For Art's Sake - The price isn't right

Affordably priced art could foster more collectors

The arrival of a slew of holiday shows reminds me how frustrating the Atlanta art scene can be when it comes to the pricing of art work. Come December, artists and curators begin to tailor their prices to the gift-giving market, though the rest of the year art seems to be an unattainable luxury.

Aliya Gallery in Virginia-Highland is featuring a selection of what gallery director Carl Linstrum calls "more price accessible" works in the holiday show Small Wonders, where a Stephen Wolverine landscape is as low as $300. Meanwhile, Small Sketches II: A Holiday Show at Swan Coach House Gallery through Jan. 9 features work by a plethora of notable locals, with about 90 percent of the work hovering in the $100-$400 range. And at the holiday show at Decatur's Vinson Gallery through Dec. 23, nearly half the work has been priced under $500, with some work under $200.

Artists complain endlessly (for good reason) about how they are unable to find a solid collector base in Atlanta. But they often ignore a potential base right under their noses: regular people with regular incomes who would be more than happy to buy work if it was within their means. With straight-out-of-art-school photography now hovering in the high triple digits, and painting rarely below four digits, artists often seem to be making work not for their peers but for some phantom collector that may never materialize. Artists are like assembly line workers in a Mercedes-Benz factory creating products they themselves can never afford.

Price your work in the rent or car payment + insurance range, and it's easy to see the kind of practical choices buyers have to make. But the rash of holiday shows (and rise of alternative spaces like Eyedrum, Youngblood and ArtSpot) is a reminder that people will buy art if it's comparable to the cost of a splurge in the clothing or home furnishings department.

But it isn't just about the money. Buying from artists is a crucial show of support, a way for artists to feel validated and supported in a very competitive and financially unrewarding business. Big-money collectors may buy for a host of reasons, including investment, status or on the advice of their decorator. When the small-potatoes buyer makes a purchase, it is more often out of a genuine love of an artwork and a desire to have a piece of that artist's sensibility in their lives.

Artist Beth Moon, a manager at Aurora in Little Five Points, has found herself on both sides of this conundrum. As an artist she often creates artwork priced higher than what her friends can afford. And artwork she likes is often beyond her means. "I've been to tons of art shows where I think, I love that, but that's two paychecks. I can't do it." That's why she was compelled to make her paintings in a recent show at the Aurora more reasonably priced. Buyers responded by scooping up the work.

J. Ivcevich's paintings generally run from $300 to $6,000, but when he exhibited his smaller photo-based works (averaging $35) in the recent DeKalb Avenue show at ArtSpot, fans of the artist set upon the work like shoppers at a Nordstrom shoe sale. Ivcevich says he ended up reaping almost as much money as he did in his Saltworks solo show earlier this year.

It would be nice if more people could find a way to reach deep into their pocketbooks to buy art. But since money is a concern for most people, maybe artists should tap into the vast potential among their peers and colleagues by supplying affordable work to people who would love to buy it.

Look more

- Considering it was his first art fair, you could say Brian Holcombe didn't do half bad. The Saltworks Gallery owner sold every piece of art he had on display by his stable of Georgia artists (Hope Hilton, Michael Scoggins, Kojo Griffin, Kathryn Refi) in the second annual -scope fair in Miami Dec. 4-7. The demand for Scoggins' idiosyncratic works on paper, which mimic the fervid energy of a child's drawings, was so high, there is now a waiting list of anxious buyers clamoring to buy a piece. Holcombe even had a bite on his own work recently displayed in ArtSpot's Triple Point. A corporate art buyer representing Radio Shack was interested in how Holcombe created the piece, two giant tuning forks with radios and speakers embedded inside, from parts he found at the electronics store.

- If you run out of things to talk to your parents about over Christmas, the High is offering some family-friendly art free of bodily fluids and dung of any kind. After Whistler, which runs through Feb. 8, is sure not to wedge an even greater divide between the generations. The show looks at how myriad other artists from William Merritt Chase to Thomas Eakins were influenced by Whistler's aesthetic, including the aura of psychological mystery that hangs heavy on works like "The White Girl."