Thursday, March 20, 2008


I've just had an interesting email exchange with a very well-known artist, whose work I have sold many times in the past, and whose work I hope to sell again soon.

She was giving me prices for her new work, and checking up with me and all her other dealers I assume, because she noted that some galleries were selling a particular older limited edition etching for $3,000 each, when the gallery price should be $5,000.

I've never seen this work listed for under $5,000, but I digress.

She affirmed that the gallery price for that particular work was $5,000 and that only she could sell her own work in her own studio for $3,000.


This is a harsh lessons that most artists need to learn very quickly: An artist cannot afford to compete with him/herself when it comes to prices.

The exact same editioned work can't be sold for $1000 in DC, for $4000 in London, for $300 in Brazil and for $500 bucks in your studio. The same size painting cannot wonder all over the price scale depending where it's being sold.

See what that does?

1. It can damage the reputation of a dealer. Imagine the collector who pays $4,000 in London when he sees the same work for $500. The immediate reaction is "that dealer ripped me off," not realizing that the artist is the one who is ripping everyone off by creating price confusion and trying to pass the gallery commission off to the collector. A good artist and gallery relationship is a symbiotic one, not a money struggle.

2. It will damage the reputation of the artist and will always bring the "real" price of the work down to the lowest price, when the idea is for art dealers and artists to work together to raise demand and thus prices; not have prices wondering all over the scale.

This is very different from the secondary art market, where auction prices can wonder wildly all over the place.

But artists must be consistent in their pricing and swallow the bitter pill that if they are going to work with an art gallery or art dealer or many of both, then they can't have them competing with each other and also with the artist, because a good art dealer's job is to protect both the artist and the collector.

Of course there are nuances to this process... both dealers and artists should have a specified leeway to give collector's discounts to ahhh... collectors, and also offer discounts to multiple buys when someone buys several works at once.

But not discount your own work by 50% just because it is being sold out of your studio.

That just drags your prices down and will cause your art dealer to scold and educate you, or even drop you.

Of course, like some artists that I know, if you do not need an art dealer and can sell your own work all the time, then -- since you are the only one selling it -- you control prices and can do whatever you want, and hopefully won't be having art "sales" where you'll be "discounting" the work that you sold to collectors a week earlier for a specific price, to a much lower price.

It's a little complicated at first, but once you truly examine the issue, then it should be clear to see that the idea and goal is to expose your artwork, get it seen, commented upon and -- if that's your goal -- sold for a fair and reasonable price, and letting the laws of economics take it to where it should be.

But definitely not under the "blue light special" of your own studio.

Sandra Ramos Lorenzo

Later this year I will be curating two exhibitions of art by Cuban and Cuban-American artists for Mayer Fine Arts in Norfolk, Virginia and H&F Fine Arts in Maryland.

One of my favorite contemporary Cuban artists is Havana's intelligent and courageous Sandra Ramos Lorenzo, whose American commercial gallery debut took place at the original Fraser Gallery in Georgetown a few years ago.

photo of Sandra RamosCuban artist Sandra Ramos is considered by many to be the leading Cuban visual artist of her generation, and it was a surprise in the case of that Fraser show because she was not allowed to visit the US for her opening.

Since she had previously visited the US many times, both for museum shows in other American cities and for museum art conferences (as invited speaker), and since her work is in the permanent collection of many prestigious American museums, such as The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, it came to her as a shock when her visa to attend her Washington, DC opening was denied a few years ago.

Her work, which often delivers visceral commentaries dealing with taboo issues in Cuban society such as racism, mass migration, freedoms and liberties and the impact of Communism on the Cuban psyche, has placed Ramos at the very leading edge of a group of young Cuban artists who use their art as a narrative medium to describe, criticize and export the harsh realities of Cuban life and the world in which they live and work.

print by Sandra RamosOne of Ramos’ most poignant works, in the collection of MOMA in New York best exemplifies the work that has made her famous. Titled in Spanish “The Damned Circumstance of Being Surrounded by Water,” Ramos transforms her image (as a little girl) onto the shape of Cuba, her body pinned to the island by bright red Royal Palms (the national tree of Cuba) changed from its natural color to the color of the Cuban Revolution. This mixed media print sells for $5,000 USD and I am told by Ramos that she's about to run out of the edition (edition of 50 as I recall).

This is one of those key Cuban artists who should become better known once Cuba's Communist sentence ends and Cuban artwork can become easier to obtain and show in the United States.

Buy Sandra Ramos now!

States' Arts funding grows in Fiscal Year 2008

We are being told that the economic sky is falling, but the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies' latest Legislative Appropriations Annual Survey reports that appropriations to state arts agencies currently stand at $359.6 million. Between fiscal years 2007 and 2008, state arts agencies gained $9.5 million in state funds, an increase of 2.7 percent.

state chart

Note Florida's massive cuts, accounted for "lower than anticipated state revenues."

Also note that the District of Columbia puts out $9.38M, while cheapskate states like Colorado ($1.5M) appear to barely support the state's arts agencies, and even more amazing, DC puts more money towards the city's art agencies than Virginia (which did increase by almost 27% by the way).

Real cheapskate award: California at $4M.

Spending too much for its own good award: New York state is projected by some to have a 6.3 billion dollar budget deficit, yet the Empire State puts out a whooping $51.8M.

Odd state territory out in the list: tiny Puerto Rico, which has an astronomical unemployment rate and pays no federal income tax, but gets to vote in the Presidential elections - while DC residents do pay and until the 23rd Amendment couldn't even vote - puts out $28.3M!

Phoenix Art Lessons for Cities

Here's a model for cities trying to make the arts work for them:

Freedom is the key to economic growth - The City of Phoenix decided a vibrant arts district would be a nifty idea to revitalize its downtown core. Too often, cities are tempted to achieve such a goal by taxpayer subsidies, eminent domain, tax hikes, or draconian zoning requirements. Instead, Phoenix decided to try a different approach --deregulation.

The City is proposing an “arts, culture and small business overlay” that eases zoning restrictions and increases the number of activities that no longer need a special permit in a small area near downtown. New businesses such as art galleries, bookstores, and restaurants will be allowed to operate without special permission. Restrictions on alcohol sales, musical entertainment, and outdoor dining will be relaxed. The City also will make it easier to rehabilitate existing structures.
Read the article here, then someone please print it and mail to the mayors of Philadelphia, DC, Wilmington, Richmond and Annapolis.