Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on December 3, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of Lonnie Pierson Dunbier. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting. Dated 1982, the original typewriter manuscript is owned by his wife, Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, who edits and submits the chapters to TFAO. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at email@example.com.
Buying the Artist, Not the Gallery
"What's it all about, Alfie?"
By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)
Thinking about artists, galleries and collectors working smoothly together, I offer the phrase, "triangular symmetry", meaning linkage that, if effective, begins with strong ties between an artist and his or her gallery. Then, later, if a customer happily negotiates a gallery purchase of the artist's painting, voila---'triangular symmetry' or three-way satisfaction is achieved: gallery personnel are pleased with the artist who earned them a commission; the artist, receiving money and encouragement, is smiling at both the gallery and the collector; and the buyer has proprietary satisfaction with both the artist and the artwork.
The artist and the dealer hope the buyer will return for more, and that burden lies with the dealer who, as the go-between, needs to generate effective bait in order to stay in the 'triangle'. If not skillful, the dealer or gallery director, might be circumvented because psychologically the collector 'bought' the artist and not the gallery. The two of them could pair up elsewhere.
Understanding this pattern and the role of 'go-between', a savvy gallery director will cement the collector/artist relationship by making sure gallery procedures lock in both the artist and the customer.
One way not to insure their menage a trois circumstance with artists and buyers is for gallery owners to do obvious overstocking of work by a multitude of artists. This situation can lead to big trouble, especially for top quality artists, who often 'just take a walk' when they find their artwork buried among stacks in the back of a "trasteria", a Spanish word for an unused room in an old house or castle that is full of discards from over the centuries.
An example of a "trasteria" gallery is one I saw in the 1980s among the main line Scottsdale galleries, which, like too many, was trying to be all things by casting a very wide net. This gallery hoped to snag customers by juxtaposing modernist abstract art, contemp-cowboy and main line Western. It featured garage door size swatches of metal framed pseudo-wallpaper depicting the exposed root system of a pyrocanthus or some such vegetable, which was bracketed along side a metal framed cowgirl unencumbered by any clothing other than a K Mart bra. The result was organic abstraction combined with in-your-face realism, and for me, spoke only of confusion!
Let's face it, eighty percent of the public that can financially afford to purchase original painting tightens their wallets in an art gallery such as this. Shaking their heads, they ask: "What's it all about, Alfie? Much of everything I have seen is crazy, or means nothing to me. And the things I really like cost four times what I paid for the house I live in."
Indeed these are all my personal opinions, but likely pertinent as I know that very few artists and dealers of my acquaintance are fully cognizant of how much they compete directly among the "Alfies" with the hot tub emporiums and Mercedes dealerships. Their mistaken assumption is the existence for themselves of a finite and totally committed market, but, in reality, they have a small part of the residual after the bewildered "Alfies" have walked the other way.
And savvy artists may walk away as well. That is, if they want their work represented in a professional way, in space that's uncluttered, thematic and visually attractive. Also an astute artist thinking of being best served personally will look for a gallery with long-range professional staff support including direction about which type of artwork is most marketable, and for advertising promotion, exhibitions of comparable wares, and for timely and fair remuneration when sales are completed. Thinking of potential collectors, our wise artist will seek a gallery that supports customers with authentication, shipping efficiency, and regular follow up contact.
Meanwhile, wanting to buy art and not hot tubs, what do I do?
All I can say is: "don't confuse me." If I come in to your gallery and am confronted by a wall of hemp-smoking, tattooed Hells Angels seated side-saddle on a war painted, tethered Appaloosa, I, like Alfie, will give none of your artists my nod.
About the Author:
From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype. With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 21,357 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies. Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.
Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers. In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System. Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database. (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)
Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home. Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents. He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history. He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959. During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team. In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford. His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.
After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine. He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix. In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.
About this article's editor
Lonnie Pierson Dunbier of Scottsdale, Arizona and originally
from Nebraska, married Dr. Roger Dunbier in 1991. From then, she worked
full time on his artist database. After his death, she co-founded AskART.com,
for which she was Research Director from 2000 to 2007. Ms. Dunbier is also
the editor of all other excerpts from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing
of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting
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