October 22, 2011

A rolling conversation: Pricing artwork

 Everyone begins taking their seats before the Rolling Conversations get underway.

 Dr. Paul D'Agostino of Centotto and Rolling Conversation organizer Adam Simon discuss alt art spaces devoted to dialogue.

 Frances Richard and Matt Freedman discuss Clumpism and contemporary notions of the Avant Garde.


Last night at "Rolling Conversations," the inaugural event at Studio 10, Austin Thomas and I had a frank public conversation about pricing artwork. Although artists who show at high-end galleries seem to have no problem talking about their prices and comparing auction results, for emerging artists who don't sell regularly, assigning specific value to their work is nearly taboo. To get the audience acclimated to this uncomfortable subject (talking about process and ideas is so much more stimulating), I began the conversation by asking everyone to write on a scrap of paper how much they charge for their art work. The prices ranged from $0-12,000, and I suspect if we had asked everyone just to tell us their prices out loud, few people would have participated.

Many artists are reluctant to assign their work a fixed price because prices traditionally fluctuate according to geographic location, wealth of buyer, economic times and other factors. For galleries, prices may be posted, but no one knows how much the galleries actually receive for the work. Discretion and privacy are the galleries' prevailing practices, but is enshrining secrecy in the best interest of emerging artists? As Thomas pointed out last night, it is accepted that prices for most other commodities fluctuate from year to year, region to region, for largely valid reasons. So why be so coy about art prices in particular?

In fact, fluid, secretive pricing alienates emerging art buyers and even other artists from buying art. We would suggest that artists establish and post prices for their work, as Thomas did recently when she participated in the Elizabeth Foundation Open Studio. Over the course of three days, Thomas sold numerous pieces, mostly to other artists who probably would have been too embarrassed to ask about prices had they not been clearly marked.

Austin' presented the pricing at her open studio as an art project called Pricing Artwork is Problematic.  "An examination of money, Mastercard, and cash&carry travel-ready ideas," the sign reads."Everything must go!"

Here's one of the the many empty spots left on Austin's wall after visitors bought her collages.


Jason Andrew of Norte Maar and STOREFRONT and Fred Valentine, who recently opened the gallery Valentine in Ridgewood, agree that pricing art work shouldn’t be such a mysterious, unspeakable topic for artists who haven’t begun to sell their work. In an effort to grow the low-end market, Fred has dedicated a small area in the front of his gallery to artwork under five hundred dollars. “I am always looking for items and art for the ‘Gift Shop,” he said. “I take 25% off anything in the gallery under $1,000.00 and this allows the artist to keep the price reasonable but still not feel like they are giving it away.”

 Fred Valentine's "Gift Shop," featuring one of Cathy Nan Quinlan's beautiful cross-hatch paintings.


Jason, who has worked with numerous emerging artists at both Norte Maar and STOREFRONT,  believes that emerging artists routinely overprice their work. He thinks that in establishing a market for their projects, they ought to look at mainly the cost of materials and the time it took to make each piece rather than what other artists are charging, which is usually too high. Getting the work on someone’s wall is preferable to keeping it in storage while waiting for demand to magically materialize on its own.

  Patricia Satterlee's installation at Norte Maar.


In this heady time of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Artworld, and Occupy Museums, artists need to pay due attention to the business side of their own art practices. We need to occupy ourselves. It’s fine to call attention to the exclusionary and unfair practices that are rampant in the art world. But we should also start thinking about how we can help ourselves. Talking openly about how we price our work, though awkward at first, was a good start.

 At left, Studio 10 director Larry Greenberg. Thanks, Larry, for opening a new space in Bushwick.

Related articles: 
Five galleries in Bushwick you (probably) haven't been to yet (Hyperallergic)

11 comments:

Nice talking, very clear. That's happening all around the world, i'm an artist from Chile, and those are things that we usually talk with some embarrasement and talking $$$ is always somehow "dirty"... but on the other hand we have to eat and continue making art. I'm totally agreeing with Jason. Lets put prices to our work, but reasonable ones, not gallery ones, which take 40% of the price, or sometimes more.

I would like to know what "clumpism" means. I think artists should always post their prices. If you are showing in a gallery, your POSTED prices should match the gallery prices IF you want to continue showing in that gallery. However, what you work out with individual buyers in your studio is another matter. But you have to TALK to people. Aye--there's the rub! I have given discounts to collectors of my work, or people who buy more than one piece--I also do payment plans. But to do those things, you have to not be afraid to talk about your prices and your willingness to accomodate your collectors (to whatever extent feels right to you)

Here's a comment sent via e-mail. The correspondent prefers to remain anonymous.

Hi Sharon. Thanks for your latest posting. For what it's worth, regarding the pricing of my work. I tend to want to keep things on the lower side. While some gallerists often feel that I've priced myself too low, my feeling is that I'd rather move the work than bring it back to the studio. Once you reach a certain price point, you really can't go back if you want to keep building upon your base of collectors. I think it's very important that prices don't fluctuate. As artists we are not factories which can have "clearance" sales to move last season's merch off the racks. When speaking with other artists, they are the ones who seem to think that my work should be priced higher. My response there is that when I sell everything at the current prices, then I might consider upping the price - not before.For me, the pricing is not an ego boost, as it is with many artists I know - I need to generate the income (been out of work for several years now) without compromising my collectors. Another sticking point that I find with many artists, mostly those who do not have representation, is a resentment for the gallery to take their share of the sale. Usually what I point out is that the gallery is a business, with expenses. When they take the risk of showing your work, they have the expenses whethere there are sales or not. Additionally, when the work is shown it validates and prompts collectors to want it in the first place. Kind of one hand washing the other. I'd rather have 50% of something than 100% of nothing. A whole other topic is the way many artists actively engage in basicially ripping off their galleries...I can't figure out in whose best interest this practice falls into.

Again, I thank you for your blog.

Hi Sharon, I was wondering if you had any audio or video from Rolling Conversations ? From what was posted it seems like a great discussion. When I speak with artists, usually young and emerging, whenever money comes up it changes everything. It varies from the reluctant to "whatever people want to give me for my art" to the "I worked 20 hours on that piece so I can command a lot of money". In addition, I have started collecting art (small to medium pieces) and it has been interesting to see the range in prices when inquiring at galleries.

Anon--I'm not sure if the video will be posted online. I'll look into it and let you know.

Hi Sharon. Thanks for your latest posting. For what it's worth, regarding the pricing of my work. I tend to want to keep things on the lower side. While some gallerists often feel that I've priced myself too low, my feeling is that I'd rather move the work than bring it back to the studio. Once you reach a certain price point, you really can't go back if you want to keep building upon your base of collectors. I think it's very important that prices don't fluctuate. As artists we are not factories which can have "clearance" sales to move last season's merch off the racks. When speaking with other artists, they are the ones who seem to think that my work should be priced higher. My response there is that when I sell everything at the current prices, then I might consider upping the price - not before. For me, the pricing is not an ego boost, as it is with many artists I know - I need to generate the income (been out of work for several years now) without compromising my collectors. Another sticking point that I find with many artists, mostly those who do not have representation, is a resentment for the gallery to take their share of the sale. Usually what I point out is that the gallery is a business, with expenses. When they take the risk of showing your work, they have the expenses whethere there are sales or not. Additionally, when the work is shown it validates and prompts collectors to want it in the first place. Kind of one hand washing the other. I'd rather have 50% of something than 100% of nothing. A whole other topic is the way many artists actively engage in basicially ripping off their galleries...I can't figure out in whose best interest this practice falls into.

Again, I thank you for your blog.

Hi Sharon. Thanks for your latest posting. For what it's worth, regarding the pricing of my work. I tend to want to keep things on the lower side. While some gallerists often feel that I've priced myself too low, my feeling is that I'd rather move the work than bring it back to the studio. Once you reach a certain price point, you really can't go back if you want to keep building upon your base of collectors. I think it's very important that prices don't fluctuate. As artists we are not factories which can have "clearance" sales to move last season's merch off the racks. When speaking with other artists, they are the ones who seem to think that my work should be priced higher. My response there is that when I sell everything at the current prices, then I might consider upping the price - not before. For me, the pricing is not an ego boost, as it is with many artists I know - I need to generate the income (been out of work for several years now) without compromising my collectors. Another sticking point that I find with many artists, mostly those who do not have representation, is a resentment for the gallery to take their share of the sale. Usually what I point out is that the gallery is a business, with expenses. When they take the risk of showing your work, they have the expenses whethere there are sales or not. Additionally, when the work is shown it validates and prompts collectors to want it in the first place. Kind of one hand washing the other. I'd rather have 50% of something than 100% of nothing. A whole other topic is the way many artists actively engage in basicially ripping off their galleries...I can't figure out in whose best interest this practice falls into.

Again, I thank you for your blog.

Someone told me that your price is right if half the people who enquire about price walk away and the other half buy.

This is so interesting to me. this past few months I have decided to post prices on every piece I upload to my website and to start a "sales page" online for my small works. For years I thought it was anathema to art to relate it to money, after all I'm not doing it for the money. But, at the same time, I want to sell my paintings.

It's a false dichotomy. Money does not taint art, people who only understand art in relation to money do.

Thanks. A very informative article/entry with some great advice.

It’s also important to protect your investment!! Having your artwork authenticated by professionals is an incredibly important step if you want to be successful in the art market. If you need any help on this please visit www.monetexperts.com. Have a great day!

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