Happy times here again?
August 23, 2013
On questions of economics, painters are seldom consulted. Curiously, my inbox has been bleeding queries like, "Why am I so poor?" "Do I need to worry about my galleries going broke? And, "Are happy times here again?"
With about twenty fine Canadian galleries and agents handling my work, I often get reports straight from the zebra's mouth. Zebras, incidentally, can change their stripes. Some of my dealers admit to continuing hard times--a common expression these days is "spotty." A few are galloping ahead of previous years. Pricey ballyhoo galleries seem to be munching again. Art fairs are the new schmooze zoos. An indicator here in Canada is the sale of Canadian art to U.S. collectors. Several years ago Canadian sales going across the border dried up to zero. Currently, some of my galleries are reporting 5% to 20% of sales to U.S. buyers.
During the recent recession, many borderline commercial galleries rolled over and croaked--leaving more green grass for the others. Except for posters, reproduction galleries went fully dodo. Many of the surviving brick-and-mortar, original-art galleries are more frisky than ever.
With bank failures, big bailouts and hammered pensions, the trust in big institutions has waned. The most significant change during the shakeout has been the number of individual artists who have turned to private and Internet sales. Like the locavore phenomenon, it's all about buying your chickens from someone you trust down the road--given that some folks need emus from time to time. Many Internet-enabled artists are now finding lush patches.
As well as individualism, a healthy and flourishing art market depends on widespread prosperity. With the return of U.S. real estate, higher employment, international cost equalization, an oil and gas boom, staying out of wars, continued debt reduction and low interest rates, the sun is breaking through. Like wild antelope, entrepreneurship is on the move. This time around, artists are seeing savvy collectors relying more on their own judgment--with lots of competition at the watering hole.
Regarding private and Internet sales, prices are still in the cellar. For the time being, this situation negatively impacts traditional galleries, undermines authority, and fades loyalties. Selling of "Painting a Day" and such for $200 is okay but it's not a career. EBay and Etsy are still garage sales. Amazon, to its credit, is pioneering the sale of paintings online with the apparent endorsement of what appear to be galleries.
In art galleries and out, my prognosis is that more original art is going to be sold over the next two decades than in the entire history of art. Stick around; there's going to be some grazing.
PS: "The people need prosperity, pure and simple." (Lao Tzu, 6th Century, BC)
Esoterica: My galleries report particular types of folks who are currently moving the market. They can be a pair of recent empty-nesters, often, but not always, decorating a second home. Another is your young BMW driver at the beginning of the trophy period. Still others include the lovely purists who are always there and just want to be part of the magic.