Life of an Art Dealer
By F. Lennox Campello
Since I opened my first gallery in 1996, as an art dealer, I had rarely worked with “art consultants” or “interior decorators” via the physical gallery space That changed dramatically once I started doing art fairs about a decade ago, but even then, the “art consulting” business, at least in my empirical experience, has yielded little result from the many opportunities that have presented themselves at the art fairs.
Overall, the experience, with one or two notable exceptions, has been quite a waste of time (such as the time that we wasted months dealing with then rookie Senator Hillary Clinton’s Georgetown-based interior designers to select a work by New York painter David FeBland for her home.
Because the focus of what I usually tend to like is contemporary representational work (“realism with a bite”), it seldom agrees with the bland, “cannot afford to insult anyone”, art selection process of most major corporate and business buyers (and all public art projects). And thus, I know that my somewhat negative experience in dealing with art consultants and such has been colored by the type of work that I tend to exhibit.
As an example, about 15 years ago I was asked to participate in an artwork selection process (by an art consultant) for a local DMV law firm. I delivered work by several of our artists whom had been selected by this art consultant to possibly hang in her client’s new meeting room in a beautiful building in downtown DC. “Come in, get a badge, drive to the loading dock, and start delivering work to the 9th floor,” she requested.
As soon as I got there, and saw the kind of work that hung on the walls of the business (a major law firm), I knew that our chances were slim to none – it was nearly all abstract work.
And the very nice and professional art consultant was horrified to see that I had brought a somewhat surrealistic work by South American artist Javier Gil, depicting DC as a twisting, almost alive “thing” to the viewing.
“Get that out of here before anyone sees it,” she advised. “Nothing like that can even be considered and it may poison their minds about the rest.”
Her favorite from our four artist selection was the work of our then best-selling artist David FeBland. I explained that David’s works had been selling very well, especially since the Europeans had discovered his work. Since his prices had been skyrocketing (law of supply and demand), we both doubted that they’d be interested in his work, since he was by far the most expensive artist in what was being presented. Note: Since this was over a decade ago, FeBland’s works have continued to climb, so in retrospect, those prices were a great deal!
But I schlepped all the work over, including a massive, framed photo by DMV master photographer Maxwell MacKenzie.
After a few trips, I returned to the gallery van, which had been parked in the loading dock, as directed, to find it blocked by a truck delivering paper supplies. I asked the driver nicely if he can please move a foot so that I can leave. He then cussed me out for parking the van in the loading dock.
I then wasted 10 minutes of cussing and yelling and threatening the very large truck driver, near getting in a fist fight with a guy who looked like a young George Foreman. This all before another huge guy came in and broke up the argument… all that happened just during the morning delivery process, and thus left me in a total black mood for the rest of the day.
I then returned to DC around 3:30PM to pick up the work. Backed up again into the tiny loading dock, where I managed to put a huge gouge on the left side of the new gallery van (less than 800 miles on it). Then I get a large smear of grease from one of the dumpsters on the back of my new suit, which I had naturally just worn for the first time this morning. Things are going great uh?
Up to the 9th floor, which for some strange reason, in this building is actually a few steps below the 7th floor? Not too surprisingly, none of our work had been selected for the firm’s collection. And what was picked could best be summarized as “big, bold, large abstract art,” mostly by names that I had never heard of… this is a region full of spectacularly talented abstract painters.
I can’t say that I blame corporate art buyers, especially in selecting work for their public meeting spaces. We’re at a juncture in our history where anything that could remotely be offensive to anyone, is not part of the PC art process. When was it the last time that you saw a nude in an American airport?
On one of the trips up to the 9th floor, I ran into a very tall woman who had been the head of the “art pickers” from the law firm; she sees me packing the David FeBland. “That was our favorite among all the artists”, she says.
“He’s our best-selling painter”, I replied, too tired to inquire as to why he wasn’t selected (I already know: price). On the massive table I see the work selected; around 20-30 pieces of mostly abstract, large, work… mostly framed reproductions (cheap wall décor).
End result of that epic venture a decade ago? Waste of my time; scratch on my new van; a ruined suit; and near fist fight with a huge burly truck driver… another day in the life of an art dealer.