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Monday, June 06, 2005

more thoughts on Dumas, Saltz, the art market, etc.

I’m glad to see that some artists have contributed thoughts on the work of Marlene Dumas. I think that what bothers me most about all of those artnet guy slams is that they have all been so offhand, not in the context of a review or anything but usually in articles about the market and its outrageous auction prices. Just lazy throw-away remarks. The latest diss came in the Jerry Saltz article critical of the auctions; that article mentions eleven artists (Mondrian, Modigliani, Gauguin, Johns, Warhol, Cattelan, Dumas, Barney, Peyton, Currin, Tuymans) but for only one artist is an opinion stated – Marlene Dumas. I guess that was a safe one to glibly diss, five of the other six living artists mentioned are based in NYC.

George made a good observation in the comments section of a recent Modern Kicks post on Saltz’s article - “Saltz complains about speculation at the auctions, but participates in promoting the speculation at the entry level”. YES. Another interesting thing about that post for me was JL’s remark that “the shakeout he (Saltz) longs for sounds like it would cost me my job. Let the eagle soar, I say”. It made me realize again that there are so many people working in the art industry dependent on its continued growth and expansion, maybe not always in the best interests of art? Are artists the only art industry people that don’t have salaries and insurance? Why are we on the bottom of the pile? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had job security to worry about?

Aren't you artists that don't live in NY sick of hearing about this fantastic market in which shows sell out before they open and everyone has a waiting list? They keep saying "the art market" like it is the same all over, but is that what's happening in Chicago, Boston, Philly and wherever else? Seriously, I don't know, so please tell me. It isn't happening in Richmond, that's for sure. Am I the only one that doesn't sell?

I doubt it. Spector Gallery is one of Philadelphia's *hot* galleries and Jim Houser is her hot artist but look at how low most of his prices are! I'm not saying I love his work or anything but I'm surprised that a hot artist in a hot gallery in a big city is so affordable what with all of this stuff we always here about the out-of-control market. I was similarly surprised last year when Sarah McEneaney, a Philadelphia artist whose work I do love and who gets great reviews, showed at Reynolds Gallery. Her prices were lower than I would have expected also.

29 comments:

J.T. Kirkland said...

You think Houser's work is priced too low? Granted it's no where near what they would be priced in NYC, but $2,000 for a 20" x 16" painting is hardly a drop in the bucket.

How much are you charging for your paintings Martin? Ask yourself if it is realistic. How many art collectors are in Richmond? How many people really feel ok dropping $2k for a picture?

The prices of my work in my current show range from $75 to $1,400. The cheap stuff has sold while the expensive stuff has not. No surprise there. Expectations must be managed.

If it's all about location, my recommendation is for you to move to NYC, make your fortune, and retire back to Rishmond. Easy enough, right?

(Some of the above was written in jest, but you get my point.)

JL said...

It's true I work in the art industry, as you put it, but my point regarding Saltz's seemingly implicit desire was meant to be broader - that there's a decent chance that any art market collapse would be part of a broader economic one. Saltz seems to ignore the fact that, if this were the case, not only would insufferable art world types get their comeuppance, but school teachers, sales clerks, machine operators, etc., along with them. Which seems a high price to pay so that he can feel better about his scene.

I basically agree with you about the raw deal artists in general get in what is a market awash with money. In my case, just to be clear, very little of what I'm paid for has anything to do with current art and alas, we're not awash in money. On the other hand, I'm not sure there's an easy equivalence to be made between a growing (even inflated) art market and the given quality of art at a moment in time. I'm not convinced that it's either good or bad for art in the long run. To the extent that it allows a certain amount of bullshit to float, it's annoying; on the other hand, sometimes the flows into places it might not otherwise, which can be a good thing.

Martin said...

J.T. - Prices are reasonable, and of course predicated on the local market. Smaller work at my recent ADA Gallery exhibition was priced between $400-$600, and the two large pieces were offered at $2,000. That is actually lower than the price we sold a large piece for last year ($2,600).

My best sales year was 2002, when I sold a painting for $3,500 out of my show at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and Williams College bought four large works for $2,000 each (they had been on-loan since 1999 - if you visit the Mission Park building check them out!).

No offense, but I just checked out your resume and you've been showing since 2003 and got your Bachelor's in something other than art in 2001, right? Your trying to sell at $1,400 and Houser at $2,000 is sort of ridiculous. We're all VERY WELL AWARE that your current show is your FIRST SOLO SHOW; Houser's current solo show at Spector is his fifth solo show AT THAT GALLERY. Never mind that he is showing in a commercial space that takes 50% and your show is in a non-profit that probably takes 25-30%, or that he is showing in a hot gallery in the fifth largest city in the country and yours is in a suburb of DC.

Sorry to get nasty, but my point is that it's upsetting and frustrating that we (you and me and Houser and McEneaney and everyone else) are LOCKED into this $300 to $8,000 range REGARDLESS of our experience, location, and abilities while we have to read all this hype about a booming market. I'm just sick of it.

P.S. I'm not from Richmond, I've lived here less than two years. I'm always moving. That is definitely part of my art career problem and one of the reasons that I started this blog. I've belatedly realized it's important (career-wise) for an artist to build a base or somehow be somewhere you can always be found, otherwise with each move you are forced to establish a reputation from scratch. Thank you Blogspot!

Megan McMillan said...

Los Angeles is a white hot art market. Undergrads at Art Center are selling clean out at open studio events. A Santa Monica dealer I talked to has nothing in his back room right now, and his fall shows are already sold out. Everyone seems to be on guard, though, waiting for the bubble to burst (just like the real estate bubble death watch).

I'm not sure there's an easy equivalence to be made between a growing (even inflated) art market and the given quality of art at a moment in time.

I don't know, I do think there is a correlation. Maybe it's that LA is such a commercial scene right now, but there's definitely an attitude among some artists that this is the time to crank out salable work while the getting's good, and not the time to be exploring new ideas.

Same dealer I mentioned above also talked about how the pace of the market is requiring him to sign artists whose work is underdeveloped and immature, even though in less booming times, he'd encourage them to grow and develop more before getting into the gallery.

The flip side is that though art as commodity is flourishing, arts funding is still in recovery-mode after 9/11. California has had such a state budget crunch that some of the individual funding for artists had dried up completely.

Being artists who primarily depend on funding to subsidize our work (our performance installations are generally funded by grants or stipends, but we don't make a profit), this means we're not experiencing the art boom first-hand.

JL said...

there's definitely an attitude among some artists that this is the time to crank out salable work while the getting's good, and not the time to be exploring new ideas.

I think you're probably right about that. I was thinking along somewhat different lines: a hot market may bring certain types of b.s. and various distractions, but a bad market isn't better, it just brings different kinds of b.s. and other distractions. In both cases (to keep to this simple model), the values of art struggle with other kinds of values.

J.T. Kirkland said...

Yo yo yo yo... I think this is exactly why people have a problem with your blog. Not once did I get "nasty" about your work or prices or anyone else's for that matter. And for you to go to my resume page and pick out dates and my degree (as if that means ANYTHING about the quality of my work) is simply stupid. Never did I say my prices were optimal and I admitted I don't expect to sell much work at all. It's all about expectations.

Martin, if you want to get nasty we certainly can. But bro, think before you write. I'll hold back this time (I'm feeling generous) but please, don't bring that crap to me.

Back to the point... to the vast majority of people $2k is a ton of money for some paint on canvas and it is certainly a ton of money for a few pieces of wood with some holes in it. It just is. For those who sell works for $10k and up. Good for them. Frankly I don't give a damn.

neutral reader said...

J.T.
You were antagonistic in your first post.
N.R.

J.T. Kirkland said...

NR -

Are you new to this blog? Antagonism is the way things are done here. I think Martin has admitted as much about his own posts.

I asked serious questions. Martin clearly is not happy about not selling work (both his own work and other artists he knows). This is fine, but you have to understand the environment. You have to manage expectations. Never did I suggest he was asking too high a price. Never did I say he didn't deserve it. Hell, when I sell a piece for $75 I feel like I made out like a bandit. I don't make art for the money so it's icing on the proverbial cake.

There's nothing to complain about here. Make your art is all you have to do. If you're in it for the money, well, I imagine hunger pains are the norm.

donnygeorge said...

JT and MB. thanks to both of you: that you can be so candid and objective about your experiences with the art market. this is a great forum to look at the cold hard facts of this situation.

donnygeorge said...

i just read mark kostabi's artnet articles. perhaps this is old hat, but any comments?

J.T. Kirkland said...

It's interesting to look at Kotsabi's career. His work is far from expensive (in his world) and he supposedly sells thousands of paintings a year. But I suppose he isn't like many of us. He just wants to sell. I think any of us could sell that much art per year if we wanted to. Just keep lowering your prices ($2k - $1k - $500 - $100 - $50 - $5) and it will sell.

Kotsabi is one interesting guy, that's for sure. But not a guy I'd want to be friends with!

neutral reader said...

JT
Your inferences were antagonistic. Just don't pretend that they were not.
NR

J.T. Kirkland said...

Never denied it...

"Are you new to this blog? Antagonism is the way things are done here."

But I didn't talk about Martin personally though. I should have known that's what I would get though.

carol es said...

i have recently read about pricing and here's an interesting concept about it. ex: if your full annual overhead is roughly $12k a year (with studio rental,supplies,promo, etc), and you average about 30 pieces, then your base price for each piece needs to be around 400 just to pay yourself back! add to that a labor fee of say, 25 bucks an hour, and if it takes you 20 hours to create a piece from conception to finish, that's another $500 on top of that. if you sell this piece through a gallery for $1500, you are losing $300 per piece.

the same book also made a point about posting low prices being a public proclamation of your low self-esteem.

interesting, isn't it?

JL said...

interesting, isn't it?

It is. A colleague of mine has been doing photography for several years now, mostly on her own. A year or so ago, she started doing straightforward commerical work, family portraits and the like, basically on a referral basis. That in turn has led to people seeing the stuff she did for herself and wanting to buy prints of them, get her into a gallery, etc., and she has no idea what to charge for her work. I've been recommending that she follow this kind of advice. Parts, labor, and all that. It helps, or could help, I think, to simplify what otherwise can be an unpleasant and nerve-wracking business.

Martin said...

Donny - Edward Winkleman, the guy that runs Plus Ultra, has a pretty good blog on which he recently talked about Kostabi and his artnet column. Check it out at http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/2005/05/kostabis-world.html.

I met Kostabi once and he's really nice. Visit his website.

JT - Make your work is all you have to do?

Neutral Reader - Thanks for your input, I agree with you, but I think that with his last comment JT admitted as much.

J.T. Kirkland said...

Admitted as much as what, Martin? And yes, all you have to do is make your work.

As for pricing, I don't agree with what has been said. I collect a fair amount of work and not once did I care how much time it took the artist or how much materials cost him. All I care about is the value of the work to me. So if you spend 100 hours on a painting and I still only think it's worth $200, that's all I'm going to pay. Take it or leave it.

This is the interesting part of pricing art, I think. There is no logic. In my opinion you must experiment until you make sales. The market determines the value of your work. So while you can price your work at $10k, it may or may not sell. Perhaps drop the price to $5k. If you sell 5 paintings super quick you are low on price (obviously). So, then, you need to raise your price. Say to $6k, then $7k, until you feel the balance is satisfactory. As you gather plenty of data points, the pricing works itself out. If the market says your paintings are only worth $50, well, you need to decide if you want to sell for that.

I think starting with materials and labor is fine for a starting point (I use size... as in $/sq. inch). Some have recommended I perhaps go by # of holes. Point is, it doesn't matter. The market will tell you over time what your work is "worth."

(Disclaimer: My use of "you" above is not directed to Martin but instead a general "you.")

As an aside, I once heard a statistic that said something like 90% of MFAs stop making art within 5-10 years (anyone know the true stat?). If that's true, then what's the point of the BFA or MFA? I'd bet that 5-10% of non-BFA/MFA graduates make art (in some form) 5-10 years after college. What's the value add?

carol es said...

why should an artist allow someone like YOU to decide what the market is? or any customer of anything for that matter? the creator should set the price. why should the artist be such a martyr? we should not do that crap to ourselves. if the artist wants 10k for their work and it won't sell for that, then they can wait until they find their collector base, or create smaller works for less cost, or work something else out that doesn't make them lose money on their work, or lose confidence. that's not to say an artist shouldn't work at building a career so they can fetch the prices they want, but i'd say big fat "no" to lowering prices when they don't feel it's right. if more artists stood firm on that then maybe you'd have to just get more money to buy the art you really like. just like anything else you want real bad that costs a lot of money - a car, a computer, furniture, a purebred dog, a camera, whatever. if you want it bad enough you will save for it. there will always be artists who sell their work for pennies. look at ebay. maybe it's priced low because the artist thinks he sucks, and maybe it does suck. it's all opinion. but whatever the ARTIST determines the retail price is, is what it is worth. that's just my .02. jt, what is your point in being such a negative rabble rouser? not that it isn't fun and all.

J.T. Kirkland said...

Wow!! I can't believe someone could mis-read a comment so thoroughly. But Snoopy, you certainly did. Here's the sentence you seem to have missed in your eagerness to respond:

"If the market says your paintings are only worth $50, well, you need to decide if you want to sell for that."

What this means is, if the market says your painting is worth $50 but you want more for it, don't sell it. Simple as that. Artists are certainly allowed to set whatever price they want. And I do too. But your expectations have to be in line. You can't say, "I don't understand why someone won't pay $5,000 for this painting." It's clear economics.

Something tells me you didn't study economics, did you? Maybe not being an art major wasn't such a bad decision after all!

As for this sentence:

"why should an artist allow someone like YOU to decide what the market is?"

Well, that's hilarious. I don't determine the market on my own. Again, simple economics. It's a collective effort on the part of buyers and sellers. However, when it comes down to me considering whether or not to buy your piece of art, I'll make the judgment of what I think it's worth. We either transact, or not.

If you'd like I'd be glad to recommend some remedial economics books for you to brush up on things such as supply/demand, markets, value, etc.

"A negative rabble rouser"??? I'm just trying to help you understand how markets work. You are entitled to think your art is worth eleventy-billion dollars... just don't complain when it goes unsold.

So, to review, do I need to explain just how wrong this is:

"but whatever the ARTIST determines the retail price is, is what it is worth."

Unless, you mean "worth" to the artist and not to the market. As for the market (which is the topic here), have you ever heard the saying that something is only worth what someone will pay for it?

Give it some thought. I'd be glad to discuss more if you want.

carol es said...

i didn't misunderstand you. i disagree with you - despite your expertise on economics. don't misunderstand me either, i'm not talking about MY art. i'm not bold enough to price it out the roof at 10k or whatever. i'm talking about a viewpoint on something i read, which i agree with. i don't agree with you, so leave it at that. my post is an offering of a different view than yours. my eagerness is not as righteous as your insistence of the truth. there is more than one truth in something like this that is so unquantifyable. should i offer up some book titles for you on the subject of physics? please.

J.T. Kirkland said...

Oh Lord... ok, let's throw years and years of economics down the drain so that you can feel happy-go-lucky about artmaking. I pointed out the faults in your comment but I guess you feel like those aren't actually faults. Not sure what to do now. It's like telling someone 2+3=5 and they say not all the time, 2+3 can = 6 if it makes me feel good inside. Rock on Snoopy!

So what was it that you read and agree with? Let's move the conversation there and examine it.

Scott said...

I've got to agree with JT on this one. I think it is a big mistake to price art according to: (1) the cost of labor/materials/overhead, or (2) whatever the hell the artist thinks it's worth. It's worth -- at least in economic terms -- is what the market says it is worth, that is, the price at which it sells (consistently). I don't see how you get to that other than through trial and error, as JT suggests, and sometimes through heavy marketing and outright lying, as I think the Saltz article illustrates.

mjp said...

J.T. Kirkland pontificated: This is the interesting part of pricing art, I think. There is no logic...If the market says your paintings are only worth $50, well, you need to decide if you want to sell for that.

"the market," as it applies to art sales, does not exist, rather many markets do. which market would you be referring to? galleries are a market, so are "art fairs," and ebay. but those are all radically different markets. since this started as a discussion of galleries, more often than not, the artist isn't really involved in gallery pricing.

If you'd like I'd be glad to recommend some remedial economics books for you to brush up on things such as supply/demand, markets, value, etc. I'm just trying to help you understand how markets work.

maybe you need some remedial real world training. supply/demand is meaningless when you're talking about most commodities. how much is that gallon of gas worth to you? three bucks? i'll bet you bitch and moan at the pump as much as anyone, yet the supply and price of gasoline is artificially controlled to keep it high. ever bought a piece of diamond jewelry? if so, you were again bent over the table by an artificially inflated market, that actually dumps their surplus out into the ocean when prices seem to be in remission.

the market - artists - could certainly control the price of art. they don't, but they could. but with the explosion of amateurs attempting to sell art (that in previous generations would have likely wound up in a box in the basement where it belongs) in the internet era, average prices have taken a major hit. anyone outside the gallery system is forced into competition with thousands of freaks and wastrels selling paintings for a penny.

maybe this generation's next great artist is hawking his paintings on ebay right now. i doubt it, but i suppose stranger things have happened.

you are suggesting that textbook economic principles apply to the art market, and as i read the posts about using cost/time calculations to price art, they are saying the same thing. i'm not sure how you can apply what you learned in your college economics class in one instance and argue against it in the other. seems contradictory.

J.T. Kirkland said...

Scott - Thanks for the support. One thing I'd make clear though is that an artist technically CAN price their work anyway they want to. What must be managed though is the artist's expectations of selling. But I think you agree with that.

MJP - Welcome! What we're discussing here is the pricing of art. It can be in a gallery, eBay, or whatever. It gets down to setting a price and being happy with if it sells or not. That's all. You can break down the market into as many sub-markets as you want. The idea from 10,000 feet is the same.

Hey! Have you been spying at me when I'm pumping gas? Otherwise how do you know what I do at a gas station? In actuality, I wish gas prices were higher. What most people fail to realize is that gas prices today are still relatively cheap compared to Europe and during gas shortages of previous decades. I say raise the prices!!

Supply and demand is what drives most commodities. Even if you feel prices for some commodities are set artificially high, you (the buyer) still get to play the role of demand. You can buy the commodity or not. You don't have to buy anything, but you will if you are willing to pay the set price. Again, simple as that.

I've never bought a piece of diamond jewelry (I have no value for it) but I can promise you no one is bending me over anything.

Artists could never control the art market completely (given artists' knack for organization, the idea is hilarious!! Don't get mad, I'm one of you like it or not). That is, unless the are going to buy each other's work. As long as artists are dependent on people with money for sales, they won't control anything. You can't forget about the buyer.

When talking about "amateur" artists (however you define that), you speak negatively of them selling paintings for a penny. I wouldn't sweat it too much. The "collectors" who buy penny paintings are not my audience (if I actually had a target audience). So who cares? If you price a painting at $1,000, then the buyer needs to find 100,000 times the value in your painting than compared to the penny painting. If your work is that valuable to a buyer then most certainly they will buy it.

In your closing paragraph you demonstrate (like your friend Snoopy) that you have not read closely or understand the underlying principles. What I stated about pricing in terms of economic theory certainly holds true. For an artist to set their prices (when they haven't made a ton of sales) they have to find their price point somehow. You need data points! So you can get a first start at pricing by using size, time/cost, # of holes, whatever. It does NOT mean the painting will sell. You may go too high and sell nothing. You may go too low and sell everything. But you need those data points to determine the value (in the market) of your work. It's one of the toughest things about selling art.

But, this talk misses the point of my original and subsequent posts. The economics will work as they will. The only thing you can control absolutely are your expectations. If YOU value your work at $5k and you sell nothing, are you mad or content? I got the impression that Martin was mad about it (for himself and other artists). And I think that is unfortunate. If you care about selling your art (just to sell it) you can price it at one penny and put it on eBay. If you don't care about selling work then price it at what you think it's worth. If it sells then you know a buyer placed the same value on the painting as you did and you both can be happy.

So, to close, there's nothing contradictory here. Just please don't get mad at me or any other collector who won't pay $500 for your painting that we potentially only value at $100. Hell, how how many stories have we heard about masters of art who never had a dime to their name their whole life, only to get "discovered" after their death. What are you in this game for? There's obviously easier ways to make a living.

JL said...

I think it is a big mistake to price art according to: (1) the cost of labor/materials/overhead, or (2) whatever the hell the artist thinks it's worth. It's worth -- at least in economic terms -- is what the market says it is worth, that is, the price at which it sells (consistently).

Just to be clear: when I was suggesting setting a price in terms of material/labor/etc. costs, this was meant as a sort of heuristic to serve as a starting point for someone who didn't know what to charge. Obviously, if people turn out to be willing to pay 10x (or whatever) that amount, go for it. It's useful to have an idea of what's needed to cover production cost and labor and all the rest just to know what one should not consider going below if one wants to profit from the sale. If that's not a concern, or not an important one, the equation changes, of course.

Scott said...

JL,
I agree with you that time/materials/overhead is a useful benchmark, particularly for deciding whether one can make a profit or a living from one's art. My only point is that this type of benchmark is not likely to give an accurate market price -- it usually will be too high or too low. Or maybe more to the point, I don't think it's likely that the prospective buyer is going to care how much the material cost or how much time went into making the artwork when deciding how much to pay. If a piece of artwork cannot transcend its raw materials, it's not much of an artwork.
Scott

J.T. Kirkland said...

This is the smartest thing said in this entire thread:

"If a piece of artwork cannot transcend its raw materials, it's not much of an artwork."

JL said...

I don't think it's likely that the prospective buyer is going to care how much the material cost or how much time went into making the artwork when deciding how much to pay. If a piece of artwork cannot transcend its raw materials, it's not much of an artwork.

I totally agree with the second sentence reproduced here. As for the first, I agree in part: they probably won't care, but they don't need to. Most of us don't care, or even think about, what goes into the price of the things we pay for in life. We may wish those prices lower, but we don't tend to think about how they were arrived at. The same applies here. The business of convincing someone something is worth a certain price is different from calculating what one needs the price to be.

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