Different Markets

Your Local Art World:

Every town has an art world, and these smaller more localized worlds form the biggest segment of the art market. This includes your local frame shop, the exhibitions in your library, and the local college museum, etc. Local museums and libraries tend to show original art such as paintings, photographs, and works on paper done by your neighbors. If you want to be informed about all the local goings on, contact your county or region art council as well as the art departments at local colleges. They have newsletters listing local exhibitions, and slide registries for local artists. 

Your neighborhood frame shop will occasionally have some original art by local artists, but will primarily carry inexpensive posters from national publishers. Most of these galleries are run by honest men and women who want to sell you a nice, pretty picture. Prices for framed posters typically range from $50 - $200, depending on size and frame. These pictures have no resale value.

Occasionally, your local framer will have some "Limited Edition Prints" which can range in the thousands of dollars. AVOID prints by Erte, Agam, Rockwell, Nierman. etc. They are nothing more than elaborately framed, printed, and signed posters with have no artistic value. 

The Tacky World of Commercial Art:

I, The Art Lady, on my high horse, deride galleries that sell Neiman, Norman Rockwell, Dali etc., but frankly, these galleries sell them for one reason - there is a substantial market. Although as art, most of these things have no redeeming value, I really don't mind the fact that people - even people I know and love- buy these pictures. What really steams me is that they overpay!

The Tacky Art World is similar to the Furby market, or the market for Franklin Mint plates - a collectible market. So while, if you have a Dali limited edition you want to sell, you'd be laughed out of the reputable auction houses, you could probably get your money back on the internet.

So, How can you tell if you're in a tacky gallery?

They tend to cluster in large up-scale shopping areas, shopping malls, and - especially - resort areas.

Sometimes you'll see them in airports. For some reason, people who would never think of going to a gallery in their home town, always get suckered into these places on vacation.

They sell "Limited Edition Prints" by any of the following: Erte, Chagall, Earle, Tarkay, Peter Max, Jiang, Boulanger, Neirman, Neiman. A LIMITED EDITON PRINT IS JUST A FANCY NAME FOR A REPRODUCTION THAT HAPPENS TO BE SIGNED. IT HAS NO VALUE AS A WORK OF ART. This would all be fine, if the art were correspondingly cheap. It is not. People sell this junk for thousands of dollars.

They always talk investment and rely on gimmicks like the vaunted  "Certificate of Authenticity". Believe me, this is a worthless sheet of paper.  The certificate normally tells the truth about the work, but in such convoluted terms that you don't realize that the truth is that the piece you're buying is worthless for resale.

By New York State Law a print dealer is required to give certain information. The Art Lady has a summary of the laws for you, so consider yourself forewarned!

Please note that MOST of the people who sell this stuff are typically not bad people. They are, however, ignorant about art and the reputable art market. They do not know about the legitimate art market, and often do not even know what an original lithograph or silkscreen is. I have had four of these people tell me in the past few days that there is no such thing as an original print. The concept is beyond their comprehension. 

Also, there is a group of truly unscrupulous dealers who do actually lie about what they are selling you. They claim that these "Limited Edition Prints" are original works of art. Moreover, they will try and pass off old master prints as originals when they are less valuable posthumous restrikes - prints made after the artist's death on original plates. They also sell forgeries.

Reputable Art Dealers and How to Tell?

The reputable Art Dealer is 100% behind the work and will give you your money back if the piece is not exactly as described in the invoice. She will not offer you a "Certificate of Authenticity" but will happily document for you, in the invoice, the information required by New York State Law. 

Most reputable dealers have extensive libraries -many are art historians or collectors turned dealers.

Most reputable dealers are happy to educate, explain, and teach. They have a passion for the art they sell, and they want to communicate it. 

Reputable dealers will also give full condition reports, and will document fading, foxing or other condition problems of a work on paper, or older canvases. 

Contemporary Art Market:

There are typically four different areas in the contemporary art market and most dealers will sell art from one or more of these areas. They are:

1. The Reputable Print Market which covers both "emerging artists" and established artists. (I always think in terms of speculative issues and blue chip).

2. The Avant-Garde - otherwise known as "emerging artists" (common contemporary terms that make me think of a little flower unfolding).

3. The Established artist - This term covers artists whose work is well-known by the art-going public, and represented in both private and museum collections.

4. The Contemporary Masters
- This covers artists who are generally acknowledged to be important figures in the history of contemporary American art such as Johns, Lichtenstein, and Warhol (although look out for Warhol. His posters are often misrepresented and sold as signed and original by unscrupulous tacky dealers). 

The art dealer who specializes in the avant-garde and in work by established artists also, typically, represents these artists. Most of these dealers have a stable of 20-30 artists who they choose to work with and by representing them, not only exhibit the artist's work regularly, but also are responsible for public relations pertaining to the artist and the work itself. They take care of the artists' slides, get the artists newspaper reviews, get the artists work into major private and corporate collections, and do everything possible to enhance the artist's career. They are also active in getting the artist exhibitions in other galleries around the country. 

Primary and Secondary Markets - Another View

There is another way to think about the Contemporary Art Marketl. Most dealers - especially those who handle less expensive works - sell in both the primary market and the secondary market. 

The primary market refers to art that comes directly from the artists' studio and sold by the dealer from the studio to the collector. 

The secondary market refers to art that is put up for sale not by the artist, but by a collector or other dealer who wants to sell it. By definition, art on the secondary market is by artists who have a substantial worldy reputation. There is no secondary market for work by artists who do not enjoy such a reputation. 

Many dealers do not exhibit art they have from the secondary market in their galleries but show it "in their back room". They often use profits from selling more expensive work to finance their riskier exhibition programs. Collectors who wish to sell on the secondary market have a choice, they can give their work to a reputable art dealer or they can give it to an auction house such as Sotheby's or Christie's. Many times, they choose to work with an art dealer because they need to sell discreetly (auctions are embarassingly public) or because they do not want to risk getting their art "burned". This is a term used for pieces that have been put up at auction and not sold, and it often puts a psychological damper on the market for that painting. The term used for work new to the market is "fresh". 

As the auction houses will tell you, many collectors want to sell artwork for one of the three D reasons - Death, Debt, and Divorce. In times of rising markets - however, many collectors simply put work up for sale because they think they can make handsome profits.