Art Market Trends | Looking Ahead

Looking AheadSix gallery owners from across the West share their views on art market trends in the coming year

This month Southwest Art talks to a cross section of gallery owners about everything from the state of the art business to what’s popular in their galleries these days. Join our roundtable discussion with Mark Smith, Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art, San Antonio, TX; Susan Meyer, Meyer Gallery, Park City, UT; Debbie Smith-Klein, Smith-Klein Gallery, Boulder, CO; Brad Richardson, Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson, WY; Ralph Waterhouse, Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; and Chris McLarry, McLarry Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM.

How has your website changed your business in recent years?

Mark Smith: There is a huge percentage of people using the Internet to go through and review our inventory. And when they come into the gallery, they say, “I want to see this and that.” We have collectors who say they go to our website every two days.

Susan Meyer: It’s definitely become more of an inquiry site. Sales that result from the website account for 10 percent [of total business], but I do expect it to increase.

Debbie Smith-Klein: We have noticed that when people have not seen the art in person before, they do not buy it from our website. But I have been doing a lot of business on e-mail, sending digital images.

Chris McLarry: The art-buying clientele is becoming more computer savvy at all ages. It’s rarer and rarer that people say, “Would you please send photos?” It’s all digital. We do digital e-mails daily. Normally, when we get a painting in the gallery, it’s on the website the same day.

How many purchases from the website are made sight unseen?

Brad Richardson: Maybe 8 to 12 percent of our total business. But in most cases, people are familiar with the artist, and we send the works out on approval. They usually end up keeping them.

Ralph Waterhouse: About 20 percent buy sight unseen. From the publicity on Mark Lague, we just sold two paintings from an advertisement.

What genres and subjects are your collectors interested in these days?

Meyer: My clients seem to be most attracted to representational art that has a modern flavor—for example, a landscape that is bordering on an abstract presentation but is still representational. Artists like Seth Winegar at my gallery and Michael Workman at my brother Dirk’s galleries [Meyer Gallery and Meyer-Munson Gallery in Santa Fe, NM].

Smith: Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of people who collect figurative work. But No. 1 is landscape, and it will always remain that way. Our clients like landscape, figurative, wildlife, and still life—in that order.

Smith-Klein: We do well with impressionistic art. People like a lot of paint on the canvas. Cityscapes are becoming equal in popularity to landscapes. No matter what state or city, a lot of lofts are being built, and cityscapes go beautifully in that type of architecture.

What impact does modern art have on your collectors or business?

Richardson: I don’t think it has any impact on my business. It’s always been there. It is for a different segment of the art-collecting community. If that is what they are looking for, they walk in and walk out of the gallery.

Waterhouse: We do get asked from time to time if there are galleries in Santa Barbara that carry abstract works. Most of the avant-garde works are in the big cities—New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You won’t find the average person buying abstract art because they have more sense.

Meyer: In my market, western and representational is still the most desirable, but there’s a demand that artists be more creative in what they are painting and sculpting. I am myself attracted to more modern art, and I’m incorporating it more and more into my gallery.

Has the plein-air movement affected your gallery?

Smith-Klein: I think all of those plein-air shows affect gallery business negatively. You are looking at a portion of the business being taken away. I think that’s what has contributed to galleries going out of business.

Richardson: We do have some plein-air painters. I don’t think it has a tremendous impact on the gallery. I think it is a tool that has been used by artists to hopefully create a better end result.

Waterhouse: Two years ago I would say it was quite substantial. People were asking for plein-air paintings. I’m not getting that as much today. Has it driven our business? No. I think the advent of thousands of outdoor art shows probably has saturated the market and damaged the movement. Five or six years ago there were maybe 10 plein-air events in [California]. Now there are 200.

What about art walks and open-studio tours?

Meyer: I think art walks are really good. I can’t say that they have increased sales, necessarily, but the beauty of it is that it includes going into a gallery as part of a community activity as opposed to an elitist activity.

Smith-Klein: An art walk or opening is very good for the galley because it gets the artists to produce new work. It helps them push their limits to explore more and put a body of work together. Open studios affect all of the galleries. In Boulder, people are pulled away from a walk on Pearl Street, and that doesn’t have a good impact on any of the galleries.

Waterhouse: I don’t have a problem with open studios if it isn’t done too often. Do it once a month, and the artists will have to find a new gallery.

What is the impact of artists’ personal websites? Are they marketing themselves more?

Smith: If they have their own websites, there are definitely conditions. We can’t accept an artist, be committed, and promote them if they can’t be 100 percent committed to us. If they use it as means to promote themselves and direct people to us, that is fine.

Meyer: Artists are definitely marketing themselves more. I have no problem with it. I have always considered artists to be their own business owners. If [collectors] approach the artist’s website independently, that’s the artist’s sale. If they are inquiring about a piece they saw at the gallery or on our website and decide to skirt around me, then certainly I hope the artist will exercise integrity. And they do, as far as I know.

McLarry: We have a policy that they can’t sell directly through their website. They have it as their support tool. It’s usually linked to the gallery. There are no problems as long as they believe in the gallery network.

What has changed about the artists you see becoming more popular?

Smith: The ones who are winning the awards get added attention. The art community is a community of collectors, publishers, galleries—all looking, learning, monitoring, and gathering information about who we think is good. If you see an artist consistently appearing in competitions and winning first place or collector’s choice, it is an overall verification that this person does have potential.

McLarry: Meeting collectors face to face has a huge impact. We will make a phone call, and the artist will come to the gallery and help us close the sale. I don’t think awards have impact on success, but they raise the dollar value. I think artists have to be selective and not try to be in every group out there. It takes them away from their studio time when they’re doing that. You have to choose one or two [groups].

What impact is Latin American art having on your gallery?

Smith-Klein: No one is coming in asking for it. Back east in Florida and New York, it is having an impact. Not here in Boulder at this point. It will come into our area, and I am sure I will look into the possibility of having it in the gallery.

Waterhouse: It’s something that is going to be coming. If we found good Latin American artists and they didn’t clash with what we are doing, I would handle them. But we haven’t been approached. I have my eyes open because it is a growing segment of the population.

What demand do you see for public sculpture or public art in general? Are commissions up or down?

McLarry: We get involved with Art in Public Places. We act as an agent, and we are doing it a lot. We are working with a new museum, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. We also worked with the city of Edmond, OK, on public sculpture and placed pieces by Tim Cherry.

Richardson: I haven’t seen any increase. We do some of that, but it’s not a huge part of our business.

What trends do you see on the horizon?

Richardson: The appreciation and desire to collect western art, meaning cowboys and Indians, is growing rapidly, and there is a need for good, solid up-and-coming artists in those genres like Jason Rich and James Ayers.

Smith-Klein: I feel that there might be a stronger trend toward abstract work.

McLarry: I see high-tech elements moving into the gallery world on a bigger and bigger scale versus mom-and-pop, old-school type of galleries.

Meyer: Sales seem to be increasingly of works that are less dark. Now color is more desirable. It sounds silly, but even dark framing has grown out of favor. And that came shortly after 9/11. In a decade of terrorism, economic insecurity, and war, art will serve to comfort, inspire, and redeem, whereas in times of tranquility, art can be more challenging, provocative, or edgier.

Featured in January 2006