“True Stories from the Gallery World”
By F. Lennox Campello
“True Stories from the Gallery World”
“True Stories from the Gallery World” should be a book written by me about some of the most interesting, sometimes even weird experiences that I’ve had since I started selling art – initially my own art school assignments at the Pike Place Market in Seattle when I was an art student at the University of Washington.
One of the key lessons which I learned there is that the trite saying “Art is in the eyes of the beholder” is very true. And I have empirical evidence to prove it.
As I noted, I used to sell, trade and/or give away all of my art school assignments: ALL OF THEM, including the inexplicably senseless ones, such as the ones which one of my professors, maybe Alden Mason, or perhaps Jacob Lawrence assigned, where each student was handed a brown grocery paper bag filled with objects and stapled shut.
In the “assignment”, we were supposed to “feel” the objects and use our mind’s eye to image or detect what the object was and then produce a charcoal drawing on newsprint.
You can just imagine the vapid things which resulted from this assignment, but just like all my assignments, as soon as it was graded, I had it backed in a sturdy board, shrink-wrapped and on sale for around five bucks at the Pike Place Market.
These beauties usually hung around for a few years, with thousands of visitors pawing them as they looked though all my offerings and passing on them.
And then one day, someone would pick one up, hold it triumphantly in front of their faces with two extended arms and shout: “I love this!”
Behind the metal tables at the Pike Place Market, I would smile warmly at the new collector while thinking to myself: “Why?”
Why? Because that trite saying is indeed true!
A couple of decades later my then wife and I opened up The Fraser Gallery in the Canal Square of Georgetown, which at the time boasted of seven galleries within the square – all centered around the Sea Catch Restaurant, right on the Canal.
Thus, the setting for my story: We had a gallery group show of 25 or so artists from around the US, Europe, Latin America and the region. A casually dressed couple, having just finished dinner at the Sea Catch Restaurant in Georgetown step into the gallery.
Him: Can we come in?
Me: Yes of course, welcome to the gallery.
Him: Does it cost anything to come in?
Me: Of course not! Come on in and look around, let me know if you have any questions.
They come in, and start looking at the works on exhibit, which as with any group show, include a variety of styles, genres, and subjects.
Her: We didn’t know there were any art galleries here…
Him: Are these all by the same artist?
Me: Uh… no, it’s a group show by artists from all over the US, some from Europe and some area artists.
Her (pointing to a large etching): I really like this piece.
Me: It’s an intaglio etching by —
Him (looking closely at the wall label with title, artist and price info): Is that the best that you can do?
Me: It is the price for the work sir, this etching is an edition of 10, and several pieces have already sold and —
Her (Looking at a small drawing): I really like this one too.
Him: Is that the same artist?
Me: No, that’s a graphite drawing by —
Him: How come it is the same price as the other one (pointing to the etching)? That other one is at least twice as big.
Me: This one is an original drawing; it is one of a kind, and the other piece that you liked is a limited edition print, and there are 10 of them, although there are only three left in the edition.
Him (looking incredulous): Somebody bought all the others?
Her: I really like both of these… they’re much more interesting than all the stuff that you have hanging at the house.
Him: If we buy both of them, will you give us a deal?
Me: Well, they’re very fairly priced as they are, but if you buy both of them, we will gladly offer you a 10% collector’s discount.
Him (adding up the Math in his head): How about $1500 for both of them?
Me: Sorry sir, that’s more like a 50% discount – you wouldn’t want to do business with any art gallery that has a price structure where you can obtain “art” at half price.
Him: I always get at least 40% at other art stores.
Me (clearing my throat): We don’t exhibit work that can be ethically discounted to those extremes, and most reputable art dealers do not either; it hurts both the artist and the collector.
Her (staring hard at him): I really like both of these; I’ve never seen work like this before and I really like them.
Him (beginning to get the message): How about 25% off?
Me: With a 10% collector’s discount you are getting a very fair price for two framed works of real… art.
Her: Just get them…
Him: Awright… We’ll get them if you deliver them to Virginia and that way it will save us the sales tax.
Me (hoping that my eyes are not rolling): Where in Virginia?
Her: Great Falls.
I swallow hard, do the paperwork, and after explaining to them that they’ll have to wait until after the exhibition is over, close the sale. A couple of weeks later, I contact them to arrange the delivery.
Using our delivery service (in other words me), I drive to Great Falls, and find their home, or shall I say mansion, one of those monster houses with acres of lawn. I knock on the door.
A Filipino maid actually wearing one of those French maid outfits opens the door. I explain to her that I am delivering two pieces of artwork, and after she stares at me and the two pieces of art, she lets me in, and shouts something in Tagalog towards the upstairs. A second uniformed Filipino maid comes down, and speaking in English says that the owners are out, but that they left a message for me just to leave the two pieces of art.
I do so, and ask her if it is OK for me to look at the owner’s art collection. She nods and leaves, while the other maid keeps an eye on me.
And I look at wall, after wall full of gaudily-framed decorative work… you know: Impressionistic women in Victorian dresses with umbrellas in the wind, large Parisian scenes in thick, bright oil paints, men and women in hats that cover their eyes playing pool, seductive-eyed vixens staring dreamily into the viewer, Kinkaidian landscapes, and strangely enough at least six huge photos of those dog portraits by Wegman.
I sigh, thinking of all the tens of thousands of dollars spent in “wall decor,” and almost feel as if I am leaving two small hostages behind.
The English-speaking maid checks up on me, as I leave.
Me: Who usually buys the… uh… artwork?
Maid: These are all Mr. ____’s.
She points to the two that I’ve left behind.
Maid: Those are the first two that his new wife has bought.
I drive away with a tiny bit of relief; very tiny.
Art is in the eyes of beholder, and perhaps some eyes are better than others.