should collectively expand the art market. One way to do this would be to conduct a macro study of society’s art buying practices. We should answer the question: why do people NOT buy art? After looking at the demographics of non-buyers, and understanding why, perhaps strategies can be developed; and new markets can be tapped.

3/01/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

I assume discounts are factored into the pricing, as they are frequently offered by dealers (without the collector necessarily asking), and consequently I tend to believe the "list price" is a bit of a fudge, just like the list prices of cars and TVs. But as a collector of modest means, I have always taken the position that if I had to choose between a discount and a longer installment plan, I'll take the latter, because if I had to charge the full amount on my credit card I could lose the benefit of the discount thanks to finance charges.

And I wish someone would tell these artists that not everybody who wants to collect art is rich!!!!!!!! Some of us are people of modest means for whom $2000 is a lot of money. (And no, I'm not going to post my tax returns here.) Maybe these artists should start to recognize that we have expenses too, and it could be a stretch on our budget to pay $500 a month. Do these artists want to close all possible sales of their works except to millionaires? Sheesh.

3/01/2010 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

Being at the lower end of the collector wealth-spectrum, sometimes a discount is the difference between impossible and being able to stretch to acquire. (Meaning not all of us are rolling in dough, and any discount may be quite meaningful to us. Well at least me!)

Having said that, the only thing I can think of that has near art levels of emotional investment, is the buying and selling of homes. The comments that Ed attributed to artists are similar reactions to someone who is trying to sell their house, especially now during the recession.

An agent told me when I was selling my house and didn't want to do something she wanted me to was "It's best to think you no longer own the house, it's my job to find who does and convince him or her of it." I realized she was right, and then was able to become much more dispassionate about the whole process. If you substituted "art" for "house" in the above ... I wonder if this would apply?

Great topic, Ed.

3/01/2010 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Do you mean you're not one of those dealers on the streets of Chelsea after midnight wearing a trench coat and fedora.

psssst..kid, you looking for art?

3/01/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Being at the lower end of the collector wealth-spectrum, sometimes a discount is the difference between impossible and being able to stretch to acquire.

Love you to death, Brent...you know I do...and I totally understand (the difference lost to the gallery in a discount can hurt as well), but the truth is that if a dealer has two collectors wanting a work and one demands a discount and the other doesn't, they're not going to insist that the artist let them sell to the one who demands a discount unless there are really good reasons to do so.

Most of the time (in the scenario where an artist feels the need to, let's call it, "encourage" a dealer to make a sale happen) there simply isn't another collector.

Also, the notion has been raised that dealers offer discounts without them being demanded...this reveals a lack of understanding about the long-term relationships between dealers and collectors. No one gets a discount the first time without asking for it...and many times what a good collector who continually supports the gallery gets as a discount is established long before this sale of yours...if you're unclear about that, please do ask your dealer...again, discounts hurt them too!

As Larry rightly notes as well, not all collectors are Bill Gates either...discounts can make the difference for whether they can acquire a work or not.... Each case is different.

3/01/2010 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Ed writes: Also, the notion has been raised that dealers offer discounts without them being demanded... No one gets a discount the first time without asking for it.

It has happened to me. And then again, sometimes it has not. I have asked specifically for a discount only once, and then to "test the waters" with a dealer I had bought from already. Cash flow over time matters much more to me.

3/01/2010 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

"Love you to death, Brent...you know I do...and I totally understand (the difference lost to the gallery in a discount can hurt as well), but the truth is that if a dealer has two collectors wanting a work and one demands a discount and the other doesn't, they're not going to insist that the artist let them sell to the one who demands a discount unless there are really good reasons to do so."

Yup ... I forgot to add "... if the work is in higher demand, then discounts are out the window regardless of any one collectors particular situation" though it sounded like you had made that point abundantly clear in your original post.

I was just pointing out that many people buying art are NOT millionaires, just lovers of Art.

Keep up the tough love, Ed! ;-)

3/01/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian C. said...

So does the old bromide, 80% of all art sucks (attributed to Jerry Saltz, among others) only apply to artists? Why not dealers? I think that more than 80% of anything could be improved a lot. Sorry for an over-generalized reply, but to me, the crtique about dealers not selling effectively is an old gripe made more acute in this crappy economy. By the way, I wonder how many artists have a waiting list and what are the time spans for these kinda lists.

3/01/2010 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To what Larry 12:04pm said:

There are plenty of us artists out here, who fully understand the things you refer to. We're agreeable to payment plans, layaways, discounts, what have you... AND...Ed, we trust our dealers and more often than not are in agreement with their recommendations for what it will take to make the sale. I hope the comments going forward don't take a turn toward a bitch and moan session about artists unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding of the situation and all its subtle nuances.

Believe it or not, there have been a couple (2) of times when potential young buyers expressed interest in my work to my dealer (of many years), but confessed to not being able to afford the piecce. My dealer felt the situations were totally honest and sincere, asked me "what do you think?". Both times, I said to work it out so they could acquire the work. Now, this is not the norm at all - but I was happy the way this worked out. One of the two couples became gallery regulars, and two years later purchased another piece of mine at full price. They told me they would never forget my kind gesture which made their first purchase possible.

3/01/2010 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

So does the old bromide, 80% of all art sucks (attributed to Jerry Saltz, among others) only apply to artists? Why not dealers?

Of course dealers run the spectrum (from Leo Castelli at one end to, well, lots of others at the other end). Even Leo Castelli would have likely agreed, I imagine, for those artists he just couldn't sell (and he had some), though, that if he did work hard and eventually place their work, it would rub him the wrong way to then have those artists bellyache about the terms being less than perfect.

The thing about dealers who don't sell is, though, the market makes short work of them pretty quickly unless they're independently wealthy.

3/01/2010 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Lisa S. said...

We always tell our artists that it usually takes a good three solo shows and art fair exposure to build a market. It does not happen overnight. Price points need to start out reasonable as well. I cannot tell you how many times artists with no exhibition history have said that because a painting of similar size in Chelsea is going for $6000 theirs should as well. The goal is to price it fairly, place the work then up the prices. Not double the price as so many dealers did in the boom. This can destroy careers. If discounts are built into the price to begin with then artists tend to be cool with this practice. We do not give discounts unless we are asked and if we are we usually do extend one. The goal is to keep them coming back and collect in depth.

3/01/2010 06:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Ed and Lisa S: three solo shows? Really? How many years should an artist stay with a gallery without making a sale? I have been with mine for four years, 2 project room shows, 2 gallery group shows, no sales except a few drawings to MY friends. This gallery is old, and one of the more respected venues in the area. I am the youngest male artist by twenty years. I often get the impression that the dealer actually IS lazy and not motived with regards to the few younger artists being carried. Also, this dealer happens to be reclusive, never travels, refuses to be in art fairs, doesn't even frequent the local art events, THEN has the audacity to complain to ME about the current state of the gallery. WTF? To be clear, this is not yet a resale gallery, though work from the glory days does return on occasion. Do I need a younger dealer or what? And if so, will it reflect poorly on my chances of getting new representation - the fact that I didn't make it through the last gallery's vetting period?

3/01/2010 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I often get the impression that the dealer actually IS lazy and not motived with regards to the few younger artists being carried.

It depends on your work, Anonymous. If you're creating difficult or challenging work, four years might not be that long. If your work is more accessible, then perhaps you do need to move.

Actually, having said that, everything in your statement tells me that is the wrong gallery for you. I am not saying that you're right or that I think the dealer is really lazy (or whether it just feels that way to you), but you seem to have precious little respect for that dealer, so I can't imagine why you're still there.

3/01/2010 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ask yourself this Anonymous 10:22pm:

Does this particular dealer respect you and your concerns, as well? If not, move on.

3/02/2010 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/02/2010 03:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous of the First

You sent in a further explanation of your situation (I saw it in email) but blogger some how ate it. ... It won't let me publish it... Very sorry about that ... Can u try again?

3/02/2010 03:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon of the 1st
Thank you two times Ed. I probably said too much in that second post. Also, it was not as relevant to the conversation.

3/02/2010 04:49:00 AM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Ed: I have a left of field question that I have been considering. Time to get some professional advice and/or tough love.

In what way can an artist who doesn't necessarily want to show with a gallery (not out of disrespect, but for reasons of context)go about working with a gallery? Is it possible/desirable for a dealer to work with an artist who would rather to work outside the gallery context? Say, public art; private commissions; site-specific stuff; pop-up exhibitions; publishing or prints; whatever else I'm not thinking of.

I guess I'm flipping the question (and some others that have been raised here over the past week) back to you, that of: what kind of expanded role can a gallerist take to create new opportunities and responsibilities that are more flexible and responsive to the changing context of the art world? (of course I ask this in light of the work you are doing with #class!)

Does it diminish the title of 'gallerist' or 'dealer' if the role is expanded to more of an agent or producer for things OTHER than the obligatory two-three week solo show in the white cube which sits empty for 85% of the time?

...Or perhaps this is the behind-the-scenes work that you are ALREADY doing and I am a idiot.

Thanks,
Sean

3/02/2010 05:10:00 AM  
Blogger Jayne said...

Sean,

This is already starting to happen, to an extent, and I think 5 years from now this will be much more common. Artists are working in increasingly multidisciplinary ways and I'm of the opinion that art practice in whatever form shouldn't be forced to fit into the confines of traditional gallery practice.

I think we'll see many more discussions, performances, etc. which are as important to many artists as the output that would be part of their traditional gallery show. Galleries will need to respond to these changes and move forward in order to keep up with what is happening with artists.

I for one am so excited to see this happen more.

3/02/2010 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I second Jayne's enthusiasm for nontraditional uses of the commercial gallery. Many of the shows we've presented, from Thomas Lendvai's installations that make the gallery virtually inaccessible, to Yevgeniy Fik's "Adopt Lenin" installation where everything was given away freely, to Christopher Ho's installation in which only a hidden naked sculpture lurked in the gallery (well, it seemed to be the only thing), what convinced me to present each of these ideas was how well thought out the artist's plans were, how contagious their excitement was, and how much I wanted to see that idea realized.

In other words, dealers WILL follow their artists...so lead the way.

3/02/2010 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

yeah, I too was wondering why more art dealers don't exploit the "agent" role presented by the 1% Public art programs that are around for architectural development.
1% of architectural development would be a nice market segment to have a part of as another revenue stream, all the while developing the artistic preference of the gallerist's choice. Being able to call from a 'stable" of artists seems ideal to pinpoint proposals for these types of programs.

"hors gallery" is a very wide horizon and not necessarily without economic compensation

3/02/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Thanks. Your comments are encouraging. I think that a more dynamic interaction could only generate excitement and interesting work.

I look forward to pushing these ideas around (if and when) I ever enter to talks with an interested dealer... LOL!

3/02/2010 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

These artists reactions sound very vain. I understand an artist not wanting to get abused by a market. To frequently check what they sell for what price and observe their buyers' behaviors (if buyers resell 2 years later in auctions at high profit). But to wine after your dealer like he's a car salesman?? Are some artists too superfluous to find success? Or is it ideal to be this superfluous when you aim for success in the art market?


Cedric C

3/02/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger DarthFan said...

artists have to be self organizing to some extent - if galleries work off the reccomendations of their artists, as many do (you have stated this as well, I believe) then obviously there is some kind of social glue. tHis favors the more social artists though - and I do think it is possible to be a social misfit and still get noticed - you just need one good friend to help you out - Malcom Gladwell calls these people connectors or some shit right? Well the art fair model might be the panacea for all this - class being a kind of happening and art fairs being another - I see a conflation (conflation!) of this as sort of a "meeting of the tribes" - and it is the duty of the taste makers and gate keepers to see it all - put on your unitard, the luge is lubed.

The fairs, from Armory to Verge and so on may not have "intense personal necessity"but at least it will be good quality, serious, engaged and contemplative work suitable for the collector of any means. Step right up!

SO yeah, artists, get thee to a fair, bring your pitch, you may need to shower afterwards, but thats what sex is all about! Collectors actually like the soft sell right? I mean if you believe in your work, you should be able to sell it, and if you target your efforts, it wont mess with your sunday studio happy fun paint time hour?

3/04/2010 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous nonintendo said...

What about if you're an outcast and painting is your only thing?

3/08/2010 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

That is a good question nonintendo or are you being facetious? I don't have any answers. Gallerists don't have time to track you down unless you are selling or marketable or recommended. Misfits can be marketable, but it is often stated with a dry chuckle that dead misfits are easier to deal with. I saw some Ramirez at the fairs - he's like pure fucking gold, obsessive is just charming, and he used the blue lines in his composition paper as part of the composition. How cool is that? Did he ever try to fly the cookoo's nest? No, he just sat and drew. And they fed him. I guess you could commit yourself but not if you aren't actually crazy. I'm not sure how that works. Frankly I'd rather starve on the street than feed the bees.

When I was in school the common wisdom was that you should find a gallery that "fit" your work. This is an interesting concept in theory. One problem is galleries don't fill their stables with all the same kinds of artists - you can't have two red m&m's in a bag, right? And if an artist calls a curator a cunt in a fit of alcoholic tourettes, that's just not the same as seeing bats on your way to vegas. Misfit is a large category. If a gallerist can be a sexist prig and still have one of the largest booths at the art fair, you know at some level none of this matters, there is no absolute ethical or behavioral model, that's not what the art world is about. On the other hand it does seem that even that idea is an illusion. Money talks. Money rehabilitates. You can throw dollars in the air and somenobody is going to come along and throw more dollars in the air. It's contagious. Entertain us. What were we just talking about I forget. Money?

Reading this I kind of want to delete it, but there is another problem I think, in that this sense that the audience is so blinkered that they can't see the forest for the trees, and neither can the artists - its like congressional gridlock and we end up with more of the same, even though there is nothing you could actually point to and say, that is complete shit. Walk a mile in my shoes, maybe one size fits all.

3/09/2010 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Oh zipthwung,

That is pure poetry!
love it.

When the world comes crashing down I may volunteer to be your wingman.

3/09/2010 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous nonintendo said...

Will I need an agent to get a dealer? And will I need an agent to get an agent?

3/09/2010 11:14:00 PM  

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