The marketing of original artwork through small galleries is operating, at least in Australia, on a system that has operated almost unchanged for at least a hundred years. Here in Australia my guess is that most households contain no original art on their walls and at best hang a few limited edition prints, some posters and a calendar or two.
Modern marketing techniques are designed to develop a market by helping people realise the benefit of owning whatever is being offered. I firmly believe that there are many benefits accruing from ownership of an original work of art, but for the most part galleries rely on people already interested in art finding their way into their rooms and fail to do anything to enlarge their market.
The gallery system probably works reasonably well for the high end sales of top ranking artists and investment art, but for the great bulk of artists opportunities for marketing their art are difficult to access and usually very costly. When galleries accept your work for sale the artist generally has to provide work on consignment, and pay between a third and two thirds of the retail price to the gallery as commission when it is sold. What other retail outlet would expect to have its stock provided free of charge, pay for it one month after it sells and have the ability of returning it if it remains unsold for a period? As well the cost of delivery of the artworks and promotions such as publicity, catering, invitations, etc for opening nights are covered by the supplier (artist).
I have heard galleries justifying these conditions on the grounds of the high cost of rents and electricity. What retail outlet doesn’t have the same expenses?For most retail businesses the cost of stock and promotions are major operating expenses. I have had galleries tell me that if I wish them to promote my work I have to allow them exclusive rights to retail it, and a full commission on sales outside their gallery. Imagine a car dealer expecting this. In addition galleries are usually interested only in selling high priced artwork as they don’t have the turnover to enable them to survive on lower priced work.
Despite these advantages many art galleries have gone out of business in Australia in the last few years. Blaming the Global Financial Crisis is a favourite excuse, but I wonder if the the truth is the outmoded business model they have been using. The sale of ‘original art’ has increased, the gap has been filled by furniture franchises selling cheap ‘hand painted’, mass produced paintings from Asia to unsuspecting and uninformed clients.
The day must come when we see massive art/craft warehouses selling everything to do with arts and crafts. Paintings and supplies, framing, drafting, singing, music, equipment and instruments, jewellery and supplies, ceramics, glass, dance, costumes, theatre, electronics and computers, books, stationery, leather, paper making, sewing etc etc plus training in everything, art tourism, studio rentals, brass bands, event management and ticketing, perhaps even performance areas and definitely chocolates and coffee. Run by professional business people the warehouses would be humming with activity, centres for the local art communities, buying art/craft products directly from locals and internationals (nothing on consignment). I’m sure you get the picture (no pun intended). Economies of scale would enable national promotions, a complete inventory and excellence of service.
Unfortunately it may also mean the demise of the local galleries unable to compete but greater opportunities for artists.
What do you think?