THE ANGEL’S STORY Chapter 26
The Art World (as I know it)
Over the past 40 years I have been rejected regularly by the Art galleries and have survived mostly by my wits and good luck. There is however, a definite advantage to constantly being out of work, especially when being out of work is an every day occurrence. This forces you to have lots of fishing poles baited and out there, that are working for you. There is never a time when you are not fishing for new work…. even when you have work. Because I am self-employed, there are no health benefits, no vacations, and no unemployment dollars either. Depending on your point of view, this could be viewed as a tremendous gift. Whatever the case, it makes you work at your work everyday.
Every day is different. There are no repeats as far as sales go. Nothing is permanent. Rejection at this point is almost a badge of courage and standard fare. I think there are about 40 years now of rejections from the art galleries.
I can only afford to sell my sculpture through the investment level, high-end galleries due to the cost of bronze and the high percentage taken by the gallery…usually fifty percent and in New York, some times as high as sixty percent. Today, there is not one, high-end, investment level, Fine Art Gallery anywhere in the world that I know of, which sells a figure until after you are dead. This is what we artists call the “stiff-prerequisite!”
Every single one of them sells only abstract stuff. Not that there is anything wrong with abstract stuff. It is sort of like the POP music of today. Most of it is garbage, but somewhere in that heap of garbage, there is a jewel to be found. There are lots of Vanity galleries out there who will gladly sell your work for two or three hundred thousand dollars, but they are taking a fifty percent commission on the sale. I am currently paying production costs of approximately $100,000/ $120,000 for a single sculpture. This amount does not include paying myself or my expenses in overhead. Selling at two or three hundred thousand dollars, not only am I not making any money, I am loosing dollars because at that price I have not been able to cover my costs for studio rent, heat, light, electricity, insurances, a truck, and office expenses….nor have I paid my self for me….. i.e. rent… food…medical , dental , insurances etc. This is why sculpture is a rotten, capital intensive business and hard as hell to survive in it unless of course you are a “trust fund baby” or supported by your spouse. Ah but there is a bright side…. The upside of all these high costs is that it knocks out ninety-nine percent of my competition. There is always and upside to this stuff. I guess it just depends on what sort of day you are having.
The purpose of an Art Gallery you must remember is not ART. The purpose of course, is to make money, as it should be. And the way that you make money in a high-end art gallery for sculpture by living artists today is not through the ART, which they get for free. ( i.e. Galleries do not buy their inventory, they get it for free … i.e. on consignment.) So they, the galleries, put their money into the finest salesmen in the world who are so very talented that they can routinely sell sour milk to cows! Furthermore, the galleries discovered that if they sell abstract sculpture (stuff which I call POP, OP and Slop) they will make more money on an abstract sale than from a sale of a figure. Why? Because buyers have opinions... and any opinion whether valid or Invalid....deserved or undeserved…so long as the buyer has an opinion, of any kind, the percentage of sales goes down.... and if the sculpture is abstract...the buyer does not know what it is or what it represents. The buyer has no opinion! Therefore the buyer is totally dependent on the salesman who tells him what he is looking at, what it represents, how they should feel about the work in question and why he should buy it. In short order, combined with lots of wine, and a great raconteur, the percentage of sales goes up! … Art sales at the high-end galleries, no longer depend on the quality of the ART but rather the expertise and experience of the seasoned salesman and the geography on which he stands … i.e. Worth Avenue: Madison Avenue: Etc. Notice here… that I use the pro noun: HE in this description because most of the people who buy bronzes are men. (women tend to prefer the colors such as in porcelain) and men in general, still prefer to spend what they consider “investment dollars” using a male representative or broker. They still trust “man to man” for the security of their investments. (at least it seems to be this way to me in the majority of cases. Of course there are exceptions but they seem to me, to be rather rare)
Furthermore, if one goes to a brokerage house to set up a portfolio, one is advised on stocks, bonds, real-estate, silver and gold. Then almost as an afterthought, the customer is asked if they like art? The customer invariably says yes and a paper listing the “Top Investment-level galleries is given to them and they are told to shop at those galleries because they have the best track record. NOTE: The list is based … Not on the art but rather on the gallery’s bottom line.. In actuality, you may or may not be getting a first class work of art … no matter how much you are paying. These thoughts are strictly my own and I am sure to encounter lots of push back by the professionals in the ART WORLD.
Some time back in the forties, gallery folk discovered that they no longer needed expertise regarding the products which they were selling, if they sold abstract stuff. They no longer had to put their necks and reputations on the line as they would, if they were selling figurative work. Figurative work is high risk: Everyone has an opinion on it: No one has an opinion of abstract sculpture because they do not know what the hell they are looking at. There are very few people to criticize the gallery and its choice of abstract sculpture. Not so …. when it comes to figurative sculpture. Everyone criticizes figurative sculpture. Everyone has an opinion on it. A gallery at the highest or investment level of fine art must hold an in-depth knowledge of the figure and its place in fine art history. If the Gallery at the “A” level makes a mistake in its selection of figurative sculpture, the world will know about it over-night! If they should make a mistake on abstract sculpture….well…. The piece will simply be pushed aside and it will slip away into quiet obscurity. No risk there! Today, Abstract Sculpture by living artists is viewed by the gallery as a safety net for their business. This is the basic reason that the finest galleries in the world, which handle sculpture, handle only abstract works of living artists. It’s called “risk management” at business schools. Risk management also teaches that if you are not an expert on the stuff that comes across your desk, no matter how much you may like it: don’t touch it. Don’t put your neck on the line unnecessarily! What these guys are really good at, is creative finance, long run on descriptive sentences, lengthy, high priced dinners, and lots of wine. They can enthrall you with stories about their artists, their families, their affairs and their histories. These guys are soo good at what they do that at the end of the dinner, you can hear the buyers ask the salesman ( who is by now on a first name basis with his customer) “ Is that a good Price for this piece?” Whatever you may think about their business ethics…They get the job done and sell the sculpture! This is how they make money at the high-end of the “Art World”…pronounced…The Aht-World.
Today, there is not one “A” rated gallery in the world which sells a figurative sculpture by a living artist…Why would they bother? Why would they take the risk? Abstract sculptures are safe for them. It requires little or no expertise in figurative fine art and has the benefit of making the most money, which after all is the purpose of business, n’est Pas? Degas himself would not have a prayer in today’s art world because there is no one left to fairly or appropriately evaluate his work! Today’s gallery directors and curators are totally untutored regarding figurative sculpture.
Thank goodness for Bill Gates because without access to the Internet, I most certainly would have been out of business altogether after September 11, 2001 after which, all commissions and sales were canceled. Today, I am working on the Angel project and trying to put together a marketing group for my work using the “Linkedin” program on the Internet. Not sure if it will work, but I am going to give it a shot.
This is a new adventure and perhaps my last attempt to beat the system which as near as I can tell is, in fact, impenetrable for someone like me. More news as it happens.
Enough chatter for tonight! XO Sterett