When the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Four enterprising local gallery owners are navigating changes in the art market by devising new business models and adopting new methods to sell art.
When Ludo Leideritz first opened his gallery in 2012 at the corner of Ocean and Forest Avenues in downtown Laguna Beach, he thought he’d continue in the same pattern of his previous Santa Ana gallery. There he had specialized in photography, ceramics and sculpture.
“At first we kept the same genre of media, allowing my artists to follow me here since they too wanted to move to Laguna Beach,” he recalled.
Once word got out that a new gallery had opened close to the Festival of Arts, painters, glass artists, jewelry makers and multi-media artists clamored to get in.
Eager to accommodate them, Leideritz crafted a plan that veered off the standard arrangement where galleries sell on a commission, splitting proceeds evenly with the artist. He also shunned the co-op arrangement, where a gallery is run collectively by artists. “I had seen co-ops and saw a lack of progressivism with no captain at the helm,” he said. “It’s difficult for a gallery to evolve properly if multiple personalities attempt to decide its direction.”
Instead he devised a system resembling membership in an esoteric club. Currently 28 artists pay a monthly fee of $320, which entitles them to an agreed-upon amount of display space and Leideritz takes only a 20 percent sales commission.
“This encourages artists to bring their best work since they make 80 percent of a set price and also creates an incentive to rotate unsold works to maintain a fresh look and create new excitement,” he said. The arrangement allows not so well-selling artists to leave freely after giving proper notice and for new talent to participate in the gallery experience, explained Leideritz.
His main challenge lies in making all aesthetic and business decisions alone while still taking artist’s needs into consideration. “Artists are not your run-of-the-mill tenants. You are exhibiting an artist’s expression and soul,” he said.
He explained that the advantage lies in having the majority of business expenses covered by the monthly fees, which allow the gallery to experiment with new concepts and art that is not necessarily in the commercial mainstream.
Forest & Ocean further broadened its business base by leasing a portion of its space as a home base for the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, allowing the group space for exhibitions and receptions.
Photographer Robert Hansen, a 36-year Festival of Arts exhibitor and two-year exhibitor at Forest & Ocean, likes the mix of art forms. “I like the energy level of constantly introducing new art. We all want spaces that promise longevity; that’s how you build a following,” he said.
After exhibiting with Leideritz, Laguna Beach ceramicist Robin Lee Riddell opened Coastal Eddy, a Coast Highway gallery currently featuring 32 ceramic artists. Here she initiated a similar model where four “resident artists” pay a monthly fee of $200 and the commission split 30-70 with the artist. “These artists are loyal friends who also work at the gallery and are entitled to solo shows,” explained Riddell.
The rest are consignment artists who do not pay fees, but the commission split is 50-50. Riddell flirted with transforming the gallery into a non-profit, but instead plans more involvement with educating young artists. Last year, the gallery exhibited work by high school ceramicists. In June, she plans to spotlight young artists from throughout the county. Charitable involvement is a catching trend among local galleries, Riddell said.
Salt Fine Art owner Carla Arzente took a different approach when establishing her gallery in 2009. She specializes in Latin American contemporary artists and last year added Raw Salt, an annex featuring emerging international artists.
With an assist on itinerary planning from the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Arzente also enriches her patron’s cultural knowledge by taking them on excursions, such as a trip to Cuba. And she, too, is expanding her relationships with non-profits such as Growers First and the Ryman Arts Program and organizes an art auction with Sue Greenwood Fine to benefit charities such as Tim Vorenkamp’s “Live for Others.”
“Our goal is to increase awareness and inspire appreciation through art by engaging ourselves and collectors in worthy causes,” said gallery director Suzanne Walsh, also the author’s daughter.
Expansion has also motivated gallerist Peter Blake, who now sells art far beyond his Ocean Avenue digs. Work by artists he represents are sold on several Internet sites, such as First Dibs, Artsy and Art Net, and he’s bolstered his inventory to entice buyers. “It’s all working simultaneously: we have the website, online sites, blogs and travel to art fairs.”
He credits his sculptor wife Stephanie with injecting a younger sensibility into his approach. Formerly travel averse, he has visited Art Basel in Switzerland and Art Basel Miami and become a regular exhibitor at the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair. His elegant booths filled with minimalist works have been set up at art shows in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. This April, he will show in Dallas, Texas.
“The industry shifted into art fairs. It’s pretty much like a supermarket, where everything is in the same place rather than individual stores,” said Blake. The challenges? Getting millions of dollars worth of art to its destination safely and on time and finding reliable local construction crews.
“So far I’m committed to the new ways of selling art, but if I could never sell anything online or go to another fair, I would still be happy to be here,” he said.