Money makes the art world go round

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Being math phobic, I hesitate to bring up anything about the business of art (image of Degas’ “Cotton Exchange” painting, a marriage of business and art). But even I know we’re in a bad recession and that things are getting worse instead of better. So on my gallery rounds, I’ve been asking “how’s business.”

I have few numbers to report, but my eyes and ears tell me moribund sales and gallerists in need of mood stabilizers are a bad sign long-term for Philadelphia.

Pentimenti has a great show of Isabel Bigelow’s encaustic paintings. They’re not selling, although gallerist Christine Pfister says she recently sold some of Bigelow’s older pieces –smaller, minimalist works that are kind of 60’s-retro (read, safe, designy).

Gallery Joe’s current exhibit of drawings (grid drawing by Mark Sheinkman. For more see Libby’s blog of May 3) is fabulous. The work is very reasonably-priced– and is not moving. Worse yet, indefatiguable Becky Kerlin is showing signs of gallerist burn-out. Oy!

Rodger LaPelle, 3rd St. philosopher and scene observer, who’s survived several economic ups and downs in his decades of running his Rodger Lapelle Gallery summed it up as the war, the recession, the fact that Philadelphians are “cheapskates,” (see that recent Inquirer article comparing consumer spending here with that in other cities)….that and the fact that 3rd St. has been a construction zone for months now — muddy, puddly and impassable. LaPelle says his sales this quarter are down over last year’s but he’s here to stay, a dedicated enthusiastic player.

Schmidt-Dean gallery this month may be the exception. William Smith’s landscapes (image) are selling, a profusion of red dots covering the price list. (Smith’s tres Philadelphia landscapes –it might be Fairmount Park, you never know — are beautiful and hardly controversial making them a safe bet…is that the key?)

I’ve become an art collector over the last couple of years. I can’t afford much but I know I’ve got to buy. It’s soul satisfying to have a piece of art around that you decided on and purchased with your own hard-earned dough. I know many artists –who can least afford it –who are the best purchasers of art.

If artists can buy in these times of economic downturn, surely those with deeper pockets can, too. Come out, come out where ever you are. The market needs you. Philadelphia needs you.

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