Another gallery bites the dust

The galleries and artists who will succeed now are the ones who can sail the internet, constantly shifting tack and adjusting their sails.

Blueberry Barrens, Clary Hill,  oil on canvas, 24X30, available.

This week I learned that a fine coastal Maine gallery, associated with two other exhibition spaces besides its home shop in Belfast, is closing this Friday. Their gallerist, whom I like and admire, is now unemployed.

This gallery had a good reputation among knowledgeable art connoisseurs, but was hampered by its physical space. It simply could not host visitors in a safe, socially-distanced manner. Maine’s business season is ruthlessly short, so they wisely closed before the season opened.

Bracken Fern, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, available.

This is the third gallery I’ve been associated with that’s closed since the start of the pandemic. I’m not taking credit; it’s the times. But I’ve hated to watch them close.

I was halfway through writing this when I received an email cancelling a plein air event for the second year in a row. “The driving force is finding hosts for our artist friends who travel great distances… In addition, we cannot be sure what restrictions will be lifted, or re-enforced come July 1,” wrote the organizer.

Let’s be brutally frank here: it’s unlikely that the events or galleries that miss a second season will survive. Their customers will move on to other venues, other products, and other interests. 

Beaver Dam, oil on canvasboard, 11X14, available.

These changes are no surprise to those who watch the art market. Although no systematic count has been made of attrition in galleries, the American art market is estimated to have shrunk 24% during 2020. That’s the worst contraction since the crash of 2008. There’s one light in all this, but it’s a dim one: online sales doubled in 2020. It’s clearly the direction in which art sales are moving.

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. It may have been true in the 19th century, when economies were local, but it’s not true now. In modern America, the quality of your product is no more important than your marketing skills.

Home Farm, oil on canvasboard, 20X24, available.

That marketing happens increasingly on social media. The difficulty is that social media is relatively new, so it is constantly being tweaked. Its constantly-shifting algorithms mean that yesterday’s strategy won’t work today.

Compared to most artists, I know a lot about digital marketing. That’s not very good, because compared to the worst-run big box store, I know almost nothing at all. I’m a one-woman shop, and I don’t have all day to research and tinker with my website, email, blog and Instagram. I can’t even fix the deficiencies I know about, because I also need to paint.

But I know that the galleries and artists who will succeed now are the ones who can sail the internet, constantly shifting tack and adjusting their sails. There is no other answer.