A Day In the Life of a Dealer….Art That Is!

By F. Lennox Campello

A Day In the Life of a Dealer….Art That Is!

I opened my first gallery in 1996 in Georgetown, and a second one in Bethesda in 2002. In 2006, for three years I left the DC area and lived near Philadelphia, where I started my third art gallery. In all those years (until recently and because of art fairs), we have rarely worked with “art consultants” or “interior decorators.”
Overall, the experience (in the very few times that we’ve worked with them) has been quite a waste of time -such as the time that we wasted months dealing with then Sen. Hillary Clinton’s Georgetown-based interior designers to select a work by New York painter David FeBland.
Because the focus of my art dealer side has mostly been 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 public art projects).
But I think that you constant readers may be interested in the glamorous life of a gallery-owner, and thus a story from my diary for this months column – something that happened about 12 years ago:
“Yesterday I bit again, and delivered work by several of our artists that had been selected by a very major law firm’s art consultant to possibly hang in their new meeting room in a beautiful building in downtown DC. Come in to the building; get a security badge; then drive to the loading dock behind the building with a loading dock pass, and start delivering work to the 9th floor. As soon as I got there I knew that our chances were slim to none, as I saw a lot of bland, abstract work on the walls – nothing of the caliber and skill of a great abstract painter, such as Anne Marchand or Georgia Nassikas (to name drop a couple of brilliant DMV artists).
And then, the very nice and professional art consultant was horrified to see that I had brought a piece by one of our artists (South American artist Javier Gil, whose twisted DC area landscapes were really brilliant!).
“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 best-selling artist David FeBland. I explained that David’s works have been selling very well, especially since the Europeans have discovered his work. Since his prices have 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.
But I schlepped all the work over, including a massive, framed photo by Maxwell MacKenzie, perhaps the DMV’s most talented landscape photographer.
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 then asked the guy nicely if he could please move a foot so that I could leave. He then cusses me out.
I then wasted 10 minutes of cussing and yelling and threatening the very large truck driver, in the process getting pretty near to a fist fight with a guy who looked like George Foreman, before another huge guy comes in and breaks up the argument… all that before I can leave, now in a total black mood.
I returned to DC around 3:30PM to pick up the work; back up into the tiny loading dock, where I manage 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 picked. And what was picked can best be summarized as “big, bold, large abstract art,” mostly by names I had never heard of.
In retrospect, I can’t say that I blame the 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 I run into a very tall woman who had been (I think) 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.
Waste of my time; scratch on my new van; possibly a ruined suit; and near fist fight with a huge burly truck driver… another day in the life of an art dealer.”

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