Sunday, March 20, 2011

The cost of art fairs

I was just talking on the phone to gallerist friend who's been doing the Scope Art Fair for the last few years, and as a result of sales at the art fairs, barely being able to keep her gallery open, as sales in her hometown are all but non-existent.

Last December she had a small booth in Miami. This basic booth (200 Sq. ft.) has a basic cost of $10, 600. That's the start.

In her case she didn't add any extra walls (additional cost), but just added some extra lights (additional cost). By the time she finished paying the additional mandatory advertising fee ($1,000 for a small booth - it grows proportionally as the booth gets larger), and the mandatory insurance, she was looking at $12,000 for a basic small booth.

Now add airfare for her and an assistant (it is physically nearly impossible to do an art fair with just one person manning the booth - believe me... I've done once and know the impossibility of this task). Then add hotels (share the room) and transportation (share the rental car) and food for her and her assistant. Now tack on the shipping price for the artwork from the Mid Atlantic to Miami, Florida (and back for unsold work). The cost is now around $15,000 for this basic booth, plus the assistant's salary (undisclosed).

She had decided to take just one artist to Scope (the fair has a pretty tough minimalist hanging policy), and had applied with just the one name. She was glad that Scope accepted this "new" artist, because this was an artist with strong representational imagery and thus good possibilities for sales.

When they hung the works - you can't overhang at Scope, so about seven paintings were displayed - she realized that she had made one major error. More on that later...

In the first two days of Scope, all of the paintings sold, and the "extra" two which had been shipped also sold later on. The artist was jubilant.

What was the gallerist's mistake?

With a $15,000 (plus the assistant's salary) expense, she needed to sell at least $30,000 worth of artwork in order just to break even (plus more to cover the assistant's salary).

With her artists' prices starting at $800 for a small oil and $3-4,000 for the other larger paintings, even though she sold out of all the work that she had shipped, she still lost about $4,000 in the event, and considered herself lucky to escape with this loss, which she attributed to failing to deduce that she had to sell at least $10,000 per wall in order to break even; a very basic mistake for an experienced gallerist.

In the old days, when an artist sold out, you raised his/her prices up a little the next time (she did this for the second hanging of the extra paintings); in these days of extreme financial austerity, that's not always a perfect formula anymore.

This is one of the many reasons why galleries go under: the enormous financial risk involved in participating in just about the only venues left where a gallery can sell art.


Jesse said...

I've heard similar results from other art dealers with different circumstances ending in the same result.

I just hope your friend was able to write off the loss and keep rolling with the gap in income.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, the financial obligations and the expectations of potential income were known well in advance. This is basic Business 101.

She only figured this out after the fact? No wonder she is struggling to stay in business.

Sooner or later, folks in the arts, both artists and galleries, have to understand that they are in business. How good they are at operating a business may be more important than how good and artist or gallerist they are.

Lenny said...


You and I are in tune... I agree 100%

This was an amazing, very basic mistake for a very experienced gallery...