One of the accusations hurled by art market skeptics is that Contemporary art is sold on hype to unsuspecting buyers lured into the art world’s demimonde of social climbing. But, as Scott Reyburn points out, and the one-time massive success of Thomas Kinkade precedes, there is a substantial market for art that is not sanctioned by the curatorial establishment but is still priced as a luxury good:
“My main competition isn’t from other galleries,” said John Salvo, the director of Martin Lawrence’s flagship 4,000-square-foot space in the SoHo neighborhood of New York. “It’s from high-end impulse-buy retail stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada.” Mr. Salvo said that most of his sales were to first-time purchasers, attracted by original artworks priced at the level of luxury designer goods. “They’re drawn in by a Warhol or a Basquiat in the window, and then end up buying a work by one of our younger artists.”
Robert Deyber, who paints Magritte-style visual puns, is one of Martin Lawrence’s most popular younger names. “Toucans” — an original canvas showing a pair of these birds sitting on Campbell’s soup tins — sold last year for $10,000, Mr. Salvo said.
The price points might seem puny compared with what’s being paid today at auction for hot young names like Alex Israel — one of whose abstracts fetched $1 million in May — but sales of this kind of commercial contemporary art can add up. Back in Mayfair, Castle Fine Art’s John Myatt show had been preceded by a sell-out show of 40 mixed-media works by the Canadian fashion and sports photographer Raphael Mazzucco, priced from £7,000 to £20,000. With 12 exhibitions a year, and Bob Dylan canvases selling for £500,000, galleries like Castle are coming up with numbers that some higher-concept dealers might quietly envy.
At this luxury retail level of the market, dealers try to make it as easy as possible to buy art. Galleries keep their doors open late, often until 7 p.m. There’s music playing and the works are clearly labeled with prices. Staff members even smile occasionally.
Banking on the Appeal of ‘Bad Art’ (NYTimes.com)