Chasing Art’s Elusive Red Dot

Home Sweet Home - Pyragraph
“Home Sweet Home,” Jessica Chao.

I get a call: “Josh, I have a person here who’s interested in buying your vulture painting. He loves it, but he lives in Las Cruces and can only pay $350 for it.”

“It’s priced at $500. I can’t do $350. That’s not enough.”

“He says he only has $350 in his pocket and he has to go back to Las Cruces today.”

In buying art, you’re investing in a relationship with an artist.

Your heart breaks. What you really want, ALL you want, is for your painting to find a wall to live on. What you need for your time, materials and idea is usually somewhere around $500, at least in my case, and this was always a grossly underestimated price. But you have this guy who’s standing in that off-chance boutique, willing to buy that piece off that temporary wall and take it home and love it and appreciate it….

“I can’t go that low. Tell him $450.”

Are you bargaining yourself? Are you negotiating the modern artist ethos? Are you advertising your talent with a wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube man?

“He found another $50. He can do $400.”

“Sell it.”

I know little about the art market across the US, but if it’s macrocosmically representative of Albuquerque, then the situation above, which I experienced in 2013, is par for the course for artists everywhere, if slightly positive. Albuquerque is the hand-me-down sibling of Santa Fe, sure. While we have to compete with Santa Fe in general, we also have to compete with the claim that Santa Fe has on Southwestern art. Art buyers flock to Santa Fe in droves to get their very own bird-on-a-cactus painting. Canyon Road Schmanyon Road. I am an artist who lives in the Southwest. I’ll show you Southwestern art, baby:

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“The Bad and the Ugly,” Bret Aaker.

No matter the multifarious causes, the bottom line remains: The red dot remains elusive. No, not that red dot. The other red dot. The red dot that marks a piece as sold. In Albuquerque—in cafes and breweries and galleries alike—red dots are rarely come by. Red dots mean that an artist made rent and/or financed her next project and/or was emboldened to create bigger and better and more colorfully.

While there are dozens of ways to support local artists, buying their art has got to be the simplest. Expensive? Sometimes. You’re commitment-phobic? Get real. More excuses? Here you go.

When a community gathers together and tells its artists that their art is worth hanging on a permanent wall, they invest in those artists. When a community invests in artists, it develops a rich and innovative foundation that’s both productive and resourceful. When a community stands on the shoulders of its artists, interconnectivity, construction and metamorphosis happen.

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“The Gardener,” Brooke Steiger.

One of the handful of places that consistently invests in, persuades, encourages, and makes things happen for artists in Albuquerque is 516 ARTS. This weekend, they’re opening Studio Sale in the Gallery, wherein several Albuquerque artists are selling selected works at a discounted price and auctioning off a piece for the benefit of 516 ARTS and the artists themselves. The artists are also going to be present in the gallery during the weekend hours of this week-long affair, adopting the space as their temporary studio and creating new works for the public to make awed noises at.

While I want to cringe at the fact that pieces are broadcast as “discounted,” I just can’t. The few hours that I wasn’t daydreaming in high school economics class bestowed upon me the fable of Supply and Demand. In order to intrigue the frugal Demand, Supply must shed a few layers, show a little skin, drop a little price. If, in the end, a piece of art is going to find a home, “Sell it.”

But what 516 ARTS is doing that’s better than giving artists the opportunity to see the elusive red dots is providing audiences the occasion of seeing the artists in their element. Jessica Chao, one of the featured artists for the fundraising stint, chimes in:

I feel it has been most heartening of 516 Arts to have gone beyond the cookie-cutter banquet fundraiser and instead create a fun and creative way to shine a light on each participating artist by allowing them to bring their paints, tools, and materials and work on site at the gallery while patrons can interact with, watch and learn their process as the artist works. 516 Arts definitely earns creative points for allowing artists to broaden their social horizons and help raise money effectively.

All this is good and fine. Actually, all this is fantastic and exciting. But it means nothing if we’re not buying art. Why aren’t we buying art? What is it about our Napster-pirating culture that loves to take credit for “discovering” what we didn’t create? Is it enough that we saw art, basked in it, “supported” artists with our presence? Shouldn’t we go further? In buying art, you’re investing in a relationship with an artist, a correspondence that exists through the work itself. Take it from Valerie Roybal,

I don’t know why people don’t tap into this experience. Perhaps it’s pure economics (people think it’s out of their range or not affordable), or it’s a lack of interest in art and aesthetics (people don’t think art is for them, not their cup of gin?), who knows? From the economic standpoint, studio sales are great, as they present people with an opportunity to acquire art at affordable prices. This particular sale poses a wide variety of styles, choices, sizes, and price points, so that hopefully, there is something for everyone to covet, fall in love with, and even take home. Another great thing about this particular studio sale, is that the sales benefit both the artists and a nonprofit organization which supports art and artists, full circle.

So buy art. It’s a decision you get to live with forever.

Zig Zag 20 - Pyragraph
Detail from “Zig Zag 20” by Valerie Roybal.
Studio Sale in the Gallery takes place at 516 ARTS, May 2-9. The artists will be in their “studios” during weekend hours. Opening reception and silent auction May 2, 6-8pm. Bidding for the silent auction ends at 7:30.

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  1. Awesome read. The perfect dose of analysis, snark, and sincerity. (Also, brilliant use of “macrocosmically”)
    For me, buying art is a celebration of permanence in my digital/impermanent world. I’ve got to nail things to my walls to make me feel in place.

  2. A great piece of writing as well as useful news. “Supply must shed a few layers, show a little skin….” Brilliant.

    I wish it weren’t true, but it so often is. Actually, I am facing a similar issue as a health care provider. Insurance reimbursements keep dropping and people’s deductibles and copays keep going up, making it harder for them to come up with the $ to pay me. If someone genuinely can’t pay full price or reasonably close to it, I will usually work with them and we’ll figure out the finances. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t get any treatment and I wouldn’t get any pay at all– we’d both lose.

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