Carve your niche in the sculpture market

What makes sculpture a unique art experience is the fact that it must be observed over time to understand. Sculpture is a freestanding work that's intended to be viewed from a continuously changing vantage point to observe how the form evolves. The interplay of light on and across the surfaces accentuates forms and textures.

Sculpture is also different from wall art in the process of creation; materials used and methods of casting require collaboration between an artist and technician. Knowing the process, therefore, is as much a part of the sculpture experience as viewing.

Understanding these factors ultimately will ensure a gallery's success with sculpture. "Selling sculpture is not much different than selling paintings," said Daniel Winn, c.e.o. of Masterpiece Publishing. "It's important to understand the process and to communicate that knowledge to collectors."

In some ways, Winn added, sculpture is easier to sell than wall art. "You can take advantage of sculpture's tactile properties," he said. "If customers can touch and handle sculpture, they experience it in a more fundamental way."

A major advantage to selling sculpture is its ability to convert more square footage into valuable real estate. "Sculpture can be displayed in unused or walking space," said Karen Johnston, president and c.e.o. of Fingerhut Group Publishers. "It's a practical way to make the most out of a gallery space."

For gallery owners who want to delve into the sculpture arena, here are some tips to consider:

Highlight the display. Many novice sculpture dealers make the mistake of shoving three-dimensional art into an empty corner and calling it a day; when time goes by without a sale, they decide that investing in a sculpture inventory doesn't pay off.

The best sculpture displays take two facts into consideration: first, the display should show off the characteristics that make sculpture different from wall art--its multiple dimensions, textures and forms. Said Winn, "Sculpture must have the right light. This is the area where I see the most mistakes. The light must focus on the sculpture.

"Customers also must be able to walk around it, look at it from various angles. You shouldn't use three-dimensional art as an accent, but as a focus."

Smaller sculptures can be protected from theft by being placed on a pedestal with a Plexiglas cover or behind locked glass shelves. Some galleries also use metal detectors.

Show how sculpture complements wall art. In keeping with the idea of making sculpture a focus, rather than an accent, gallery owners need to inter-mingle sculpture with other art. Some artists even produce sculpture designed to complement their own published art. By showing customers how a sculpture fits in with other art, you can direct their collecting in new and exciting directions.

Don't skimp on promotion. Since sculpture requires a substantial investment, gallery owners may be tempted not to put more dollars in sculpture beyond the purchase price. The fact is, sculpture can be more profitable than published art. Once gallery owners realize this, they're more willing to spend money on pedestals, lighting and advertisements.

Most major publishers realize the importance of promotion; you can lower marketing costs by using the promotional materials publishers offer their representatives. Go with a publisher who supports its artists. That way, you're not doing all the work. It decreases your costs and increases the artist's exposure.

Consignment versus purchase. Consignment seems, at face value, like the way to go; gallery owners can offer sculpture without adding to their overhead costs. When deciding whether to accept a consignment or make a purchase, consider two points: first, will you give the same commitment to selling a piece that doesn't represent the same kind of investment as your other art inventory? You and your sales representatives must be passionate about a piece of consignment sculpture, or the incentive to promote it will lag behind the other pieces you've poured money into. Second, is this an artist with a proven track record? Taking on an untried artist may give you the satisfaction of launching a new career; however, if you continually offer artists' works on consignment that consistently don't sell, you may find yourself without a solid base of return collectors.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Advanstar Communications, Inc.
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