David Segal has a superb story in The New York Times profiling photographer Peter Lik—gallery owner and real estate flipper—with great details about his 11 gallery, $80+ million-a-year landscape photography empire. Lik is today’s version of Thomas Kinkade, a massively successful retailer of idealized images. And Lik’s gallery business sells primarily to tourists in vacation spots like Hawaii, Las Vegas and Key West.
What’s going on here isn’t hard to figure out. Lik is the latest iteration in business that provides affluent buyers with a vacation experience they can boast about for years after at home. Park West Gallery ran “auctions” on cruise ships for years where buyers were thrilled to play at bidding on prints that were available other places for cheaper prices. Kinkade had a chain of mall stores at the height of his popularity. None of these operations were relevant to the art market or developed their own meaningful secondary markets.
With that in mind, this tendentious (and unnecessary claim) in Segal’s piece mars an otherwise exceptional piece:
This backdrop has been essential to the success of Peter Lik. He stands apart from the mainstream art market, but he has benefited from the hype that surrounds it. He has also replicated many of its sales tropes, then exploited them to the nth degree.
That paragraph is simply wrong. Lik’s success has nothing to do with the growth of the art market. Kinkade and Park West thrived long before the art market’s several expansions. What Lik has created is a finely tuned sales organization. Segal even goes on to refute his own statement a few paragraphs further on.
Traditional contemporary galleries have their own bag of sales tricks, but they are plied with a poker face. These places want to come across more like a museum than a business, a venue for reverence instead of commerce. So employees are present, but none will ask if you need help. Everything has a price, but you need to screw up your courage to request it.
Peter Lik’s Recipe for Success: Sell Prints. Print Money (NYTimes.com)