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Notes from the runaround

Post #1366 • June 17, 2009, 2:57 PM • 132 Comments

Yesterday I built an eleven-foot-long, carpeted handicap ramp for the dog, a 16-year-old lab mix who can now get up and down the outside stairs much easier, thank you. This morning I looked at a studio in Hyde Park, in a buildout of a train construction facility from the early 20th Century. It has 22-foot ceilings, great light, great neighbors, and good proximity to the house. Tonight I attend the first night of Arduino Bootcamp at Willoughby & Baltic. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it but every other study of technology I've ever made has paid off somehow. Allow me to direct your attention to some items of note elsewhere:

Modern Kicks has picked up again lately to great rejoicing (on my part, anyway).

Greg Cook has penned a brief history of Providence lowbrow and how Boston missed the boat. (Images here.)

Edward Winkleman deserves props for his forthcoming book.

Joanne Mattera gets in the first take on Jackie Battenfield's career guide.

Bunny the Redoubtable has a new post up.




June 17, 2009, 4:42 PM

No, I won't comment. I will rise above temptation and move on. I have plenty of reading up to do on Japanese ceramics anyway. You're welcome, Franklin.



June 17, 2009, 7:17 PM

Winkleman puts forth an interesting general proposition - now is a good time to start a new gallery. I'd say there hasn't been a better time since the 50s. And it will just get better as more and more of the current gallery scene wilts under the economic pressure that is unfolding.

I don't think creating "household names" in 3-5 years is going to be the most important part of the best ones, though. But then, I'm not putting up any capital to start one up.



June 18, 2009, 9:16 PM

Be bewy, bewy quiet. I'm hunting a gorgeous Mashiko plate and a delightful dachibin (ceramic sake hip flask) from Okinawa. I'm afraid the, um, commercial gallery biz will have to wait...



June 19, 2009, 8:03 AM

John, he may well be right about that. I have no intention of starting an art gallery, but I plan to read the book just for the sake of knowing a little more about the other side of the equation. Too, if this is a good time to start a gallery, it's a good time to seek out a newly started gallery.

Jack, send pictures if you bag it.



June 19, 2009, 9:32 AM

Yes, put photos up.

Mashiko is Hamada's home area and they carry on the tradition he carried on very seriously there, and the relatively modern wares mde there are sometimes as elegant as things can get, and often not at all expensive. It is made to order for your tastes & pocketbook, Jack.



June 19, 2009, 10:01 AM

It's not just a value-for-money or budget issue, OP, though those are very legitimate concerns. I'm tired of wasting time on overrated, overpriced and ultimately unsatisfying work, which all too frequently amounts to glorified fraud (unintentional or not). As I've said numerous times, I'm not in this for anyone or anything except my own personal enjoyment. It must work for me; otherwise, don't bother me.

Depending on how things turn out, I'll try to post some pictures. I can tell you now, though, that something like the Okinawa sake hip flask, which was never meant as Art but is a wonderful piece of folk pottery, gives me far greater pleasure than infinitely more pretentious and outrageously expensive tripe presented as very high Art indeed.



June 19, 2009, 10:28 AM

By the way, for anyone interested, I highly recommend the book Modern Japanese Ceramics, appropriately subtitled Pathways of Innovation and Tradition, by Crueger. It's available online for under $20, and it's worth every penny several times over. It's full of gorgeous full-page color photos and excellent related text--a superb primer on the subject.



June 19, 2009, 3:47 PM

Again, while Winkleman is generically onto something, his aim at reproducing the big bucks household named artists successful galleries of the immediate past, may not be what the next generation of galleries will look like.

To my mind, diamond studded skulls and similar extravagant dollar wise work is running out of places to place it. So I see this new scene focused on very good (eye candy) work that is much less expensive than what "everyone" admires now. Say, $10,000 to $20,000 for a decent sized painting - other objects priced proportionately. The "collectors" W says need courting may be tapped out if not now, then soon, so that if they want to continue their hobby it must be done at a much more modest financial level, or they just may drop it.

So it may be that a whole different generation of collectors arises from the upper middle class or lower level wealthy, instead of the current emphasis on the super wealthy.

I'm sure many readers and participants on this blog would do quite well if they could sell everything they made at $10-20K, even if their share was only 40%.



June 19, 2009, 5:08 PM

John, for Franklin's sake, I'm not going to get into EW's proposed methodology. I have little interest in (and possibly less in common with) him, his approach and his target audience. I'm certainly not part of the latter.

It's not so much that I disagree with what you're saying, but I'm sure you realize that even the relatively reasonable price range you're contemplating would still be too high for a sizeable segment of the potential market, which does include people every bit as serious about art as that with far deeper pockets.

Given a decent eye and sufficient persistence and determination, it is perfectly possible to get very good work for relatively modest prices. Obviously, very good is one thing and very famous is another, but I'm assuming we're not talking about autograph collectors or people out to impress others or follow fashion.

Also, I think it helps to look outside the box. Prints, for instance, are an incredibly rich field where truly excellent work can still be had for practically a song--and no, I'm not talking about stuff churned out of Warhol's (or Hirst's) factory with his (presumed) signature on it. In other words, if a certain type of work is too expensive, find something else that isn't but is still satisfying. It's quite doable, unless one's fixated on collecting, say, monumental sculpture and nothing else will do.



June 19, 2009, 7:49 PM

Of course $10-20K is more than most would ever pay. But it would point to a different clientele, don't you think?

In any case, predicting the future is "easy" because it is not bound by any facts, yet that is exactly what I am trying to do. While I am confident that what we have now will collapse at some point, what, if anything, replaces it is pure speculation. I hope it is something like a "value market" in which prices are not outrageous and the good stuff has a significant place.

I read somewhere that Pollock never sold anything for more than $350 in his lifetime. $350 in 1950 is equivalent to about $3,000 today, according to the INFLATION CALCULATOR. Supposing he got double that, it's still just $6,000 today. Apparently, sky high sales figures were not necessary to sustain good art and good reputations. And presumably, those kind of conditions could return.



June 19, 2009, 8:57 PM

John, that Pollock story is an example of the sort of thing I was getting at. Of course it's not realistic to expect the typical reasonably-priced purchase to turn into a multimillion-dollar item later, but I'm not talking about buying art as an investment venture. Very good work can be quite affordable for people with fairly ordinary art budgets, if they have an eye, aren't fixated on "name" work, and put in the requisite time and effort.



June 19, 2009, 11:54 PM

John, this is not a contradiction of what you said, just an observation.

The inflation calculator is probably as accurate as it can be, but it is easy to forget the differences "size" makes. $350 then somehow seemed much more than $3000 now, just as $3000 then was a huge sum, at least from the bottom of the scale where I was. I lived in NY back then on really practically nothing. You could buy actual substantial things - coffee, a candy bar - for nickels and dimes. I could get a full breakfast up the street for 90 cents. My huge studio room in the Village was $110, which was about what I earned before deductions working at a refinery. When we said we were broke we meant we could turn our pockets out.

When we heard Poindexter had raised David Smith's prices to $1500 we sneered that he would never sell another piece of sculpture. I paid $12,000 for a small house in the country a few years later. It was not just less, it was different.

The whole atmosphere was different for those guys. Money was so much more valuable somehow because no one had any. If someone sold a painting it was cause for a party (BYOB of course).

Frankly, I wish the damn market would get sensible. I would be happy to get a thousand or two for a painting if I could sell them regularly, but the market doesn't like that, or didn't before the recession. Art should be sold like furniture, at least until it gets into the auctions and starts getting bid up.



June 20, 2009, 7:45 AM

Art should be sold like furniture

Gene Bavinger, one of the two most influential art teachers I had in the 60s, chose to remain in Oklahoma because he was able to do just that, and did not think he could if he moved to NYC.

He sold everything he could paint for $50 or more, depending on size. Every picture was strip framed with stained lattice (2 cents a foot in those days) and ready to hang. He sold direct and he had stuff hanging in various regional galleries around the southwest. Some may have heard about his house (Bavinger House 1, Bavinger House 2, Bavinger House 3), designed by Bruce Goff, a faculty member in Oklahoma's School of Architecture. It featured a series of pods hung from a Fibonacci spiraled roof that sheltered a fish pond and orchid garden, among other things. His studio was a salvaged dome a short distance from the house at the headwaters of a long water feature that wound up emptying in a creek that ran below the house. He built it himself with the help of many students who came out for the work parties which included lots of food, drink, and revelry.

Though he sold his work like furniture, he was as serious an artist as there ever was and extremely disciplined. He taught three days a week but the other days he lived as an artist, and a real work horse of one at that. "Bavinger House 3" above includes a few shots of his pictures as well as many of the house. Yes indeed, the furniture sales approach can provide a very rich life.



June 20, 2009, 8:05 AM

Well, John, it sounds as if he had a much better time of it than he would have had in NYC, not least because he fashioned his life to suit himself instead of the system. Lord knows how many artists have wound up miserable and bitter from trying to swim upstream in a hostile or otherwise unsuitable environment.



June 20, 2009, 8:39 AM

Yes Jack, Bavinger was good at selling the regional market. His wife, Nancy, once complained to me "Everybody has a Bavinger but me". According to the Inflation Calculator, $50 in 1965 would be $325 today, very affordable. Though small (24" x 18") these were paintings, not prints. For $500 you could get a really big one (6' x 6') ... about $3,250 in today's money.



June 20, 2009, 8:57 AM

One final note. Gene Bavinger was born in the small town of Supulpa, Oklahoma and got his BFA from the University of Oklahoma. One year later, he joined the faculty at Oklahoma. Eventually he received an MFA from an alleged "degree mill" in Mexico, during a year he spent there while on sabbatical, to satisfy the rising credentialism that has gotten steadily worse and worse in the world of the American university.

He would be a perfect example of "inbreeding" for those who engage in credentialism, yet his work was thoroughly abstract and modern - not "Oklahoma" or "cowboy" in any sense. "Regional" does not fit it either.

He was fascinated by process and craft, though he shied away from realistic drawing skills. (He was the one who told me my portraits looked too much like the sitters.) He assumed the way things looked was their most important aspect and detested the trends that began pouring out of NYC in the 60s.

Interesting how many art faculty of today who are not "inbred" in the sense he was, are in practice completely inbred with the trends of our present moment and are "making it" in the academic versions of the mainstream big time.



June 20, 2009, 9:46 AM

You are completely accurate about the "inbred" nonsense, John.

The idiotic/academic procedure is not to hire someone who has been an adjunct for years and proven out in teaching, service exhibition and just being generally an excellent faculty member in order to go through an expensive and tiresome (CAA in Minneapolis in February, etc) procedure to hire some exotic flash in the pan who louses up the department for 6 years until finally failing to get tenure (or worse, getting tenure), whereupon you start the whole miserable procedure all over again.

This is what the kids pay $30K+ for, and it is absolutely resistent to change.

I think when I took this job exactly 20 years ago you told me something of the kind.



June 20, 2009, 10:13 AM

Well, here's something of interest, written by Hamada Shoji in 1967, by which time he had visited the US:

The rapid incresase of students in the US aspiring to become potters in the last decade or more is amazing. However, to be quite frank, the advances made in the field of pottery techniques in general, to my regret, are not as rapid. One reason for this, I feel, is the recent overly heavy emphasis on design, and the lack of experience and work in basic pottery techniques. Of course, lack of technique makes the production of radical variations in ceramic form and color easier, but too often this lack results in the creative intention resulting in destruction.

In Japan, even if the potter is known as an "abstract" artist, he has been trained in and has acquired the basic pottery techniques, in contrast to the US. Although the Japanese potter may be committed to creating abstract forms, he is bound to the conventional techniques and is not able to veer radically away from them. In Japan, therefore, the potter must take care not to remain submerged in empty repetitions of traditional techniques.



June 20, 2009, 4:35 PM

John, those stories about Bavinger have settled my concerns about reinstating comments. I very much believe that the best thing that good artists could do for themselves right now is establish careers orthogonally to the mainstream market. These examples from Bavinger are inspiring.



June 20, 2009, 4:38 PM

"John, those stories about Bavinger have settled my concerns about reinstating comments."

Pettled positively, I take it?



June 20, 2009, 4:39 PM

"Pettled" is a good neologism for something, but of course I meant "settled"



June 20, 2009, 5:27 PM

Pettled. A botanical metaphor. As in "She's pettled out nicely."



June 20, 2009, 5:37 PM

Positively pettled.



June 20, 2009, 5:44 PM

Franklin, your #19 hit the nail on the head. I realized early on that I had to make my own forum and way. Beside the art world being about nothing but itself, games, scams, etc., I would've been saved from it anyway by providential temperamental unsuitability. Who said that in the United States art is an underground activity?



June 20, 2009, 6:39 PM

A personal story that frames the temper of the times in and around Oklahoma in the mid 60s. I "almost" got an appointment teaching art at the University of Arkansas (where David Smith briefly taught). My credentials were even less adequate than Bavinger's. I had finished a double BA in English and Philosophy, plus one year of undergraduate art classes post BA. Apparently Arkansas liked my slides, which were shot by my friend Roger Benham, not me. And of course, I had a recommendation from Gene Bavinger and the director of the OU art museum, Sam Olkinetzky. Those guys just didn't give a shit about academic credentials. Sam had no graduate degree himself. But he saw and showed Larry Poons and Leon Polk Smith in the early 60s.

The cultural scene was led by common sense conservatives who were much more open to novel ideas and random strategies than the rigid liberals on the east coast. They would try anything if it made sense in a Will Rogers, down to earth sort of way. Bruce Goff was another raised-in-Oklahoma without a degree who, after one year's appointment to the School of Architecture, was selected to chair it (though he was eventually fired a dozen years later because of having sex with a student). As long as you avoided the standard moral hazards, you could get by with just about anything if you could deliver the goods.



June 20, 2009, 9:49 PM

I saw Bavinger's house. Hmm... Why am I thinking of a Dairy Queen frozen custard? And Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man on the top of that dead tree reaching out to ??? Bavinger's work...catching high points of stream-of-consciousness, it seems. I know he was capable and industrious. I wish he'd have honed in on something and really mined it.

Much of the Southwest in the 60s was as John described the situation in Oklahoma. Now...Anywhere USA. No there there.



June 20, 2009, 11:34 PM

Hey Tim, there was a lot of there there, as I found out when I moved to allegedly sophisticated Illinois. But I'm not sure you are denying that.

Bavinger worked in series with not untypical results that
some were better than others. But the point is, he developed a strategy for selling virtually everything he could make, and he made a lot of things without pandering to any particular audience, certainly not the cowboy and indian types, nor the feather counters, nor the largemouth bass crowd, together which formed the majority of the art lovers of the region. Now that he has been dead 12 years, many of his "glass" works go for 6 figures. I don't really understand "catching high points of stream-of-consciousness" but he certainly was not a one trick pony.

Goff, on the other hand, never repeated himself. Bavinger's house was all curves while a house he designed in town for an ophthalmologist had no curves at all because the doctor grew tired of looking at eyeballs all day (Joe Taylor, a realistic sculptor, soon bought that one and eventually they named the street Taylor Drive).

I would not want to live in Bavinger's place anymore than I would want to wear someone's condom. It was specific to him and his family. There was no privacy for anyone. A friend of mine house-sat it for several weeks one summer and said it was fine if you were there by yourself. He also said it was great for getting laid; the girls were real curious about everything and beds and other suitable surfaces were everywhere convenient when the right moment presented itself. Wolfgang was his name and he said it was one of his best summers ever, watering flowers, feeding fish, and having a lot of sex.

It certainly was a warm space when the orchids were in bloom and the outdoors was so visible from so many surprising angles and there was so much room everywhere. This despite the rock floors, rock walls, and hard glass that comprised the major surfaces. His son who grew up there said it didn't seem strange at all. It was well suited for parties with a good mix of an open space, access to the outside, and nooks and crannies for private talking.

Gene and Nancy lived there for almost 50 years. They must have liked it fine. It made great sense for them because they did not like boxes just as the ophthalmologist didn't like curves. It and the grounds around it were incredibly integrated. The house, the creek, the bridge, the paths, the studio up the way with the water coming back down to the creek, in amongst the scrawny, twisted black jacks, red dirt, sparkling green glass ... I've never seen anything so relaxed and yet so tight with itself. I think it had something to do with his success selling too. The article in Life goosed that aspect several notches as well.

It might sound strange to some, but I would call it a conservatively designed house: thoughtfully conceived, solidly built, served all its unusual functions well, was a perfect place for the parties the owners liked to host, and their boys loved it too.



June 20, 2009, 11:36 PM

Sorry, I am getting bad with arithmetic jargon. Six figures should be FIVE, as in $10,000 and more for current prices.



June 21, 2009, 1:44 AM

John, yes, in the 60s there was plenty of there there. Every city and town had an identity. Now... no there there.

I appreciate your descriptions and recollections.

I was in college in Denton TX (North TX, just south of the Okla. border.) in the late 60s. No greater tree trunk full of chestnuts ever existed. It was all ours to do with what we would. But what was lacking in the visual arts was mentorship. The music school was and is one of the top ones in the nation, and the liberal arts curiculum was challenging. But the visual arts arena was very shallow at that time. Just taking cues from 'Art In America' and 'Art Forum.' Drinking bad coffee. Smoking Marlboros. Acting. The good part of it was that we got the impression that we were on our own and had to make it up as we went along. We were adventurous and we investigated and invented. I adjourned to New Orleans, where there was no art 'scene' whatsoever. Perfect.



June 21, 2009, 8:14 AM

It's basically whatever works for people. It's not going to work for everybody, and maybe not for most, but if it works for you, you're golden. That applies in many different spheres. The problem is when people won't do what's best for them because they think they're supposed to use somebody else's method.



June 21, 2009, 8:55 AM

Jack, "The problem is when people won't do what's best for them because they think they're supposed to use somebody else's method." Very true. But where does a kid just out of high school go to find out which road to get on? Where are the mentors, the true mentors? Not the ones who will teach how to negotiate the art world, but the ones who can size a kid up and put that kid on the road he or she will likely come into his or her own on.

It seems that in North America every field except visual art has a readymade professional arena to graduate into. Artists just have to figure it out for themselves, not necessarily a bad thing. I had to stumble around, which led to studying art history from the standpoint of what artists of all eras ran into and how they handled it. That ended up being a pretty sound guide.

Also, art history is a far better teacher of how to see than any studio course I have known of. So, if a studio instructor is versed in art history, that's a pretty good package.



June 21, 2009, 9:49 AM

nice bavinger links

ron davis' current navaho hogan home/studio in new mexico is quite interesting as well. prior to this he lived and worked in a frank gehry designed building in malibu. both can be seen at his site irondavis and or

the art as furniture sale comments make sense to me. especially for non listed artists who have never had something sell at an auction house, not ebay. atleast if i buy something from an auction house, art or otherwise, i have some comfort that i could recoup atleast some of that money if i wanted or needed to.

if i still had $ i'd be interested in making a first purchase or buy more from 2-3 nonlisted artists who post here (or who had posted here) provided the pricing was very attractive. It is difficult to pull the trigger on something for $1,500, much less $3,000 or more, that is essentially economically worthless one second after i buy it. atleast my kid can sleep in a bed. price is a factor in every purchase.

and once a first purchase is made, generally the buyer is likely to consider a second.

and as jack demonstrates, very nice things that compete with traditional painting and sculpture can be had for what i am guessing is less than $500. it is much easier to drop that kind of coin without too much angst.

if you don't have a gallery that is helping create a market and generate sales, then initially you need to do what you can to get as much of your work on the walls of the people (the more connected the better) , price be damned.

you can't be too proud about price when you are not selling.



June 21, 2009, 10:53 AM

you can't be too proud about price when you re not selling

That's a great observation 1.

But there is a flip side. About 20 years ago I was selling "crop offs" (the bad part of a painting I had cropped down) for $50 if they were good enough that I could stand letting them exist. A dealer jacked the price up to $1200 and sold many more of them than I was selling. I think my problem was that $50 for fairly good sized paintings suggested they were worthless (which I thought they were). In art, like in stocks, when the price goes up the demand goes up. This is the opposite of the law of supply and demand, where only lower prices increase demand.

What you are saying is that "non-brand-name" art behaves more like commodities as far as pricing it for the market goes, though it isn't a pure commodity. My mentor Gene Bavinger struck a balance between the two pricing schemes that certainly worked for him. OU faculty salaries were noted for being among the lowest in the nation, yet he lived very well, thanks to his art business. Interestingly, he never went out on visiting artist gigs. Probably because they took too much time away from his production and he seemed to get a belly full of talking about art in his teaching anyway.



June 21, 2009, 11:28 AM

John, I understand what you're saying and you have a point, but there are quite a few non-brand name artists making worthwhile work and not selling it (or selling little) because they apparently feel it's demeaning (or something) to be more affordable.

My position is very simple. Whenever I'm considering buying any art work, from any source, the key issue is NOT what the work may deserve to sell for or what it may be able to fetch from some other buyer. The key issue is whether or not I can get it for a price that works for me and my budget. Period.

If somebody offers me an early lifetime impression of a famous Rembrandt print in very good condition for a price that's below the going rate, I'd still have to turn it down because it'd still be too rich for my budget. It's got nothing to do with how desirable the piece is or how fair the price may be--the price either works for me or it doesn't, and that has much more to do with me than it does with the piece or the artist.



June 21, 2009, 11:58 AM

...there are quite a few non-brand name artists making worthwhile work and not selling it (or selling little) because they apparently feel it's demeaning (or something) to be more affordable.

Could not agree more, Jack. That's what 1 is getting at too. I'm only suggesting that the price not be dropped too low, or the buyers tend to lose confidence that it's any good.

To put a specific number on it (dangerous statement coming up), I'd say don't price a 3' painting below $400-500.



June 21, 2009, 12:24 PM

I trust it's understood that my last sentence in #34 presupposes the piece in question is what I consider good, desirable work, apart from price. Otherwise, the sale price, whatever it might be, would be irrelevant, since I wouldn't want the thing anyway.

But yes, it's better to sell regularly and consistently for less than to sell seldom or very sporadically for more. Bavinger obviously knew that and made a very nice, steady income as a result.



June 21, 2009, 12:51 PM

jack, for the last few years i had been thinking those rembrandt prints do seem to be a very good value. great work, big name and reasonable pricing. blue chip at prices that are within reach. still not cheap in the grand scheme, but very high value all things considered.



June 21, 2009, 1:15 PM

while i have never purchased a rembrandt print i plan to in the future providing things turn around for my business. about two years or so ago i attended a show of the prints here in atlanta at oglethorpe college. once again good value. i actually have a copy of one of the self portraits that has been sitting beside my desk for quite some time.

atget photographs are another great value in my opinion. great blue chip work at great prices, especially when they go unsold and you can pick them up for half the low estimate.

terry fenton's landscapes also seem to be a good value if you can purchase directly at a discount. and while they probably have very little true market value, it is good work that is affordable. i still wish they were a little less expensive. but i also bring him up because i think he does well with these in terms of selling.



June 21, 2009, 1:55 PM

As a potential customer, my message to artists is this:

If I consider buying your work, it automatically means I like it and wish to own it. It does not mean your asking price will necessarily work for me, regardless of how good the work is or how reasonable your price may be or seem to others. My decision to buy it or not is principally about my issues and circumstances, as opposed to you and yours. Remember that.

Just as something may sell for a fortune and still be glorified rubbish, good work may not sell at a certain price. Don't take it personally, or at least, try to be objective and rational about it. Also, insofar as possible, try to be practical and realistic. The customer will always put his concerns ahead of what you may want. He's not buying the piece for your benefit, but for his.

Naturally, the artist has the right to sell at whatever price he sees fit, and nobody's saying he has to accommodate every customer every time (or even any customer any time). However, there is such a thing as cause and effect. Remember that, too.



June 21, 2009, 2:50 PM

john i understand what you are saying about how higher pricing can increase demand. i thought about that before i made my comments as well. but this would be more likely to be the case after a solid market has already been establlshed for the good (painting, stock or otherwise).

and rather than as you say a higher price driving up demand, it seems to be atleast as likely that a higher demand drives a higher price.

and comparing how stock prices work with art prices is difficult at best.



June 21, 2009, 3:36 PM

With "blue chip" artists, their prices behave more like that of stocks than that of tangible goods. If "everybody" (the 100 collectors who can afford them) wants something, then the price will rise. But they won't want it unless the price is high and expected to get higher. And apparently, when it does sell higher to someone else, that only whets their appetite to pay more for the next blue chip they bid on.

Same with stocks. Did you notice that as stock prices rose parabolically in the 90s, so did the volume? So did the number of shares issued by companies with permission to do that? High prices did not stifle demand, rather they increased it, and so supply was increased to meet the rising price demand. That is how so many got sucked into what came next. When stocks finally bottom and "go on sale" so to speak, no one will want them and demand will be considerably diminished compared, even, to what it is today. One of Greenspan's biggest mistakes was to say stocks are subject to the law of supply and demand. People flocked to the local circuit City going out of business sale because of the low prices. They will not flock to buy stocks when the DOW hits 3,000.

Of course it is possible to take a tangible and manipulate its market so that prices behave like that of stocks. Tulips bulbs, at one time experienced this. Perhaps that's what the art machine after 1962 has done with art. Or perhaps art is intrinsically something that can't easily be priced like a tangible. Any painting, for instance, is as good at covering a flaw in the wall as any other.

When an artist's prices fall at auction, as did Cia's once upon a time, few of the "regulars" will buy him any more. He is a "loser", not a bargain.



June 21, 2009, 5:49 PM

John, I think it would be beneficial for non-brand name artists to worry less about when or if they're going to make it big and more about doing the best work they can and getting it out of their studios and into the hands of interested parties/customers.

I'm afraid not a few of these artists are living in some kind of romantic fantasy, or living as if the big time will happen any day now so they might as well start operating (and charging) as if that's a given. It's like living as if winning the lotto is only a matter of time--but possibility is one thing; probability is another.

In some cases, there seems to be the illusion that if you want to be a big shot, you have to act as if you already were, which means of course you can't possibly sell anything below 5-10K even if you have no gallery, no press and little or no recognition.

Degree of talent may or may not matter from a purely practical standpoint. Mediocre artists can certainly do quite well for themselves, and the exceptionally talented (or at least promising) can wind up screwing themselves into failed careers. Sadly, there's nothing that says things have to work out logically or justly.



June 21, 2009, 6:00 PM

One more observation about the "Bavinger strategy": he made a commitment to live his life in the region he was selling to. Certainly he could have moved within that region, but he never did. He just stayed put, taught, worked on his art, and remained visible inside his market.



June 21, 2009, 6:08 PM

Jack, "making it" certainly is a temptation that is hard to resist. I fully understand why a buyer would not want to pay "you-are-making-it" prices to someone who isn't.

On the other hand, most the artists I know who are not making it, are painfully aware of that fact. But, just as you don't buy for anyone's benefit but your own, neither do they sell, except for their own benefit. A "brand-name" collector will get a sizable discount, maybe even get it for free, with a little sex thrown in to sweeten the deal. You and I however don't get such consideration.



June 21, 2009, 8:02 PM

Sure, John, but some aren't selling to big-time collectors OR to those of more modest means, when they could at least be selling to the latter with a better approach or game plan.

I mean, if an artist really doesn't care whether he sells or not, that's different, but if he does want to sell, he's gotta do something about it besides simply making work.



June 22, 2009, 7:41 AM

Jack, let me ask for your thoughts here. Presuppose a hypothetical artist whose work you like and who would sell work in your price range given the opportunity. Given your stated weariness of following the art world at this point, how do we connect the two of you? Let's see if we can generate something.



June 22, 2009, 7:53 AM

How about an anonymous gallery? A web site with paintings posted giving all details except the identity of the painter?

Prices are very cheap and the web site, as go-between, takes a small cut.



June 22, 2009, 8:01 AM

That was just off the top of my head but the more i think about it the better it gets.

Of course there are the details, but I think they would fall into place.



June 22, 2009, 8:07 AM

Well, Franklin, my weariness led me pretty much to drop the whole tawdry, rotten circus for something very satisfying and far more reasonable. I switched to prints, both western and Japanese, where an eye and some knowledge (which I've been acquiring steadily) go a long way. I'm not talking, of course, about prints by the usual trendy suspects, which would simply be the same dog with a different collar. Most of the names I seek out are probably not known to most art people, let alone the general public, which is fine. Keeps the supply up and the prices down. In other words, the box didn't work for me, so I got out of it and found one that did.



June 22, 2009, 8:32 AM

That's not really answering my question, Jack.

Opie, what would be the advantage of the anonymity?



June 22, 2009, 8:39 AM

opie, before i bought paintings from a gallery or auction house i bought from ebay and small art fairs because i had thought the prices were probably out of my league. later i found out that at auction you could purchase things quite cheaply and they had somewhat of a true market value. example good size goodnoough paintings for under 1k, but then you have to add on shipping. but at that time when i bought a few things off ebay the artist was essentially anonymous to me. still i think buyers would still like to have a name attached to a piece eventhough it is not at all important. i purchased paintings from $50 - $300 at the time. most of it i dont care for much now, but at the time it worked for me. but it does make me want to dig out 2 nudes on canvas that i still think about , but have not seen in a awhile because my house situation has been in turmoil for a few years. i have no idea who painted it, i think some czech student.



June 22, 2009, 8:49 AM

It may not be answering it for you, Franklin, but it was my answer to the problem behind your question for me.



June 22, 2009, 8:51 AM

I understood that already. I'm trying to elicit some new possibilities.



June 22, 2009, 10:17 AM

Well, how about an e-gallery, showing only local artists, with curatorial control over who can join (and possibly who can keep showing), curated e-shows (solo and group), sort of a conglomerate of individual artist websites (though not some unwieldy, rambling mess). Naturally, if a potential buyer wanted to make a studio visit, that should be an option. Some computer geek would have to look after the technical niceties of the site, and there would have to be useful ways to search and look for stuff, sort of like on eBay. However, discrimination would have to be exercised in general. In other words, there would have to be suitable standards to achieve and maintain both credibility and respectability.



June 22, 2009, 10:30 AM

The anonymity takes the artist's ego out of it completely. You can sell things as if you were selling pots and pans. People would be buying strictly what they like for their walls, period.

Of course you cn always hint that some of these are famous artists who have been hit by the recession, etc etc.

Imagine it - it really would make a difference.

After someone purchases something perhaps they can learn the name of the artist. It would be a foot in the door.



June 22, 2009, 10:34 AM

I think the names of the artists must be known, but I like the thrust of opie's idea which is to put the emphasis on the way the objects look.

Folding in the "Bavinger strategy", I would have this web site be for local pickup only. Avoids the expense and hassle of shipping, but more importantly, establishes that it serves a specific region and requires a buyer to actually look at the work before the deal goes through. I think people would come from as far away as 150 miles and rather enjoy their "art trip". But that adds the complication of needing a physical location, a store, the need to pay rent, probably. And limits the artists who might participate to a small geographical area.

So ... still keeping the idea of naming names, but abandoning the regional limitation, you could have artists ship the work from their studio to the buyer, the old drop ship approach that many web site vendors use all the time. (I just bought a Viking stove this way.) That puts the overhead way down. To make this work, you would need to emphasize small works that could be shipped UPS. Paintings could be ready to hang with strip frames, but prints and drawings probably not - most people have their own ideas how to frame them to go with their favorite arm chair, etc. Sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and so on don't need special presentations anyway.

As far as the scope of offerings goes, I'd start narrow, as in painting, drawing, prints and sculpture.

I already own a good domain name for it -



June 22, 2009, 10:38 AM

If it went with no names mentioned, I would not hint at anything regarding fame. Do it straight and avoid liabilities if someone is disappointed that they didn't get a Frank Stella.



June 22, 2009, 10:55 AM

The more I think about it, not mentioning names begins to take over. It would certainly be a way to distinguish this e-gallery from all the others. "Buy it because you like it" is a simple, easy to grasp pitch.



June 22, 2009, 11:29 AM

So, what are you waiting for?



June 22, 2009, 12:45 PM

Also own



June 22, 2009, 1:06 PM

I just checked UPS, and they will ship something as large as 51 x 51 x 5. (Length + Girth



June 22, 2009, 1:07 PM

Make that length plus girth must be less than or equal to 165 inches.



June 22, 2009, 3:06 PM

Both packing and shipping is absolutely going to have to be outsourced a third party. If a piece arrives damaged and the artist packed it himself, you're going to go through hell trying to get it resolved. A third party shipper will have a lot more credibility in a damage claim, and insurance in case of a loss. UPS perhaps could be trusted with this, but an art shipper would be infinitely preferable.

Basically, we're talking about a themed online consignment gallery, with inventory kept with the artists until delivery. This has occurred to me before. How do we market it?



June 22, 2009, 3:09 PM

Yes, local is better. If it works out the kinks and makes a go of it in one place it might be franchised.

But if it is 100% a drop-ship local-connection method with the web site as only an electronic intermediary it could be handled world-wide from one place, of course.
The emphasis could be local because of the shipping, etc. "support your local artist".

It might even be done through another already established vehicle, like Flickr or Facebook.

Anonymity and cheapness would be the hook. The emphasis on finding a bargain could be hinted at or put in the context of "discover a great artist" rather than luck into one, although I would want known artists who are not selling to participate. This would have to be delicately handled.

I was thinking of this as an idea for Franklin, MC. He's looking for some way to make some bucks from his web smarts.



June 22, 2009, 3:42 PM

You don't want some come-one, come-all thing like the Saatchi model. In other words, there has to be suitable vetting or selection criteria. This will naturally mean those who don't get accepted will be audibly upset, but a certain standard needs to be maintained. In other words, never resemble the pitiful, glorified mall gallery embarrassment that the Art Miami fair became at one point.



June 22, 2009, 5:18 PM has to be honest, but I don't think it can sell "credibility". That's what Gagosian and Sotheby's sell. Instead we sell "incredibility" ... something you like to look at, that's real original art, and doesn't cost much.

If a 30" x 42" painting on stretched canvas complete with strip frame weighing less than 20 pounds sells for $450, how much would a professional art shipper charge to pack and ship it from Miami to Denver? How many professional art shippers are there in the country? I don't think there is one in Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids, though there are shippers in general, including UPS, who will pack for not a lot of extra bucks.



June 22, 2009, 5:34 PM

I just remembered the many many statements I have read attributed to art dealers to the effect "only buy what you like". That's certainly good advice, but there isn't a lot of evidence that it has much to do with what drives their business. But the fact it is often invoked could be used as a lever.

For most people walking into those establishments, whether they like it or not isn't the question. The prices are out of their range. Besides, why do so many shop the internet wearing their protective suits of firewall protected anti-virus, anti-malware software? To get stuff cheaper. might really work. People would remember it. There needs to be a way to accept credit cards. I would also advocate a 100% satisfaction guarantee - send it back for any reason, but at your own cost and the refund does not include the original shipping.



June 22, 2009, 5:38 PM

John, I don't want to get into semantics, but I think you know what I meant. I can tell you that if I, personally, ran across an outfit selling Britto or Thomas Kincade-type stuff, I'd want nothing to do with it and would automatically write it off as bogus (for my purposes, certainly). Affordable is great, but it's got to be real, respectable and yes, credible art. Otherwise, people can just go to some mall place and be done with it. Crappy "art" is already quite plentiful and easily obtainable on eBay, thank you, and I doubt Franklin can beat that competition at its own game. This has got to be a clearly different and much less common alternative.



June 22, 2009, 5:45 PM

Try Again, I think the catch-all, sell-all approach is far too generic, and the market is already loaded with such ventures. The idea is to be as distinctive and legitimate as possible. At least, I thought the whole point was to sell work by good, real artists, not hacks or wannabe's. Dumbing down, as it were, would ultimately be counterproductive.



June 22, 2009, 6:08 PM

Jack, I of course agree with all your values. But they would be imposed at the front end, by those in charge, out of the public eye. This would not be a public co-op, but rather a private enterprise conducted cooperatively among the principals. is already owned by a name-speculator and expires 22 Sep 09. I did, however, go ahead and buy, which was available. The speculator will probably contact me and try to sell the .com for some outrageous sum.

I think the problem with the "new-modernism" project was that it tried to beat the highly credentialed (in its own eyes and therefore in the eyes of the mob) art establishment at its own game and hence lacked a sense of humor. Cheap Ass Art, that's funny, easily spelled, and not hard to remember. And it sticks it to the outrageously priced art system. Real Affordable Art is OK too, but not funny and doesn't stick it to the pompous mob. Funny is a plus, I think, and is a key to David's success with Goliath. The only credibility the project really needs is in the way the art looks. The principals are responsible to ensure that.



June 22, 2009, 6:27 PM

I still caution against excessive populism, if you will, because it's either condescending or trying to have it both ways, and that always gets my dander up. The venture should never attempt to be all things to all or even most people, but rather be a highly effective niche venue for people serious about good art but lacking big art budgets. The general idea is to offer something new and different from what's already available: a better alternative.



June 22, 2009, 6:31 PM

I like the idea of the humor, but I don't see people spending hundreds of dollars on a goof. I think instead we might want to pick something serious and then go after people who don't have an investment of pride in the art establishment. How you find them, I'm not sure.



June 22, 2009, 6:35 PM

I am going to take issue with the name John.

The art will be cheap but we have to say this is because these are excellent artists who do not yet have a market or have been affected by the recession and need to sell. We have to push the "selected by conoisseurs" angle, make the site clean and classy, etc. In fact, We have to sell the "experts" as much as the art. Something like " might not be a bad domain.

It should not be so hard to find decent stuff because we will be selling realist art also - not just "modernism" - and there are lots of quite good realist artists who are not selling.

The trick will be to get across the idea - quality at a low price - in a quick, succinct way.

Also, I think these should be localized. In other words one web site but the art listed by city so the art can be delivered. If someone from NY browses Miami and wants to buy something that will be between them and the artist. The site will have nothing to do with that process.

(I keep saying "we" but this is really an idea meant for Franklin.)



June 22, 2009, 6:38 PM

Well, Franklin, I suppose advertising in suitable art blogs might be useful. I'm wary about advertising in the typical art mags, which probably don't reach the people you want anyway, but rather the opposite. Maybe someone like Terry Teachout would be willing to help out in some fashion, if he thought the thing was worthwhile.



June 22, 2009, 6:41 PM

I'm with OP. Humor is one thing, but getting too cute or slick is another. Leave that for Super Bowl commercials.



June 22, 2009, 6:43 PM

Jack, where do you go to find the work you've been looking at these days? (The Japanese ceramics, the prints, what have you.) Maybe there would be enough crossover to merit advertising there.

Speaking of Terry, it occurred to me that it might be fruitful to target this at political conservatives in hopes of finding aesthetic conservatives among the ranks. (Not aesthetic reactionaries, who would be interested in paintings of American flags and crap like that.)



June 22, 2009, 8:12 PM

Have a look at It may be too upscale (I mostly window shop the ceramics there), but it might give you some ideas. I also use eBay, which can be a great hunting ground if one is selective and has sufficient knowledge and sense. Oh, and look at (OP gave me that link). It's a serious ceramics site (topnotch stuff, and priced accordingly), but again, you could adopt or adapt what they're doing in principle.



June 22, 2009, 8:14 PM

Not aesthetic reactionaries, who would be interested in paintings of American flags and crap like that

Careful, Franklin. The Jasper Johns camp might be offended.



June 22, 2009, 8:59 PM

Hmm... What about the Childe Hassam camp?



June 22, 2009, 9:08 PM

Tim, do you really think the typical current art person knows Childe Hassam and his work--before looking it up on Google, that is?



June 22, 2009, 9:09 PM

Advertise in Dwell, This Old House, maybe Architectural Digest. Where else do furniture makers advertise?

You guys get too highty-tighty and you may reach only people who go for the highty-tighty places and nothing else. But then perhaps not. Maybe only snobs buy art, and snobs need a different type of stroking. I am no expert. But the "high-brow" (in their own minds) market is sewed up at the present moment. Perhaps this could float as an also-ran that nonetheless makes some money for its participants.

Once you start talking advertising, though, you are talking the need for capital, capital that definitely would be at risk, I think, due to the ratio between it and the amount of early sales.

Opie, you can't use underlines in domain names., in any case, would be laughed at by some and seem pretentious to others. As an attitude to project it is fine, but as a blatant title it seems pompous. (Cheap Ass Art, I grant, is the lowest of the low brow. Art on the Cheap creeps up a notch or two.) On the other hand, the site does not need to please but a few buyers.

Realism will outsell modernism by a factor of 10.

Disassociating the site from delivery issues is a great idea.

It will probably be a lot of work to set up. Hopefully a lot of work to manage too, due to a lot of interest in buying.



June 22, 2009, 9:16 PM

I should have been more specific. (Actually, there was some guy who managed to work in a flag, a cross, and I think some dog tags into one realist painting, but I can't find it. While searching around, though, I found this.)

Apologies to Hassam and other worthies.



June 22, 2009, 9:18 PM

Jack, I'm current and I did.



June 22, 2009, 9:19 PM

Try SASP: Serious Art for Sane Prices.



June 22, 2009, 9:21 PM

Tim, I said typical current art person. Trust me, you're not typical, or you wouldn't be hanging out here.



June 22, 2009, 9:26 PM

Jack, what in the world is a typical current art person? That's a serious question, aimed at focusing the target.



June 22, 2009, 9:33 PM

Tim, if you don't know, be thankful you've been spared, and don't spoil it by finding out. It's not exactly edifying knowledge.



June 22, 2009, 9:34 PM

However, should the enterprise target an audience, or just trust instinct and see what happens? Thanks for the compliment, Jack.



June 22, 2009, 9:35 PM

John, the trick here is to be both "highty-tighty" AND cheap. The image we put forward is real experts (professors with ADVANCED DEGREES no less - we could have a board of advisors) combing the ranks of artists everywhere to find high quality art which for some reason (the recession is most convenient) is not selling and have talked these fine artists into selling cheap for whatever reason.

The target is a big one: people who want something good and "prestigious" on their walls and have budgets to meet. These are most likely people who are busy going upscale, and judging from the ads I see on TV & elsewhere there are millions of them and they are everywhere, especially in big cities. They are the ones who go to horror shows like the Coconut Grove rts Festival, and they are unsure of their taste. We give them expertise, art they can show off with and cheap prices.

If realism outsells 10 to 1 then so be it. Again, the idea here is first to get Franklin making some money and second to help out some good artists who are not selling anything right now.



June 22, 2009, 9:46 PM

Opie, shouldn't artists be about the business of placement rather than or at least as well as selling? I wonder if the idea of 'cheap' should be any part of the presentation. I think the attitude should be that the price is what it is, and is presented as incidental to the work itself.



June 22, 2009, 9:54 PM

Just about everyone involved with art is unsure of their taste with respect to current art. That is why they form a herd.

In a "business plan" Tim is right, you should focus on your targeted audience and research what does and does not have a chance of working with them. Look at Tim's web site and you will see targeting in action. Look at Gagosian's and you will see it too, but a different target.

We need someone like Sam Phillips, only tuned into the art market instead of music.



June 23, 2009, 1:28 AM

I've been following the discussion, with mildly sceptical interest. How much capital is required to see the idea through for a year, or five? Artists front the art they've already made, buyers accept shipping charges, and maybe the programming and webdesign is gratis (although it shouldn't be), but what other costs might cooperators in the scheme have to cover?

- Paypal business accounts
- local business licenses, taxes
- lawyers? accountants?
- phone/internet bills if not new business accounts for same
- time/money for studio visits and coffee meetings with artists
- packing and delivery of art to its regional hub
- jury/board for each interested city (Miami, Kalamazoo, Dallas, Edmonton, whereever) must surely have to meet, at least once, in Boston probably, to hash out business plans and payout percentage agreements and pricing standards, etc.
- what else?

Though I find it a worthy and exciting project, I doubt I could scrounge enough to pull even this much off (what with the demands of other jobs/commitments), and find myself balking at its viability at core - online sales of singularly affordable art objects? People would click on links that promise that, and then actually pay for it? Really? No way! Dream on.

But maybe it's only my world that's all windmills and white whales.



June 23, 2009, 6:41 AM

The web sales idea I am suggesting is not primarily an "art" idea but a business idea. Art is just the product. It is important not get get these things mixed up.

The target is upscale or becoming upscale people, people moving up who want classy art on their walls. They are the people to flock to the Coconut Grove Art Festival here in Miami.

There is a "cognitive disconnect" in this business because the minute you call it "art" you are instantly in the daunting region of "taste" and "prestige" and big money and unsure taste. This leaves a vacuum which is not being filled between people with money and undeveloped taste who want good art, and a business with a product which is wrapped up in mythology, disinformation and unreasonable sales prices..

The idea is to fill this vacuum with a web site run by experts with prestigious titles who are doing a service by finding good art and presenting it at a low price because of economic circumstances. The anonymity angle is basically a hook which says "some of these artists don't want it known that they are selling way below their usual price".

Although the business model would have to be carefully worked out there should be few complications of the sort Ahab envisions because all the real work would be done by the artist, who is motivated by sales. The web site is nothing but a middleman.

This is not a new idea. Years ago a company called S.S. Pierce sold expensive canned food by picking who had the best canned peas or peaches, buying them in bulk, relabelling them and putting high prices on them as prestige goods. The Horchow Collection did the same thing some years ago. The advantage this idea has is that it not only sells prestige but price.

I really think that properly worked out this could be a moneymaker.



June 23, 2009, 8:43 AM

i have already brought this up a few times in the past, but

is a model that is very successful that can be learned from. most of the items here are more expensive than what you are considering. they also reveal sales figures on the site as well. they started in paris, then added nyc and have been introducing new cities/areas on a regular basis. you must be accepted onto the platform.

they advertise in AD and a few other home magazines.

i have bought from this site before, but may never again because of misrepresentation and forgery. a few bad dealers can spoil the whole lot. some dealers are great, but 1stdibs customer service is terrible when you have a problem.



June 23, 2009, 8:45 AM

i still visit this site regularly to check out inventory and see the weekly articles and design spreads.



June 23, 2009, 10:46 AM

One way to reduce the amount of risk capital the main principals would need to provide would be to spread it around, that is. charge artists an up front fee for each work displayed. My guess is not many would pay it though. Ahab is speaking from a practical point of view that many would have if participating involves reaching for their own wallet.

Opie offers a good market analysis. There is a segment with some money that would like to have something in their houses, but can't afford to shop at the high priced galleries, and perhaps doesn't really like what they see there anyway. How to reach them is the question.

The web probably isn't the place. Dorsch in Miami tried to be a place, but that doesn't seem to work. Real Painting tried for a month and that didn't work either. 30 years ago there was a gallery in Cincinnati called Not in New York that didn't work out either.

It might revert back to the artists. If you are young enough, you can settle into a region and build a presence. Bavinger used the "juried show" that most of us are willing to judge but not enter. But he made it work in a region where realism outsold abstraction 100 to 1. His prices were typically much less than the feather counters and sea shore painters, early on especially, but he sold everything he made. He went to a lot of parties, threw some too, and got to know "collectors" and their friends through openings at regional art centers. He was not an overnight phenomenon. Most of the capital he spent in these venues was his time, monetary capital was reserved for his house and art supplies.

Ed Ruscha is fond of saying "I'm a forty year overnight sensation." The internet whispers in our ears that it offers a shortcut to that laborious process. Ahab presents a sober interruption to that seductive song, which probably comes from the sirens, not the gods. As Olitski lamented several years ago, there is a severe shortage of Kahnweilers. And as Jack implies, most of them are in it for themselves first.

If I were young enough, I would settle somewhere and begin to penetrate the regional scene. I would look for a place where Goliath has not yet taken over, so LA, Frisco, Chicago, and NYC would not be on my list. Seems like Goliath junior has taken over Miami as well. But it would have to be a region with some major cities. Our kind of art is part of urban civilization. I think every disconnected urban center has a small group that wants to connect to something (opie's point) and the trick would be how to reach them.



June 23, 2009, 12:10 PM

I seem to be having a hard time explaining this very simple idea.

Once again, the website is 100% middleman. There is no capital to risk. The only risk is a lot of work going in and some work maintaining it and managing the sales.

Here is how it works.

1. Get a web site, domain, and all that and have the smarts to run it, as Franklin clearly does.

2. Round up a lot of artists who would agree to sell anonymously on the web for low prices and get usable photos for the site. Start with one region or city to avoid the shipping problem; you can franchise later.

3. Hypel the site as high quality cheap price picked by experts etc all the stuff I said above. This is important and has to be carefully worked out.

4. When someone inquires you pass it to the artist, who either sells the painting or not. The customer pays the web site and you take your cut and pass the rest to the artist. (yes, I know there are problems such as this destroys anonymity and the artist has to be honest etc but those are details which are solvable)

That's all there is to it.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 12:18 PM

Tracy Helgeson was (or is) doing what you're discussing here, essentially. She began "curating" it herself, much to her surprise. I don't think she intended to have to, but she got such a response from artists wanting to join she had to refuse some of them.

She called it The Fine Art Department. She also was involved in -- maybe she started it, I'm not sure -- the Small Arts Showcase.

I can't say how well these are doing. You'd have to check with her. Both appear to be quiescent since at least early 2009.



June 23, 2009, 1:08 PM

It might revert back to the artists.

This is the conclusion I came to the last time I was mulling it all over. Supergirl will kill me, rightly, if I start dealing art before I get my own art career worked out. But it's something to consider. I think these enterprises look more legitimate when the principal is not selling his own work, just as it would be in a regular gallery, but I could see it running on its own.

That's all there is to it.

Famous last words.

People who run art sites of various kinds spend an enormous amount of time and money promoting them. I assume that they do so out of dire necessity. You're right, excepting this, in that there shouldn't be very much capital outlay. But I don't think you can skip the marketing and expect the site to generate revenue.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 1:19 PM

You all might also look at EBSQ, a sort of online trade group/auction coalition type thing. It's been around a while -- I considered joining back when I was selling drawings on eBay in 2001 -- but I don't know what you'd gain, exactly.

There's also Art By Us, although that doesn't appear to be curated in any way.



June 23, 2009, 1:50 PM

I don't think you can skip the marketing and expect the site to generate revenue.

And so there you have it, the reason to advertise. Advertising costs money, up front money. I call that capital at risk. As Franklin has observed amongst his fellow art site perpetrators, "People who run art sites of various kinds spend an enormous amount of time and money promoting them."

It can seem easy if you've never tried it, but I take Franklin's word that it is not.

Meantime let's hope Franklin can leverage like Bavinger did his house.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 1:55 PM

If someone had the right vision, and it clicked with the zeitgeist, and they got publicity rolling on it, I think this online gallery idea could work. In addition to those caveats, however -- vision, zeitgeist, publicity -- whoever ran such a thing would step on a lot of toes. It would necessarily entail rejecting plenty of artists.

Right now art Websites rely mostly on other art Websites for their traffic. Remove yourself from that loop of familial sexual relations, and where will your traffic come from? A critical mass of publicity would be required to sustain it.



June 23, 2009, 3:49 PM

I think this needs to start small and limited to artists from a single particular metropolitan area, just to get a feel for the thing, test the waters and see what happens. But yes, there has to be a way to get the word out, and that would probably cost some money.



June 23, 2009, 4:05 PM

Of course, if the thing hits home, there's bound to be such a thing as word-of-mouth advertising.



June 23, 2009, 4:11 PM

i am with jack on this one.

possibly two locations, at max three, but no more.

while i realize there are differences, 1stdibs started with only one location and look at it now. copy a successful venture with your niche art market. 1stdibs only had home furnishings at first.

the articles, interviews and other story lines keep people coming back even when not buying. that site is head and shoulders over anything else that i have seen as a jumping off point. this may be too big of a project for you, but i think a close copy of this gives you your best chance for success.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 4:44 PM

Also, interesting question: Would the very best artists, hoping to break into the traditional gallery system, remove themselves from consideration? I understand that a site of the kind we're discussing wouldn't want anyone seeking traditional representation; obviously this is orthogonal to the art world, as Franklin wrote earlier, and so the concentration would be on artists looking to do something non-traditional. But what I'm asking is, would the site lose access to the very top tier of artists -- the cream of the crop -- because they'd be expecting to emerge in a more traditional manner? Would this venture therefore almost by definition be a place for also-rans, has-beens, and never-was? And even if not, wouldn't there be that stigma to overcome? Because someone could always point and say, "You're only there because you can't hack it in the real competitive art marketplace."



June 23, 2009, 4:52 PM

Promotion/advertising is the component requiring the most critical consideration of the package. In my experience, the less of that and the more precise the aim, the better, especially with art. It really needs a lot of thought and research. The right presentation/promotion can itself generate word-of-mouth advertising, the most potent kind of promotion by far. I'm not necessarily recommending this, but there's a way to go about things which makes one's offering the little secret of one's target audience, a secret they share with each other. Very powerful. The power of mystique.



June 23, 2009, 4:57 PM

Chris, you're describing more or less what the original Impressionist circle ran into. They knew what they were doing had integrity and only needed time for the public to catch up with them. So they put it out there.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 5:15 PM

What I'm asking is, what if you can't get Renoir, Monet and Pisarro to exhibit because they all figure they can break through to the Salon de Paris on their own merits?



June 23, 2009, 5:25 PM

Yes, the first Impressionist group wanted official recognition, but the lack of it didn't stop them from exhibiting. Why wouldn't providing a suitable venue attract the ones you refer to, Chris? I don't recall any of those first Impressionists having any success with officialdom in their lifetimes except Monet and, I think, Renoir.



June 23, 2009, 5:32 PM

And what if Renoir, Monet and Pissaro don't show? So what?


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 5:36 PM

That's sort of what I'm asking: Is it just so what, or will it doom the effort to failure from the start? Because getting the visionaries on board is one avenue to success: If you've got artists with undeniable talent, it'll be a lot harder to dismiss the effort. But if the best artists hang back, it becomes more difficult to justify, and may not reach escape velocity.



June 23, 2009, 6:02 PM

Chris, what determines a visionary? Who knows at the time? All of this 'What if?' The "visionaries,' whoever they are, can come on board or not as far as I'm concerned. When has that ever mattered?



June 23, 2009, 6:21 PM

Promotion & advertising, getting the word out, is probably the big problem. If I were doing it I would start small and learn on the job. Getting a bunch of willing artists should not be difficult and a good webmaster can set things up. Then you just wend your way.

Heres a story on cheap art from CNN:

Chris, the "very best" is really a phantom. People buying from this site are not even thinking about the "very best". The idea is to have a site full of art that has been vetted by experts with taste, which is cheap, with a good cover story about the recession and the like. It makes little difference who the artists are. The real competition, I'm afraid, is this kind of thing:

In otherwords, street fair online, oil paintings for under $100. Horrible, yes, but our clients are not connoiuseurs. But they will have a sense that stuff on sites like these is maybe a little crummy. That's why the high-class, vetted by experts angle is so important.

Once again, this is a strictly commercial idea. the art is just the product.



June 23, 2009, 6:45 PM

Whoa, Chris.

Nobody's trying to generate a new movement or crop of painters analogous Impressionism. That's not the idea. This is simply an attempt to sell worthwhile work for reasonable prices to the mutual benefit of artists and customers. In other words, nobody's trying to set the world on fire here. It's far more down-to-earth than that, and therefore, far more likely to be achievable.



June 23, 2009, 6:47 PM

I meant "analogous TO Impressionism."


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 8:12 PM

I didn't want anyone to get the idea that I believed my critique of the idea, or that we should get bogged down in details about who the modern Monet is or any of that. It's not so much about that (and especially not about the Impressionists). It's more of asking, what will attract the best talent to such an endeavor? Best here being only hazily defined. Say instead better than what you can see at, for example, that


Beyond Dream crap.

More concretely: I've been compared to the dealer Allan Stone and also to Clement Greenberg. (Washed up quasi-Greenberg, but let's not quibble.) Imagine for a moment that I actually believe that nonsense. There's the guy who said "Let's slice the bread before we sell it" and there's ME. I'm AWESOME. I'm going to open Greenstone Gallery Dot Com!

I post and have people pass around a notice reading, approximately:

Online-only gallery seeks ARTISTS
Must be LOCAL to NYC for studio visits

Who do you think I'll get?

Now suppose the problem is no one knows who I am or how AWESOME I am. Okay. Who else do we know who can do this, will do this, and has the credentials to do this? Franklin already said Supergirl will kill him. Opie? You up for it? Local to your location, of course.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer. I'm brainstorming. Or thought showering. Maybe it's just a light drizzle.



June 23, 2009, 8:22 PM

Chris, I don't think anyone is thinking of some sort of cattle-call approach. I think it's understood that the artists selected, certainly initially, would be known quantities with whom the "dealer" would already have contacts and experience. Also, you seem fixated on the idea that this has to involve every worthwhile artist out there, which is obviously neither feasible nor expected. What you appear to have in mind is considerably more ambitious, not to say grandiose, than what most of us envision.


Chris Rywalt

June 23, 2009, 9:35 PM

I'm not envisioning anything all that much. Just exploring the idea. Asking questions. Refining.



June 23, 2009, 9:51 PM

If I do this, I'm not going to represent artists. I'm going to consign individual works. The other labor that a gallery might do for an artist's career (getting art into museums, for instance) is going to have to be done by someone else.



June 23, 2009, 11:10 PM

Franklin, if you did it you would be doing none of this.

All you would do is develop a web page with a very high-tone look about it and a nice story along the lines of what we have been talking about and put up pictures and prices and let the artists & buyers do all the owrk.

Actually, I don't know why I am pushing this thing when there is no way in the world I would do it myself, because of the work involved. But you are young and energetic.



June 24, 2009, 9:05 AM

jack, considering you and i are the non artist consumers, i wanted to get your opinion on 1stdibs. granted it is huge now, but just remember that it started very small with paris and soon after new york, but it has essentially been working off a platform that looks and feels very similar to today.



June 24, 2009, 9:27 AM

So, as briefly as possible, what's the deal with this 1stdibs site? In other words, how does it work or what is its main advantage?


Chris Rywalt

June 24, 2009, 9:57 AM

I just went to 1stdibs. I was bewildered by the front page so I clicked on Shop New Listings. First up: Bill Traylor horse painting/drawing/thing from a store called Just Folk. Already I'm slightly irritated. What's the price on this posterboard doodle from 1939-1942? You need to register to get the price. And then it's...$95,000.

Holy crap. This is a high-end site for all the Pottery Barn look it has.

Immediately my question becomes: Does all or any of this stuff sell? How much of it sells? And then I want to know, what do visitors to this site actually look for?

Of course we don't care about these questions because we don't sell this stuff. But it's the kind of question I always ask when I visit these places. It comes from having built Websites, I guess. I always want to know, who are your visitors and what do they want?

I think those are important questions.

A furniture place opened up between my subway stop and my studio. It's a vast warehouse filled with little tableaux: Dining room tables and chairs; armoires; coffee tables with knick knacks. The day I first saw it I paused and examined a bench which appeared to be made of lumber scraps. The price was in the thousands of dollars. (The place is called Find -- clearly someone doesn't want to be Googlable. Try putting "find furniture brooklyn" into Google and see what comes back.)

I really have to wonder if anyone's buying this stuff.



June 24, 2009, 10:21 AM

go check out the site. i think it has the best fit and feel of any site that sells stuff. nice stuff. other than just providing a platform or middle man for sales, they have weekly updates including interviews, shop tours, mini biographies on design legends, stars, etc. it all comes off high quality and professional.

the other alternatives that have been presented here are a joke compared to this platform.

they pick and choose the best, most exclusive high end furniture stores and display the inventory (now they have added jewelry and watches). it was started in paris by an american and then moved on to the us. new cities or regions have been added slowly.

while some art does come up here, it is definitely not the focus. that could be coming??

can't remember exactly how they get paid. either per listing or sale, or both. they are doing huge numbers.

artnet is probably the best known site that displays galleries, but 1stdibs is a totally different concept/platform.

this site is a huge success so why not adapt it to this art niche. of course it would be a lot of work, but you could start, miami,...



June 24, 2009, 10:36 AM

chris go look on the right side of the first page and look at everything under what SOLD in MAY then call me tomorrow if you are done.



June 24, 2009, 11:08 AM

Actually, I don't know why I am pushing this thing when there is no way in the world I would do it myself, because of the work involved.

That says it all for me too.



June 24, 2009, 11:15 AM

Well, I checked out 1stdibs, at least till I got fed up and left. It's very ritzy and self-consciously upscale, but the listings are shallow in terms of relevant info I expect up front without having to ask for it, especially at these very high prices. Having to register to see the prices is BS, by the way. The Trocadero site is much more to my liking, less slick and more serious. This 1stdibs thing is meant for socialites with a decorator.



June 24, 2009, 11:35 AM

Jack, nail on the head. But for me, the Trocadero site is a bit meat and potatoes in their presentation. I think presentation can be well done without seeming pretentious, like a good picture frame.

In #121, Opie seems to have a realistic approach. But it's hard to know what to do until you get something out there. And it's impossible to know what will succeed.


Chris Rywalt

June 24, 2009, 11:53 AM

1: I did look at "Sold in May" but it was a little light on what I wanted to know. Sold through the site or from the original store? Sold for how much? It's like the red dot in an art gallery: The whole thing could be rigged. Could be the owner decided to keep the darned thing. You don't know.

The nice thing about eBay in this regard was you could tell if a seller was selling and how much they were selling for. It was fairly transparent that way. Of course people tried to fake that, too -- sock puppet buyers and such -- but eBay policy was that wasn't allowed and they'd hunt you down like a dog if you pulled it. Meanwhile, 1stdibs is, like, hey! Yeah, this sold! Could be for a zillion dollars, could be for a buck! We just don't know!

The site design is absolutely top-notch, though, you're right about that. Some poor Photoshop schmuck is getting logos for every store and wrangling them into a standard format (I've done that kind of thing and I guarantee the stores aren't doing it), someone's making sure they have excellent photos of the merchandise in the right format, and so on. The whole site is wonderfully burnished, like the jacaranda cabinet I saw for sale. Some tireless elves are spending a lot of effort on consistency.

I agree it's a lovely model for an online fine art gallery but that doesn't address the underlying concerns.



June 24, 2009, 1:15 PM

I relish the laziness that accompanies senescence, John.

The odd thing is that I don't get any less done. I think that a true devotion to wasting time makes one more efficient.



June 24, 2009, 1:37 PM

In this case, opie, I have a sense that no matter how much effort Franklin or whomever puts into it, there is not going to be much of a positive result. That goes with your efficiency idea.

On the other hand, beginning the process of building a regional audience for his work, assuming that he is settled in Boston, is likely to bear fruit.

Myself, I was more devoted to wasting time when I was younger. Can't explain why, maybe I thought I would live forever.



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