Sunday, September 14, 2014

ART BIZ | Ottawa, Orange Gallery (Comment on Giclées)

Brigid Marlin with her painting, "The Green Man,"
which was a focus of attention in the Art of
Imagination exhibit. All photos by JT Marlin.
I had the pleasure on Saturday, Sept. 13, of visiting an exhibit at the Orange Art Gallery at 290 City Centre Avenue in Ottawa, Ontario.

This was the last day of a ten-day exhibition with three venues and a faerie parade. The other two exhibits were at the Glebe Community Center Gallery and the Roast 'N Brew Coffee Shop.

The gallery is on two floors.
Note bird headdress
on a live model.
The exhibits and events were organized by the newly formed Canadian Chapter of the Society for Art of Imagination, part of an international association of more than 400 artists in 24 countries around the world.

Here is a slide show with some video clips of it. (I am in it at the 4:57 mark - proves I was there.)

The Ottawa exhibit was organized by Bhat Boy, a successful local artist and art teacher. He started out drawing people's houses in Ottawa. He then went in for surrealistic pairings of royals or writers and politicos. He also does paintings that merge and mix buildings in his own rearrangements of urban landscapes. In his spare time, he has become well known in Ottawa as an advocate of better traffic control and of protecting local cultural institutions (like the Glebe Neighborhood Centre) from Ottawa City budget cuts.

Some of those who  came to look at the art.
The events on the final day were well attended, especially given a day-long deluge of cold rain. Fall comes earlier to Ottawa than to New York City.

The Orange Art Gallery on this occasion was targeting its art to a younger crowd, which is indeed where I have found the interest in fantastic realism – the focus of the Art of Imagination – to be strongest in New York City.

A preponderance of the art is in the sub-$1,000 range, mostly $300-$900 per painting.

"The Green Man" protects (preys upon?) innocence.
Much admired, this was priced at $7,500.
Also shown in the large space were rooms with the gallery's regular artists. One such artist, Gwendolyn Best, paints all-black, red-eyed cats and bats and crows and rats on pastel backgrounds. It's all kind of cute. She has sold 700 of such paintings in the last year, mostly at the $300-$500 price point, although she has sold larger paintings for as much as $2,000.

One of her paintings on display was of a Board of Directors of rats with one rat distinctly out of sync with the others. I was advised that this could well have been a representation of the painter's own experience dealing with a board.

Some of the paintings in the show were priced at up to $7,500. However, only framed giclées of these higher-priced paintings were successfully sold, at $350 to $600 each.

Judging by the mismatch between enthusiasm for the higher-priced items and the concentration of sales at a lower level during the closing party from 6 pm to 10 pm, the bull market for this kind of art in Ottawa – as in New York City! – seems to await the coming into money of a younger generation.

The gallery itself is apparently doing well in a new and better location, in part because it is active in using the space for events, including weddings and other paying assemblies. The space used to be a bank to serve railway employees and users. It combines longer-term exhibits with special events and it has an artists' workshop in the lower level.

I was especially taken by several lifelike foot-high sculptures by Maria Saracino - an Einstein-like man feeding birds, two people sitting at a Starbucks-branded table, and other characters sitting with a cleverly fabricated miniature newspaper on park benches. This artist is one of many artists tethered on a long-term basis to the gallery. Her sculptures sell well, for a minimum of $1,000.

Comment on Giclées

It is good to know that art markets are thriving in middle-sized cities like Ottawa. I found the same thing to be true in Vero Beach, Florida when I was there in March.

Based on looking at the paintings and the posted prices, and on interviews with some of the artists at the show, two types of sales were made at the exhibit or by artists who were exhibiting:

- Artists who are local and sell paintings that have a style or a gimmick that identifies them (i.e., a "brand") and sell in the $350 to $600 range.

- Visiting artists with paintings that sell at a higher price, mid to high four figures, who sold framed giclées also in the range of $350-$600.

This sale of giclées is promising. The neologism dates back - from what I can determine from a quick bit of research - only to 1991. A giclée is simply a high-resolution print with long-lasting ink on canvas-like material. It is a good solution to the ongoing problem of reconciling gallery price points. A gallery knows that more sales will occur at lower prices, but the higher-priced art may suffer by being shown with lower-priced art.

Cadillac showrooms don't sell Yugos or Kias at the same site. Similarly customers at Wal-Mart they are not likely to be in a frame of mind to buy on impulse an expensive Rolex. Putting a Rolex in with a less expensive Timex (a fine watch, I'm wearing one now) does not enhance the prestige of the Rolex, which prefers to be associated with pictures of up-market casinos and racetracks and yachts.

The giclée offers an opportunity for the aspirational collector to participate in ownership of a more expensive artist at an affordable price. This is a good solution, but to protect the prices of the original art I believe that every giclée should be plainly marked.

A viewer should not have to puzzle over whether a painting is an original or not, even though the idea is to make the copy as faithful as possible to the original. If the copy is really as good as the original it could cheapen the market for the original paintings. What do you think?