Glasstire.com has posted the second part of Road Agent Gallery owner Christina Rees’ State of the Union essay. (If you missed the thought-provoking first part, read it here.) To summarize a bit, Rees writes about the struggles that she and other gallery owners are enduring in the face of the current economic situation, about the importance of galleries in a city’s cultural and intellectual scene and about the collector’s duty to keep them around.
In Part II of her essay, she writes:
- “There are people who come into my gallery and call themselves collectors, and at first I believe them, and they take up lots of time and energy. They come to my openings and network with my other guests for two hours and drink free wine and ask me to take them into the back to pull things out of my flat files to show them and they give me their business cards and request jpegs (and more jpegs, and more jpegs: “Not minimal enough” or, “Why does the artist have to put a rat in it?”) and not once in three years have they purchased so much as a catalog or tiny drawing. They are the time wasters, the tire kickers. They’re the people who make gallerists feel like charging an entry fee at the door.”
Which got me wondering: why not charge an entry fee at the door?
Museums do it all the time and it doesn’t seem to keep people away. A part of the gallery’s function it to serve as sort of a feeder system into museums, discovering all those future big-time artists. Just a chance to see those artists on the rise should be worth something.
Of course, the main function of the gallery is to sell work, and putting up any barrier between customer and sale sounds counterproductive. But galleries aren’t like other businesses. Shoppers don’t get any takeaway value in walking down the aisles at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Those who walk into a gallery do. Some of those tire kickers that Rees mentions are obviously interested enough to look at the art, but not interested enough to buy it. But are they interested enough to pay, say, $5 to see it? Possibly.
My point is, if charging $5 keeps those people who were never going to buy anything in the first place from coming in, what difference does it really make? On the other hand, someone willing to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a piece is unlikely to think twice about spending a few bucks for the tour. And hey – maybe a purchase gets you free entry into the gallery, or even a network of galleries, for a year. Think of the Vegas model, in which the whales stay at the casino hotels free, but the small-timers pay for the same privilege.
I’m sure that there are all sorts of holes in my logic, and I would love for gallery owners out there to carve it up like so much Swiss cheese.
But all I am saying is: it’s worth thinking about.