Friday, August 14, 2009

Support our troops

My job is about selling paintings. Making the rent is real. Galleries may offer a community service of sorts, but face it, like most business models the traditional art gallery business model is designed to make money. Gather art. Sell art. Art is a commodity. Making it, marketing it, selling it and trading it. This is an industry. We all participate in it at some level. Today, I’m talking about the buying end of it.

“I can’t afford to buy art, but I’m clear on something, I can’t be without it.” I hear this all the time. What am I supposed to do with that? One option I offer is to “become a painter.” I do encourage this. Many are exercising this option. There is a trend that I’ll call “Post Career Painting Syndrome. In addition to the young art students, the undergrads, graduates, the MFAers, apprentices, journeymen, itinerant painters, the accomplished, the mid-lifers are coming also. Everybody wants in. Informally, I review a minimum of 10 artists weekly. There is a traffic jam of artists wanting in.

Ryan Buffington, an MFA student at the Academy of Fine Arts, located here in Philadelphia, stands with an 8 foot painting he brought by the Gallery for me to see.

The laws of physics require an equal and opposite reaction to this significant influx of artists. Many are the called, but few are the chosen. Plain and simple, some players in this game are meant to be buyers; easy for me to say, right? These are not just idle or empty words. I’ve committed to buying the painters that I show. I will sell only that which I’m willing to buy. So, I’ve set out to acquire the work that I sell. Picking art for the gallery is different than buying one’s own art. On a low budget, I’m forced to prioritize and sacrifice. Now, as a buyer, I know all the reasons for not buying. I’m also developing a list of reasons why to buy.

With every acquisition, I feel the pinch. I’ve had to slow down a bit and find a suitable pace. I’ve set limits and goals. Presently, my max is $500.00 for any given painting. Now, with nearly 20 paintings under my belt, I’m not so impetuous. One must be careful; there is an adrenaline rush that goes along with buying art. I’ve made a few mistakes. I’ve had some surprises and good fortune as well. Being in the game avails us to good fortune.

A guy comes into the gallery wanting to sell me two medium sized framed pastels. The paintings were his mother’s from the 40s by an artist named Alfred Morang. He wants $400.00 for the pair. A quick look on-line I find out that Morang lived from 1901 to 1958. Born in Maine, he died in a fire in his studio in New Mexico. He was a member of the TAO and Santa Fe painters. Recorded sales at auction for oil paintings ranged from $5000.00 to $15,500.00. These were pastels; I offered $300.00 for the paintings, not that I could afford it. He hemmed a bit but eventually agreed. He followed me to the MAC Machine and the deal was done; so I thought. Online, back at the gallery, I searched Alfred Morang again. To my surprise,

there is more information than expected. Beyond that, I even find my two paintings, “Building the barn” and “feeding the chickens!”

Turns out they’ve been to auction, which means there is a pricing track record. A dozen and a half dealers advertise their representation of Santa Fe Painters including Alfred Moran. I contact them by email and say that I’m accepting offers. I get three to four replies. Now, what to do with the paintings? Do I keep them or sell them? I do have options. Being in the game also means you have options.

Options are about opportunity: Amidst a visit to Ashley Flynn’s studio, a local Philadelphia painter, it became clear my $500.00 was not going to get me very far; her work far too valuable and big. Then, I found a small box of small personal drawings. With tears rolling down my face, I picked out 10 small 8” x 11” watercolor/ink/charcoal/pastel intimate masterpieces on paper. We agreed to $50.00 each. She gave me 12 for believing in her work.

There is an undeniable satisfaction that comes with acquiring art. For me, beyond having great art around me at all times, much of being a collector is about the relationships I've created and nurtured with my artists; knowing I am supporting the local community and the life that created it. As a buyer, I am profoundly aware of those that have supported me in my making art over the years. Anne Williams and Antonio Elmaleh, have the largest collection of my paintings and furniture. They have been with me from the beginning. Conceivably, without their support early on in my career, I might not have made it here to the Director's Chair. “I love you guys.”

We never know the final effects of our actions. Casting no vote is still very much a casted vote. Unless we place a value on it, buying art makes no sense. Once it made sense, I was willing to do whatever it took to keep me in the game. I’ve re-prioritized and culled much from my life. Now, by supporting Philadelphia painters, I am supporting the local economy and participating in local Philadelphia history. Just for the record, here is a bit more sense in the form of a new trend. There are a number of New York City artists seeking gallery representation here in Philadelphia. This presents a new dynamic for Phgiladelphia painters. But, I'll address this another day.

Below, are three of my Ashley Flynn renderings.