‘It has to fit’: Quality is bottom line for gallery owners, Durango Herald, July 13, 2007

Photo by: JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Rain Dance Gallery owners Lori and Bob Curtis, sitting in their Main Avenue store on Thursday, look for work that has a Colorado feel, an ethnic feel or an indigenous feel.

When Karyn Gabaldon opened her fine art gallery three-and-a-half years ago, she hosted an exhibition for local artists each month that first year. She lost money.

“Everyone waited until the exhibit ended and went direct to the artist to buy, even though I spent $3,000 on postcards and wine and food for the reception,” Gabaldon said.

Today, Gabaldon, like most of the other fine art galleries in town, represents a fairly consistent group of artists.

“People like consistency and quality, and to be honest, the local shows were all over the place in quality,” Gabaldon said. “The artists I represent today are quality artists that I enjoy working with and writing checks to.”

The gallery representation process is as subjective as everything else in the art world. When I asked several local gallery owners how they selected the artists they represent, the answers were fairly consistent.

“We have to like it, it has to fit in the gallery, it has to work,” Lori Curtis from Rain Dance said, then added: “And ultimately you have to listen somewhat to the market.”

Lori and Bob Curtis have been gallery owners for 12 years, four here in Durango. They are passionate art collectors. At Rain Dance, they represent many artists included in their own personal collection.

“We are familiar with a lot of artists. People find us by word of mouth. It isn’t too hard to find people to represent,” Bob said.

All galleries seem to be looking for a balance: The gallery owner has to love the work, the artist has to be interested in selling through the gallery and buyers have to be present in the market.

What makes it more challenging is that the product is a luxury item, not a necessity.

“We aren’t selling units or commodities. We are selling unique pieces,” Bob said.

At Rain Dance they are looking for work that has a Colorado feel, an ethnic feel or an indigenous feel.

At Karyn Gabaldon Fine Art, the focus is on contemporary landscape.

“I totally go by intuition. I’m looking for something different. If it doesn’t wow the customer, they aren’t going to buy it. It has to flow with the rest of the gallery. It has to resonate with me or I’m not going to be able to sell it,” Gabaldon said.

Ellis West is the only contemporary art gallery in Durango. Monica Ellis selects the painting and fine art in the gallery while Diane West chooses the jewelry. Both have a say on the glass and ceramic work they represent.

West, herself a jewelry artist, knows other jewelry artists and is familiar with some of the bigger names in the field. She and Ellis attend large art fairs in Baltimore and Philadelphia put on by the American Craft Council. (The Curtises also attend these shows).

“We both have veto power,” West said. “We both have to personally like it. We have to feel it’s well done. We have to feel it’s sellable. It might be artwork that we love, but we have to keep the doors open.”

“The paintings shown are my personal taste,” Ellis said. “I talk to the artists personally about what they expect and what they are looking for. If they are difficult to talk with, then I will pass on representing them.”

Most of the local galleries receive submissions, though they don’t post a submission process on their Web sites. But all agree that the standard process they prefer is to see digital images from the artist, a biography, a r`E9sum`E9, a list of their retail pricing and some idea of where the artist has shown his or her work in the past.

“Artists have actually asked me to represent them just so they can say they are in a gallery. That doesn’t work for me,” Gabaldon said.

Many galleries find artists via referral from a current artist they represent. At Ellis West, most of their artists are mid-career, pretty well-established and have won awards or are in museum collections. The same could be said of the artists represented at Rain Dance and Karyn Gabaldon.

“We do consider emerging artists. If we think they are fantastic, we are willing to give them a try,” West said.

Ellis West is the only gallery that has a contract with its artists not to sell within 100 miles of Durango. Gabaldon said she doesn’t do contracts, instead she prefers to lay all the cards on the table. If an artist isn’t selling, she has to move on and find someone else. But Ellis West said that it spends time developing a market for an artist. Sometimes an artist will hang in their gallery for a year before they begin to sell.

Lime Berry has a different approach.

“I don’t work with artists I don’t know. My gallery is filled with the work of my closest friends and family. We are completely different,” Melissa Carroll said. “This store is first and foremost about relationships.”

I think every gallery owner would agree.

lgoebel@centurytel.net Leanne Goebel is a freelance arts journalist from Pagosa Springs.

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