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Market Report:

A New Approach to Corporations

By June Linowitz

Art Calendar

June 1998


When I started ArtSeen a year and a half ago, I had a mission. I wanted to sell and lease original fine art to corporations and I was actively seeking business clients who were timid about art and dubious about its value. I wanted clients who had never had the opportunity to live with fine art. It was (and is) my belief that people who have spent time with original art will grow to appreciate it and will begin to buy original art for themselves. Before starting ArtSeen I had worked as the Director of an art gallery and during my six year tenure I watched the gallery traffic drop dramatically. I decided that if people weren’t coming to the galleries, I would go to them and the best place to find them was in the places they work.

I was worried about the quality of the art the businesses would select. I had been told that “corporate art” was “easy” art. I expected that businesses would look for decorative, surface, “safe” art that would match their decor. After some soul searching, I decided I could live with that. My mission was to give people the opportunity to live with original art and it didn’t matter if they selected it to match their sofas. They were still going to spend time with it. I represented good artists whose work I respected in ArtSeen. Even if the companies selected the art for the “wrong” reasons, they were still going to be experiencing good art. I expected it to be difficult to get the corporations to select good art but I was ready for the battle. I was in for a big surprise.

What I’ve found is that corporations select far more challenging art than I would ever have imagined. When given the opportunity to choose the art they’re going to spend time with, companies select excellent art which is far from “easy”. Clients have commented to me when I show them a more decorative work that they’ll “stop seeing that after a while and they don’t want art they’re going to stop seeing”. They state that they want art they’ve “got to think about”. They want art they can “keep finding things in”. They sure don’t want safe art!

I’ve been surprised and delighted with the diversity of work a company will select. Sometimes a company will specify only abstract or only representational art but most of the time businesses end up with a combination of styles, approaches and media. Unlike what I had been led to expect, the works vary in size from monumental to intimate works. The companies select the individual works because they like them. I’ve sold traditional oil paintings, mixed media wall constructions, viscosity etchings, mixed media works on paper, photographs and ceramic sculpture all to the same business. It takes some careful installation, but the offices end up looking wonderful.

This is not to say that anything goes with corporations. I haven’t been able to place any nudes. I’ve only been successful with figures that are obviously clothed. It isn’t that the companies don’t like nudes. It’s that they’re afraid they’ll offend a potential client. You have to respect that. It’s a business and businesses exist by attracting clients.

I want to stress that an important ingredient in ArtSeen’s formula for working with corporations is the leasing component. Allowing corporations to lease art enables them to “try out” their selections. They feel more comfortable being adventurous because they can change their minds if they find they don’t like a particular piece of art. It also makes art acquisition affordable. Leasing art can function like a time payment program. Companies are more comfortable selecting art if the art acquisition doesn’t entail a large capital expenditure.

I believe that art leasing is a critical component to opening up the art market to new collectors and that artists should be leasing their art to corporations. Leasing is a win-win situation. The artists get paid a fee for displaying their work and the businesses get to experience original fine art at affordable prices. The only obstacle to this is the artists themselves.

Too many artists are willing to hang their work for free. Artists need to learn that corporations are not galleries. Even if the work is theoretically for sale, if art work is being displayed in a company, the artist should be paid a fee. This is a society where people value what they pay for. Artists complain that their work isn’t valued yet they’re willing to display their work at no charge. If I could change one thing about the current art market it would be this tendency for artists to display their work for free. I think the repercussions of this change would be huge. Leasing would grow as an option and that, in turn, would make affordable art available to more companies. As the people in the companies had the experience of living with original fine art, they’d become art collectors. And finally, maybe, artists would be able to live from their art.

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