|Fall in the Canyon, 12x9 oil|
While I was in Carmel, California, last week, I had an opportunity to visit most of the fine art galleries in town. I found some really nice ones, but I also went into some that could have done a better job at what they do. Over the years, I've visited lots of galleries, done business with many, and have even run a couple. So, I thought I'd give them some advice, as follows:
1. TURN DOWN THE VOLUME. I went into one gallery that was like going into The Gap at the local shopping mall; the music was so loud and pulsating it drove me out. Although the gallery represented some top name painters, I couldn't stay long enough to look at the art. If you must play music - and nothing in the rulebook says you must - let it be soft and stay well in the background. But if your market is teenagers, then by all means, crank it up!
2. DON'T IGNORE ME. In a couple of galleries I visited, the salesperson didn't even say hello. Staring fixedly at your computer screen sends the signal that you don't want to be bothered. (In one gallery, but in another town, the clerk was reading her Kindle and never once looked up.) Or, if you're talking with another client, failing to greet me, even if it's just with a smile and a nod, sends the signal that I'm not as important. If I'm buying toothpaste at the local Walgreen's I don't really care, but when I'm in a gallery and looking at multi-thousand-dollar paintings, it's a different situation.
3. ... BUT DO LEAVE ME ALONE TO LOOK. In another gallery, the salesperson was a real chatterbox. This affable guy just wouldn't stop talking. He was doing a great job of following me and telling me about the paintings I was looking at, but after awhile I just wanted to spend some time looking without distraction. After you've asked the obligatory questions ("Where are you from?" and "Are you an artist?"), please go away. I'll let you know if I have a question, trust me.
4. IDENTIFY THE ARTIST WITH A LABEL. A few galleries didn't do this, which forced me to squint and try to decipher the signature. Many artists have poor penmanship skills, especially when it comes to scrawling a signature in paint. Sure, a painting should stand on its own merits, but knowing, for example, that a spectacular still life was painted by an artist known mostly for landscapes will increase my interest. Knowing right off that a certain piece was painted by a master will do the same. (And while we're on labels, why not put the price? I hate the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" school of thought.)
5. WATCH THE GLARE. When you have lots of paintings on the walls, it's tough, I know, to give everything adequate lighting. There will always be shadows. But one thing you can do is watch for glare and reflections. One gallery had some paintings for which I literally couldn't even identify the subject. It was like driving blindly into the rising sun on the Interstate. How are you going to sell a painting like that?
6. Finally, LIKE YOUR ARTISTS. I went into one gallery in which the talkative owner pointed to some work that had just been brought in and wasn't yet hung. "I really don't like that artist's work," he said. And this was the gallery owner saying this! So why the heck did he have the paintings in the first place? You just can't sell work you don't like. Duh.
These problems aren't limited to Carmel. You'll find them in Scottsdale, Santa Fe and in every other big art town. I find that the best galleries, really, are the ones that are owner-staffed, and where the owner really believes in his artists and understands what it takes to present the artists well. I'd love to hear your comments, and what advice you might give galleries.