What is a gallery’s product? It may seem like the obvious answer is “art,” but it’s not quite so clear-cut as that. You may think of our customers as the person who comes in and buys the painting, but the greatest majority of the people who come in are there to do what most of us do in the presence of art: just look. Selling art make be how we make money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s our product.
Galleries are distributors in the supply chain of the art industry. While it’s certainly possible for an interested buyer to contact an artist directly, galleries often provide contact efficiency, variety of choice, one-on-one customer consultation and care, restoration services, and even framing and delivery. Of course, being the the middle of the supply chain means that we are committed to both the parties below and above us, and often times, our “supplier” (the artist) is more our customer as well. I’d like to break down transactions with different customers and with artists below.
Just because someone doesn’t buy something does not mean that they aren’t a customer to our product. Art is to be seen. The person who comes in, takes an exhibition brochure, looks through the gallery, and leaves still enjoys our product. They have (hopefully) gained enjoyment from the art, seen both our brand and the brand of our current artist, and received our marketing communications through the brochure. The ideal is that this experience leads to a positive impression, which leads to recommendations and/or a revisit with a purchase, so that we can make a profit. This doesn’t necessarily happen, but they are our customers all the same.
The Buyer, High or Low End–Bookstore
In our bookstore, the pieces of art that we sell are original prints, reproductions, posters, jewelry, scarves, sculptures, art books, cards, and more. Framed paintings and large sculptures default to the gallery, which I will address in the next section.
The prints that we have on the display can range anywhere from 60 to 150,000 euro. Our posters and reproductions can be as cheap as 4 euro, and rarely exceed 40 euro. However, whether someone is buying a signed Chillida or a poster of a Matisse, they receive the same treatment. Again, brand is very important here. Galerie Maeght carries the legacy of a large part of art history on its shoulders, and we do not want to exclude people just because they don’t want to drop a year’s worth of salary on a print. We are, above all, accessible.
The process is generally the same. A customer selects a print, and a worker writes down the artist’s name a reference number. They find the print, either in our drawers, cabinets, or the back offices for the rarer pieces, and pulls it out. It is checked for any wrinkles or marks, presented to the customer, and then laid on the table.
Should the customer want a frame, they get a consultation with all of our samples, and after they choose a frame style, we write that reference down as well. Later, we will order a frame and a mat, frame the piece ourselves, and the customer will be called to let them know they can pick up their work.
If not, the piece is rolled in paper and slid into a cardboard tube. They can choose gift-wrap if they so please. Payment is in cash for values under 20€, credit, or check for high-price items.
Of course, this can vary based on customer preference. Perhaps they change their mind, or need a second opinion. Maybe they want to think on it, and end up not returning. We hold pieces up into the light, lay them out, arrange them. There was a woman yesterday who had eight different display mats laid out so she could compare. We do not judge; art is a personal experience, and often an important decision. That extra help and care often makes the difference.
Sales do eventually differ based on price. Our larger pieces are both more expensive and require a different level of care, so these sales often default over to the gallery, where they’re definitely not being handled by interns (I’m not offended). However, the pride in service is the same. We consult and discuss with the client on the aesthetic quality of the piece. We can restore if needed. Delivery to their home is a must. We want the customer to know that we respect the time needed to make their decision, and we want them to be happy. It’s pretty simple, at the base of it.
The artist is both our supplier and our customer. Without them, we would have nothing to sell. But at the same time, we provide a service to them. We display their work in an accessible public place. We advertise their work for them. We learn their histories so we can better educate our customers on their product. We may benefit off of their brand equity, but they profit off of ours too.
At the same time, the importance of the purity of their message can often make our communications… difficult. They may want us to advertise, but perhaps they only want their work displayed one way. We have to respect that, but it may cut out a large number of our options. A customer may like the aesthetics of a piece but not the message; does the artist’s intention precede a sale of a work? Art is often a living memory of an artist, too. We work with different foundations to preserve the works that we own and make sure that the artist’s memory is properly preserved. While the ideal is that the customer wants to buy exactly what the artist wants to sell, that may not always be the case.
This is not a comprehensive list of all that we do, but it is interesting to look at the crossroads of a tangible and intangible product. Even when we only consider an art piece, we are selling both an idea and an object. Around that piece are the hours of work that many parties have contributed, the heart of the artist, and the feelings of the customer. 100€ for a print suddenly doesn’t seem too steep.