What is Affordable Art?

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Mckenna HallettGuest blogger Mckenna Hallett shares an incredible story of selling fine art to a customer who thought it was out of her reach. It goes to prove that you cannot be the judge of what is “affordable.”

 

When I walked into work that day and saw this immensely beautiful Miro diptych on the main wall of the gallery, my heart started racing. I was frozen in place. This was a sugar-lift aquatint from that early and hard-to-find period of very clean lines and few colors. These were also large pieces, each about 2 feet wide by about 3 feet tall making the presentation 3 feet by more than 4 feet wide.

They were so very rare and so highly sought after by Miro collectors and surrealist and contemporary collectors. Did I mention that they were gorgeous and quintessentially, perhaps arguably, Miro at his best? I was stunned and wishing I could afford them myself. Miro was always one of my most favorites. And then my collectors list began to churn in my brain. I had to get to the phones. Other consultants surely were already working their lists.

 

Art Gallery

 

To be clear, this was a very upscale San Francisco gallery and generally not for the casual art purchaser. The pricing started in the many thousands. An 1876 original pencil sketch, by someone whose name was unpronounceable and biography was a mystery to all but the very dedicated art aficionados, might have a price of $5000. That’s 1980’s dollars.

While we had an occasional “walk-in” sale, the more serious clients were not walking around town and browsing our walls. They were in their penthouse offices in various cities around the world and rarely available for a “sales call.” I worked with a lot of executive secretaries mostly, and if I had a good rapport, they might let their boss know of an opportunity.

No emails existed. No computers on their desks. No cell phones. This was a different world. When something of great collectability became available to my collectors, I had to be quick and persuasive if I was going to get to actually talk with those busy executives and share the newest gallery acquisition with my collectors.

I sat at my desk, read the details of the Miro, learned the “provenance,” memorized the price, grabbed my list and with my hand on the phone, I began creating my script for the calls.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her walk in the door. I couldn’t remember her name, but she was a regular visitor on her lunch break and she and I shared a love for Miro. So it was no surprise that she had an identical reaction when her eyes made contact: Frozen. Stunned. Expressionless. I ran to her side, giddy and playful and excited to share the moment.

She almost seemed oblivious to my arrival, remaining motionless except for a soulful deep inhalation followed by a small puff of exhaled air.

“What is up with this?” I thought. Trying to break the spell, I nudged her and said something like, “Nice, huh?”

Silence. Inhalation. Puff.

What the heck? I knew she loved Miro, but I also knew that she was a secretary (not even an executive secretary) for an accounting firm nearby. She had her bag lunch in her oversize purse. She had NO way of buying anything in our gallery. I looked over and saw the tear forming.

Once again, I tried to lighten up the moment. “I guess you need to know the price, right?” She nodded, sighed and remained laser focused on the piece. “It’s $15,000, and of course it’s a diptych, so that is for both and they cannot be sold separately.”

The tear began to move down her face. I began to panic. For all I knew at that moment, the piece was already sold by someone in a back room. For all I knew, I was missing my own opportunity to sell this piece.

“What is happening here?” I thought as I watched her continued obsession grow by the minute. And then it hit me. She needed to own this piece. She deserved to own this piece; not some “collector” who would put it in the master bathroom of their beachfront home in Italy or worse, in a boardroom somewhere.

What to do, what to do….

And then my racing brain came to a full stop and I moved in front of her, breaking her view, looked into her eyes and said, “Do you have anything of value that you can sell?”

Her eyes glazed with tears. She nodded slowly, then more rapidly and hugged me. She pushed back and said through her tears, “My mother died six months ago and left me a car. All I do is move it to keep from getting tickets. She would love for me to sell this car. She would want me to have this art.”

It took two credit cards to get the 10% deposit and a bit of negotiating with my gallery director who usually wanted payment in full, but we did it.

It turned out that the car was worth more than the art. It was a classic Mercedes from the 50’s and she sold in it for cash in less than a week. She had been collecting notes of offers from strangers for weeks. She had been so worried that something bad would happen to it and couldn’t afford to store it. Talk about a win/win.

Had I assumed that she could not afford this piece, I would not have lifted that glass of champagne to her at the unveiling in her living room. I would not have seen those tears of joy. I would not have this deep connection to this very enriching and emotionally charged story. I would have been on the phone in a race to find a “buyer” instead of finding the perfect home for this amazing art and bringing a lifetime of joy to this deserving woman.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Great story with a great ending. Loved reading it and learned…

    • Thanks Maria.

      Gosh… just re-reading it now brings tears of joy to me. It’s the basis of all the selling that I have ever done since that fateful day. Joy! Joy! Joy! is all I ever “sell” anymore.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a rich story. It’s quite powerful in what it doesn’t say about “how to”, but makes all of those points with sensitivity and great power.

    You had me at “Miro!”

    • Love that, James! Yes… Joan Miro has that power.

      What a valuable lesson in the exact way you commented about “what it doesn’t say”. Very perceptive, James. Very perceptive.

  3. Thank you for this uplifting story. It’s amazing to run across a story about love in this day and age. You turned something about money into something about Love and joy. It is so easy to think about career and money when all it is about is connecting with the heart.

  4. The opening line in my E’s of Selling™ seminar is, “What’s love got to do with it?” and I sincerely teach that we must love not only what we create, but what our passion creates in the hearts of our collectors. I call it the Rainbow Moment. When we see a rainbow form, we naturally want to share that with EVERY person within reach of our voice.

    That deep, innate, involuntary, sense of sharing wonderful things is what I teach artists to tap into when presenting their art.

    It’s totally about loving others enough to want them to have a lifetime of joy from purchasing fine art.

    Ooooo… I am tearing up again!

    I will be forever grateful for that wonderful lesson.

  5. Oh — I love this story!

  6. Great story McKenna and told in such a way that only you can do…holding our attention to the very end.

  7. This story is very moving. It’s very “Miro”. When you say quintessential, I think, “all his work is quintessential. It’s pure.
    I was taken to a Miro show in Baden Baden in 2010 by some artist friends who live in Germany. I had no expectations of what this show might be.
    When I walked into the exhibition hall, I started to look at the show as I usually do, going from piece to piece, one after the other in the order of the visit. I saw the overwhelmingly large canvases (some more than 16 feet high and just froze, awestruck. Like this woman, I was so dumbstruck by the beauty of them that I had to go sit on one of the benches and catch my breath. I sat almost 20 minutes on that bench just taking in the whole exhibition room which was very large and- three stories high, I can still get awed just thinking about it.
    I’m so very happy for your client who found a work of great joy and was able to acquire and live with it. It was a moment that was meant to be, and she will continue to have joy from that piece for the rest of her life.

  8. I just read an article about art being sold to the highest emotional bidder. This piece reinforces that concept.

  9. I would have kept the car. There may come a time when a financial emergency arises and she will need ready cash. A 50’s Mercedes is a much better investment than wall decor art.

    • Terry, Your point is well taken. I think in this case, she chose what made her happy. Not as practical, perhaps, but it speaks to the emotional attachment that collectors have with art.

    • You aren’t an art lover, Terry. It ain’t about investment.

      • As an aside – assuming she would EVER want to sell that piece, the recent auction prices tell us that this was a good investment. Not liquid, but? The car on the other hand likely has hit a scrap yard by now unless someone really worked hard (garaged and rarely driven) to maintain it against the elements of life.

        I agree with Carolyn and Gerry – it’s not about the “investment”, it’s truly about the heart-stopping or at least brain whacking moments we have when our eyes meet and really drink in an art object that moves us. THAT is priceless! And being able to have that on your own walls is beyond priceless – it pays for itself in soul revival moments everyday.

  10. Stories like this help make the art business fun. One of my first clients was a retired couple who bought a piece as their combined anniversary gift to one another and combined Christmas gift to one another – four gifts wrapped into one piece of art.

  11. This was such a beautiful story. Thank you so much.

  12. Beautiful story! Thanks for share!!

  13. Beautiful, heart warming story. Thanks for sharing.
    I would love my art to have that effect on viewers.

  14. I really enjoyed reading it and actually had tears in my eyes while doing so. Thanks for sharing it, McKenna!

  15. thank you so much for sharing that Mckenna; that is for me sums up what art is all about. You feel it or you don’t but when you do… beat ashar

  16. It is not fair, you had to pick Miro and get my tears going!!!! Terry you are a boob, hick, and most likely a turd as well. I have sold my own art for most of my life. I had a sculpture which I KNEW was good but I could not sell it. It was awkward to carry to markets and hard to safely load and unload. I lowered the pride. lowered some more. I decided to triple the original price. The next Saturday afternoon in the Beverly Hills fair this couple comes by, The look at it. Ask if I could move it to a more open place where they could walk around it. Their first and only question, ‘Could you deliver it after the show today?’ Of course I could. Their house would have made many museums jealous. We tried to find the right place to put it. Finally the man asked, ‘Do you mind if we put it here where the George Rickey piece is?’ So George is displaced by a ‘Norman’. With things like this happening I still could NEVER get a gallery to even look at my work.

  17. Natalie Wilkinson says:

    My husband and I were on the receiving end of a dealer’s ability to think this way. On a walk around a seaside town about 18 years ago, we saw an exhibition being taken down. We couldn’t completely afford the pieces we liked but were given the opportunity to purchase with a down payment and 12 months of payments. We were even allowed to take everything home with us. I have never been sorry for the purchase. It’s great when the artist is a famous one, but there is a lot of amazing work out there by artists who are not well known as well.

  18. Art-craft is TRUE LOVE and healing to many ,
    so we let our creativity, love and fingers do the walking . talking and shearing to others.
    Every-one view their own picture through ART –CRAFT
    We art- crafters thank every one who admire and purchase our work
    Thank you Guest Blogger for that lovely story. That person will always keep her mother alive through that painting , what comfort of love for a mother who passed on
    My love to you for shearing
    Constance

  19. we art-crafters should consider renting SHEA STADIUM and or a central place like that for a day and or weekend to show and sell our art – craft work
    EVEN BETTER ;
    if some one will sponsor such an event for us
    I would like comments on that subject on what you think

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