Demand for Originals Changes Gallery Mix

Article excerpt

It should come as no surprise that as both art dealers and collectors become more sophisticated, they would turn increasingly to original paintings for investment and pleasure. But it might come as a surprise that art publishers, too, are beginning to wholesale original paintings.

Consider, for instance, Collectors Editions. The Canoga Park, Calif., publisher commissions originals to support the company's graphics program but now notes a swelling interest in the paintings themselves.

According to Elliot Blinder, vice president for sales and marketing, "There is a big movement toward originals, spurred by the proliferation of prints on the Internet and the desire of people to own something unique--to have something no one else has."

And consider, too, the experience of Colville Publishing of Torrance, Calif. "You see more and more publishers, ourselves included, faced with one fact: everybody wants to own an original," said Colville Marketing Director Vicky Berg. "We end up putting prints on canvas and embellishing prints. [We took] 50 originals to exhibit [at Artexpo New York]. And some of our oils sell for $20,000. But we see galleries move up to originals as they build their businesses--it's a progression from being print galleries to sampling oils to being primarily concentrated with originals."

Indeed, in 1999, some 11 percent of American collectors who purchased art bought original works, spending an aggregate $6.5 billion, according to Unity Marketing, a research firm which has published "The Art Market Report 2000: The Market, The Industry, The Trends." Owner Pam Danziger said it wasn't possible to survey art publishers and get accurate results about the original art segment of the marketplace, so the firm surveyed 1,000 representative U.S. households about their art purchases. The result of the consumer survey indicated to no one's astonishment--that, typically, buyers of originals tend to be older and wealthier. People between the ages of 45 and 64 have the highest incidence of original art purchases, according to Danziger, as do consumers living in the West (think Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle) and the Northeast (New York). In households with incomes exceeding $50,000, original art was favored by 16 percent.

The Internet: A Blessing and a Curse

There are several factors spurring this miniboom, but one is cited frequently. The Internet, a savior for many art dealers, is a curse for others. "A one-of-a-kind piece is an easier sell," said Bonnie Mansour, owner of Art Leaders Gallery in West Bloomfield, Mich. Mansour began to convert her gallery three years ago from fine prints to originals and now carries 75 percent original work. With originals, she said, "People know it's a snooze-or-lose situation. They can't price-shop on the Internet. The Internet is good in that works by well-known artists can be found, which validates collectors' choices, but we have the originals of the limited editions."

Judy Feldman, owner of Kingsley Art Gallery in Redbank, N.J., agreed. "The Internet is largely the reason we have changed more and more toward paintings and out of limited editions," she said. To be sure, she added, "the Internet is making a tremendous difference in the art business. We've gained business, but people are price-shopping, and we're losing business, too. We're competing in print sales with people on the Internet who are discounting deeply and with people who don't even have the products and who are simply brokering orders," not to mention people who don't have the expenses of a bricks-and-mortar retail gallery.

Moreover, said Feldman, "I've gotten a little discouraged with all the giclees on the market and that the integrity of some of the artwork is not what I would like to see. These are the kinds of things which are forcing galleries to handle originals and to start looking for their own artists."

Art publisher Steve Diamant, owner of Arcadia Fine Arts in New York, is moving quickly away from prints and toward originals. …