by Jasmyne Keimig • Jul 25, 2019 at 2:58 pm
During an interview with Sarah Traver of Traver Gallery recently, I learned something that kind of threw me for a loop: that her gallery offered what is essentially an "art on layaway" plan for people who want to buy something but can't necessarily put down $1200 all at once. "If you want to come in here and say, 'I love this piece of art and I can only afford $100 a month for the next 12 months,' that's okay. We'll figure it out," Traver told me.
"We want that artist to have the sale. We want you to have that piece because you fell in love with it. And that's the important connection that I think sometimes gets forgotten about. People come in and see the work and there's an intimidation factor around buying it."
That concept stuck in my head as I slithered around Pioneer Square Art Walk a few weeks ago. Emboldened by Traver's words, I found myself going through prints at Stonington Gallery after an associate told me that they, too, do payment/layaway plans. I happened upon a print that I really loved. And checked the price tag. $650, I thought to myself. That seems................doable.
Look, I know that the gallery system isn't perfect. What artists get represented, promoted, and taken in can be totally arbitrary and leaves a lot of talented, worthy artists left to figure things out on their own. In which case, I'd encourage you, reader, to reach out to these artists on Instagram or through email if you see work that you'd like to purchase. Social media has leveled the playing field between unrepresented artists and potential clients, and, as a person new to collecting, you should take advantage.
My predecessor Jen Graves made a case for buying art in 2012, which I think still holds up. You should certainly read the whole thing, but here are three of the main takeaways for me:
"Let's begin with the following basic understanding: You are not buying art to make anyone rich. Approximately point-zero-zero-one percent of artists ever make as much money over the span of their entire careers as a Microsoft or Amazon employee in a single year. If you are concerned that your art purchasing will create a class of brats, then your concern ought to be placed elsewhere in your consumption cycle."
"You want to own something that means something to you. The pleasure of an original thing is that, like anything you truly love, it attaches itself to the original part of you and builds it like a muscle, makes you feel more like you. It also connects you to someone else, the artist—but you don't have to tend that relationship, it's just there, simple, pure."
"Another reason to buy art: because a city cannot live on project managers and engineers alone. Because buying art is a way to notify artists that their presence is wanted. (Because it is most likely not going to pay their bills.)"
In the brief survey I did of galleries in the city, most if not all are willing to work with buyers within their means. Typically, there's an established timeframe to buy the work within, sometimes requiring a deposit so that the artist can get paid. The gallery holds onto the art until all the payments are completed. And... that's it. No monthly interest. Just a gallery trying to connect people with art.
Even heavy-hitting, established galleries want to make things happen for budding (and kinda broke) collectors. Greg Kucera Gallery has "time payments" where buyers can pay for a piece over a year. Though Kucera Gallery definitely has higher-end pieces, as Graves noted in her original article, there are, in fact, pieces under $1000 in the gallery's inventory.
Kucera himself told me that these time payments were how he got his start as a collector—he bought a piece for $85 while still in high school. It took him a year to pay it off. "I still have it and I still love it," Kucera said to me over the phone recently. "I know how it feels when you’re a young collector and you want something." And they'll try to make what you have work with what you want.
Judith Rinehart, director of the J. Rinehart Gallery (which has yet to open a physical location but will be showing at the Seattle Art Fair), echoed a similar sentiment. "[Payment plans are] how I have purchased most of the art in my collection and the concept of making art accessible and affordable to anyone is the ethos behind J. Rinehart Gallery," she wrote in an email to me recently. She told me she's totally willing to work with anyone who wants to purchase art, and terms of payment plans can be flexible and tailored to the buyer.
A representative from ZINCcontemporary tells me that they label the work in the exhibitions with prices and an option of what it would look like to pay over the course of 2, 4, or 6 months. "We believe living with original art can fuel the innovation that the world needs. It increases creativity, hope, compassion, and opens the mind to new insights and thought processes," they write.
Phylogeny Contemporary in Belltown—I wrote about their Didier Hamey show in January—has what gallerist Lori John calls "installment payments," breaking up payments over three or six months. Harris Harvey Gallery on First Avenue offers 3-12 month payment plans. Patricia Rovzar Gallery works with layaway purchases as well. Linda Hodges Gallery, Shift Gallery, and Specialist all also confirmed to me their willingness to work with first time art buyers as well.
So, go forth and buy art (if you can)!