Sweetest Sales, Part Two
In 2011 I wrote a post describing some quirky and heartwarming stories that led to a sale or sales of my work:
Since then, I have accumulated a few more that I want to share.
My seven-year-old collector:
Several years ago I was approached by acquaintances who live in our little hamlet. Could their younger daughter interview me for a school project on her favorite artist?
Juliet had accompanied her father Brett to an open studio I had hosted several months prior, and so thought of me (the other kids did mostly Picasso or Van Gogh, I think!).
So we did that, and then Juliet returned to my studio for a private art class. Her mom, Rebecca–who I barely knew, at that point—read in the yard while we did our session, and at the end she came into the studio and we chatted. Juliet was still quite shy at that time, but summoned her courage to ask me how much I charged for my paintings. Her mother feared that the question was rude, but I said, no, that asking for price in an artist’s studio was perfectly acceptable.
So I pointed to a 36″x36″ and said, “This painting will go out to one of my galleries shortly and is priced at $6,000”, and then I pointed to a few other pieces in a stack and continued, “but those pieces in this stack” and I pulled out one that had been in the possession of my sister for years, “are much, much older and I will sell to a friend for a few hundred dollars”.
Her mom and I continued chatting, and then Juliet tugged on her mothers clothing. “MOM, I want to buy a painting.” Rebecca was floored and a little embarrassed, so I picked up what I thought was just a conversational ball. “Juliet, if you were going to buy a painting, which one would it be?
“That one”—she pointed to the stack, where I had stashed the earlier piece behind a few others. I pulled it out again. “I want to buy THAT one.” Her mom tried to backtrack, or at least table the conversation for later, but Juliet was having none of it. “How much would you charge me for it?”
I thought quickly. I could certainly have happily gifted her the piece, it was clear that she wanted to purchase it. So I told her that I would sell that painting to her for $150. “MOM, she said, I have savings and I WANT to buy the painting.” It went back and forth like that for a bit, Juliet also insisting that they take the painting NOW.
And so they did.
Her parents made the great call to have her go with them to the bank and make her first ever withdrawal and then bring me the money herself.
The angelic-looking and very strong-willed young artist:
I have since enjoyed getting to know the whole family better, as Brett and Rebecca have acquired a few pieces of their own and we have shared a glass of wine or two.
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She googled “Moody Greenscapes”:
And the study for the piece:
So that was just about that for that, as she explained:
Painting from 1987:
A few months ago I received an email from a fellow asking about the inspiration for this painting:
I have to say, I was very excited to see this piece, to me a standout from my abstract figurative period in the 1980’s when I was living in NYC. I remembered the sale of it to a woman who was accustomed to collecting high-end work, and I had always wondered if/how long she had held onto it. Frankly, given what else she had on her walls in her Sutton Place apartment, I was afraid that it had ended up in a dumpster.
It turned out that she does indeed really love her art–all of it, no dumpsters—even those pieces that have been switched around to different residences and in and out of storage. A few years ago, she offered to gift this piece to her sometimes personal assistant/friend and her husband. And so, it ended up in their California home…and sparked the inquiry.
I was communicating with Rich, the husband, batting info back and forth. Eventually, it was his idea to purchase two small pieces to go on either side, accommodating their budget. After studying the photo of their living room with the painting (which we started calling simply the “Sisters” painting, as is is a stylized image of me with my sister Karin behind me), I realized that monotypes would be the best bet, both for color/affect and for price. I recommended going with the pop of warm color that is in the painting, rather than trying to match the greens.
Then the couple decided that they wanted two more prints, for other spots in the room. I sent the four of them off and the next day got the email below:
“Love them! Thank you. I can’t wait to get them framed!
These are the other two that they acquired:
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Does a gift qualify as a sale?
Some 12 or so years ago we had a holiday party and Gary Alexander, art and science writer from Woodstock, came with his girlfriend. He had been introduced to me years before by my then-gallery, the James Cox Gallery, and had gone on to, over time, write extensively about my work. (This included an 8 page article that got into Freud and brain science and required some serious focus, even for me.)
I had my studio heated and lit that night for those who wanted to take a look, and Gary, of course, did. After a bit of circulating on his part, we went out together and he pretty quickly got snagged by a 36″x36″ painting that was almost totally in black and white, big stormy sky gleam over our Catskill mountains backlit to black.
I can’t find a jpeg of the piece, but it had a look very similar to this one, but with a black mountain range in front:
A bit later, when I went back out with another friend, Gary’s partner was kneeing on the floor, rapt, in front of the same painting.
A few months later, this piece began to—ugh!—develop fine cracks in the surface. It was a new brand of stretched linen I had tried, quite pricey, and I think now was actually stretched too tight, a rare thing. Sadly, this painting was not going out to one of my galleries, even though these cracks were not visible from a few yards back.
I knew immediately what to do. I called Gary and left a message on his machine. Can you come by the studio, I have a surprise for you?
He was there within the hour. A gentle, laconic fellow, he did not stay around to chat after I gave him the painting, but his face said it all.
I am quite sure that it was the last time I saw him. He passed away in 2017.
I hope his girlfriend is still enjoying the painting.
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To Madrid on the private jet:
One more, a quick one, because that is how the sale happened.
In June of 2017 a fellow was drawn into my gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, the Louisa Gould Gallery, by a very large marsh painting in the window. That piece was too big, but sitting still wrapped in the gallery was my season’s delivery, dropped by my husband earlier that day. The fellow, from Madrid, helped unwrap a new 44″x68″, and fell in love with the piece instantly. His wife concurred. Problem was, would it fit in their private jet?
Just then, his pilot walked by the front of the gallery and was promptly hailed. Would this piece fit? Hurried consultation in Spanish. Yes, it would!
The piece was wrapped back up and invoiced and paid for, and out the door it went.
The whole encounter took about 20 minutes.
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I have been steadily selling my work for decades, resulting in many hundreds of pieces going out to homes, offices, and public collections around the country and the world. These stories remind me to be grateful for each and every one of those sales, but you can see that most of the ones that stick with me are not necessarily big in dollar amount, but big in heart.
What Your Gallery Can Do for You
Some time back I wrote a post to inform fellow artists what they can do to encourage sales, behave ethically, and in general help their relationship with their gallery grow.
I always intended to write a partner post from the artist’s perspective: what can our galleries do to be responsive to us, encouraging open communication and trust?
I have for years maintained a positive attitude toward my galleries, always grateful for their hard work and the skills that they bring to their job. At the same time, I am repeatedly struck by certain patterns of behavior that make my life more difficult. My career artist friends are often adversely impacted by exactly the same things.
Just as I am always counseling other artists—and myself—not to make life more difficult for our art dealers, this discussion is centered on how gallerists can avoid behaviors that wear us down and potentially waste time for all involved. Since most of my galleries do avoid these habits most of the time, I know it is possible. (And we need to forgive the occasional lapse, just as we hope that they will forgive ours.)
The pay discussion is always a big one. Many galleries have a set policy of paying for this month’s sales on the first or the 15th of next month. Galleries often argue that, just like any other retail business, they pay artists out of the overall earnings rather than specifically from the sale of your piece. This works out well when/if they pay on time, because the artist can count on when to expect the check, but not so well when the days slide by and your mailbox remains empty.
One thing to point out here is that unlike other retail businesses, galleries don’t have to buy inventory. The artists own the inventory, and when a piece of theirs sells, half of that money is theirs. One gallerist of mine said it best years ago: “I like to pay the artist right away because if that money sits in my account for any length of time I’ll start thinking it’s mine.”
I had a gallery for a period of years that sold my work well but often was very late in paying. The argument from the dealer was that they had to keep the doors open, and so would pay rent, electric, and so on, first. Basically, then, the pay-policy was eventually-after-some-time-has-gone-by-I’ll-start-looking-around-and-see-if-I-have-money-to-pay-you-but-if-not-you’ll-have-to-wait. It was excruciating, the waiting and the not-knowing. They had received payment for their 50% and mine both, and yet I was left to beg for my money—-and was essentially floating them a loan.
This can lead to other kinds of disfunction. The gallery in this case would often avoid my phone calls that were on other matters—things that were directed at bringing us business—because they owed me money and feared being asked. So we both potentially lost money.
Artists calling and nagging about money makes everyone feel bad about each other. But to reiterate an important point: most often we are not demanding nor begging, but simply looking for info on an ETA for our money.
What is my advice to galleries?
-Have a clear pay-policy, whether it’s as-soon-as-the-check-clears or a date next month. If the former–and we all so appreciate the immediate payment–and the gallery has need to wait a week or so to pay, tell the artist. If the latter, send checks out when you say you will. In a busy season it might be hard to find the time to sit down and write a big stack of checks for all of the previous month’s sales, but make it a priority. If for any reason checks will unavoidably be late that month, inform your artists.
-If an artist calls or emails to inquire, give a short answer right away. “Just got paid–sending you a check Monday.” “Waiting for payment.” “In the mail.” “Your contract says the 15th of next month.” Bear in mind that even if the answer is “two weeks from now”, you are giving the artists the consideration of info with which to plan how to pay their bills. And to repeat: it is the artist’s money. It’s not that you need to keep every artist updated on the payment status of every sale, but answering direct questions is a simple courtesy.
Which leads me to another source of stress and feelings of disrespect for the artist.
For all of us who have reached a certain level in our career, we are there because we are responsive to our galleries. I have curated group shows and I regularly organize my mentoring meetings and groups for emerging artists, so I understand well how organizing artists can truly be like herding cats. However, galleries generally cannot operate if artists don’t ship work or send jpegs when they say they will, and those artists who have a pattern of flaking out tend to fall by the wayside.
So when one of my galleries asks me for anything, it behooves me to respond fully and quickly. Sometimes requests could have been made earlier and there would be less stress all around, but those are typical job-related problems. So, if they ask me to jump, I do it right away. If I am traveling without my laptop (which is rare and only for a few days), I do the short reply: “Traveling without access to my files, but I’ll send you jpegs on Sunday evening when I am home”.
The problem comes in when the situation is reversed and I need some info from them. Often my questions have to do with serious planning issues that, just like the gallery, I have to settle so that I know when I am showing where and what pieces are going to which gallery. Sometimes I can wait painfully long for these answers, preventing me from settling dates and artwork for other galleries.
I imagine that part of the issue here is that a number of the artists that I show with may have only a gallery or two, so they don’t have the stress of the juggle. If their show is going to be July or August, it isn’t always a big deal to wait to find out. But for those of us who show with multiple galleries, this comes back to the two-way street: if I am to be understanding that you, the gallery, are juggling multiple artists (as well as clients and PR and so on, of course) and I am not the only one in your pantheon, I would like you to understand that I am juggling multiple galleries, schedules, ferries, accommodations, and artwork. And I want to do right by everybody.
So, advice for the gallery:
If you don’t have the answer to my question yet, please acknowledge the email or phone call. It feels really bad to be ignored. It also is a big waste of energy for one party to have to send reminder emails repeatedly. Again, short answer is fine, “working on it!”, or “we’ll decide by next week”.
A third bit of communication that varies from gallery to gallery is when they notify the artist of a sale. Often, when new to a gallery, I just let this evolve over time and get a feel for their M.O.
But then, just when you think you know that X gallery will email you within a few days of making a sale, you get a check–maybe even a big one—from sales for last month. Well, on the one hand, who doesn’t love a surprise check? But on the other, maybe it is a slow spell and you have been stressing for weeks about where your next check is coming from, so if they had notified you sooner you could have avoided all of that worry.
Have a policy (which some galleries do have, stated in their contract) on when you notify artists of a sale. Within the week certainly seems doable. As a point of trust, we will rarely know exactly when a sale or payment takes place, so we always assume that our galleries are telling us the truth. Period.
(Just for the record, there are several reasons why an artist will promptly take their leave from a gallery. One is if somehow the artist receives reliable info that dates of sales have been fudged in order to avoid timely payment. Another is if a gallery gets caught padding prices and putting the extra in their own pockets. But this post is not about egregiously unethical behavior on the part of a few galleries but instead about unintentional lapses on the part of many that can fairly easily be addressed.)
All of these things come back to communication and making life easier for those around us. Several years ago I wrote this post about communicating when a sale falls through, particularly one that has required a lot of time and effort on the part of the artist:
At the root of this whole discussion is the aspect of power. Do the galleries see themselves as our bosses, or our partners? If it is true that there are way more artists than there are galleries to show them, does this mean that artists are just supplicants, grasping at strewn crumbs?
I have heard of art dealers that look at their artists in that way, but I would not be working with them in any case. Most often, we are appreciated as the cherished talent, the sources of these amazing, unique objects. And if there are others of us eager to fill our spot should we leave a gallery, that doesn’t mean that our personal, artistic terrain can be filled by another. In my experience sensitive gallerists attach to our unique work, and to us.
That said, we are, here at least, acknowledging the power of the purse and of having needed information, while pointing out that galleriests are not paying us their money, but only ours, and keeping us informed on what we need to know to carry the partnership forward.
So are any of us perfect? Am I positing that gallerists should never be allowed a slip-up? Not hardly! In fact, the more consistently considerate a gallery has been to me the more I can easily let go of a forgotten email or a perceived error in judgement. This is true in all human relationships, and I hope that others—including my dealers—grant me that leeway as well.