Wednesday, 28 March 2018 11:03

Unique exhibition in Swift Current places spotlight on commercial art galleries

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A panel discussion took place at the exhibition's official opening, March 16. From left to right, commercial gallery owners Levi Nicholat, Kimberley Fyfe, and Gina Fafard. A panel discussion took place at the exhibition's official opening, March 16. From left to right, commercial gallery owners Levi Nicholat, Kimberley Fyfe, and Gina Fafard. Matthew Liebenberg/Prairie Post

The current exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC) reflects on an aspect of the art world that is usually ignored by public galleries.

The exhibition “Art for Sale” highlights the importance of commercial galleries and artwork sales to sustain the arts ecology.
The exhibition features the works of 43 artists from two major Saskatchewan commercial galleries, The Gallery/art placement inc. in Saskatoon and the Slate Fine Art Gallery in Regina.
The official opening of the exhibition took place March 16. AGSC Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling moderated a panel discussion with Gina Fafard and Kimberley Fyfe from the Slate Fine Art Gallery and Levi Nicholat from The Gallery/art placement inc. This was followed by a walk and talk with artists who have works featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition features major Saskatchewan artists such as Joe Fafard, Victor Cicansky and Robert Christie, as well as newly established and emerging artists.
“This as a group show is quite remarkable,” Houghtaling said. “If I set out to and searched the public collections to find these very same artists it would be a challenge. ... These are outstanding artists and we’ve been able to present them here, but because of the partnership with the commercial galleries we were able to just borrow directly from them in an immediate fashion and shift the artworks that are very significant into the public setting and just bring together a remarkable dynamic.”
The idea for this exhibition is a result of Houghtaling's interest in the commercial gallery sector. In the past he collaborated with the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance to develop strategies to identify arts ecology in the province.
“The Arts Alliance put together this huge study that brought that ecology together and part of that was to identify how the commercial gallery sectors function in relationship to the public sector, in relation to the education institutions, and the individual artists,” he said. “That really struck me and what I thought was what more then could public galleries do to make that dynamic really fulfill what we need as an art sector.”
He was also inspired to create this exhibition after a visit to the Art Now Saskatchewan Fine Art Fair. He was struck by the collaborative effort of the commercial galleries to bring more attention to Saskatchewan artists, even though these galleries are in competition with each other.
“So visiting them in that situation and really admiring the effort, I wanted to try and do something as a public gallery,” he said.
The exhibition's title is a reference to the fact that the artworks have price tags and are for sale, which is an unusual arrangement for works of art in a public gallery.
“People are not used to that, and so it adds another reaction to everyone’s experience,” he said. “They see the work and they think about it. They might like it or not like it, or not really know what they like about it and then when they look at the information and they see the price of it. Then it hits them – that's worth $22,000.”
The monetary value of an artwork therefore adds another dimension to a viewer's evaluation of that art and their own idea about the value of art.
“So there is a learning experience about the importance of artwork within the art world,” he said. “It also triggers the opportunity for us to talk to people about who these artists are and why their artwork might be at the monetary value that it was and give them examples that trace histories and accomplishments that these artists have made over the years.”
Kimberley Fyfe loved the idea when Houghtaling approached the Slate Fine Art Gallery to be a part of this exhibition.
“We have a lot of artists who have work that is shown in public galleries,” she said. “So what we’ve done at our gallery is when an artist has a show in a public gallery we usually have a commercial gallery show at the same time simultaneously. ... It just sort of infiltrates the community a little stronger so people get this idea, because typically in public galleries you’ll go in and see the work but there isn’t always that connection made through to the business of art, which is why these artists are doing what they do. They are successful and they have wonderful careers selling their work.”
Fyfe previously worked at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina and she is therefore familiar with both sides of the gallery world.
“Public galleries tend to avoid the whole business of art,” she said. “They like to look at it and write about it and emphasize it, but the business side is what supports the artists. It’s them being able to sell their work to the public to continue to create the work that they do, that does eventually show up in public galleries. Kim is really tuned into that and understands how the business of art works, and now he's trying to educate the community about that, which I think is really wonderful.”
Levi Nicholat of The Gallery/art placement inc. is excited that the separate worlds of commercial and public galleries can come together in this exhibition.
“There’s this idea that exists that there is greater social and cultural value in things that are non-commercial, and things that are commercial are just commercial,” he said. “I think that idea is changing and there is always that middle ground where you can do both. You can make strong artistic work, you can make work with artistic merit that is also saleable. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Commercial art galleries face many challenges. They are competing with other galleries, they must deal with market forces and the state of the economy, rising rent and rising prices for artworks, and they must keep abreast of trends in the art world.
“The art world is always changing,” he said. “Not that art follows fashion. In fact, in some ways it’s the exact opposite of it, but sometimes you might put out something that people just don’t respond to. ... I think there are some things that are timeless. The quality work will hopefully have a timeless nature and it will transcend trends and styles. High-calibre artists are always pushing themselves and advancing their art in relation to what other artists are doing to also advance their art and the art forms themselves. So you do the best you can to be open to that and just engage and educate yourself about what artists are doing.”
People from all walks of life will buy art, and Nicholat noted that artists are strong supporters of the work of other artists.
“We never push the investment angle, because it’s never the guaranteed thing,” he said. “You should buy it because you love it. I think generally our clients accept the premise that art has cultural value and it’s something that’s worth supporting, not necessarily investing in.”
According to Fyfe the price of artworks in the Slate Fine Art Gallery will start at $20 and will go up to $150,000. The average sale price will be between $2,000 and $5,000.
“The majority of our buyers are regular, ordinary Saskatchewan folk who appreciate the aesthetic that we have in Saskatchewan and understand what it’s like to have original art in their home,” she said.
Two of the most exciting aspects of her job is to see someone fall in love with a work of art and to be able to pay artists for their artwork, which allows them to continue their creativity.
“We do more than just sell their artwork,” she said. “We’re encouraging their careers and helping them along and a lot of times helping them figure out the price point where they should be; when it’s time to move that price point up because the work is in high demand. So there is a high level of engagement with the artist, but being able to give them money so they can just go back into the studio and do work, I find that wonderful and I hope our artists feel the same way.”
Photographer Vera Saltzman, who currently lives in Fort Qu'Appelle, has been represented by the Slate Fine Art Gallery for over four years.
“What they do is promotions,” she said. “I don't want to have to spend my time doing that sort of thing. When you're doing creative work there's always a marketing side to it. Most people do want to sell their work to live, it's their job, it's their profession, and Slate Gallery's profession is to do the marketing side of it. So to have the opportunity to be represented by them was a real gift to me.”
She appreciates the support that she has received from Slate Fine Art Gallery co-owners Kimberley Fyfe and Gina Fafard for her work as a photographer.
“They've been really supportive,” Saltzman said. “Photography is a hard sell. A lot of people don't even see photography as art. They question the validity of it as an art form and these two women have given me every opportunity and really believe in my work and in what I do.”
Regina painter Ward Schell has been represented by Slate Fine Art Gallery since it opened in 2013. It was an easy decision for him to commit to the gallery, especially when he learned that the gallery is also representing notable artists such as Joe Fafard.
“The clientele that comes to the gallery for maybe another artist's work will see your work, and the collectors come from far and wide,” Schell said. “It's not just local, it's not just around the corner. It's international, and the opportunities for me as an artist would be far less if I was promoting this myself and I just frankly don't have the time to do it.”
As an artist he wants to focus on working in his studio and he does not want to worry about doing all the legwork to promote his art.
“You still have to give a percentage of your sales away and I know that's an issue with some people that aren't really fully understanding the commercial vendor,” he said. “They earn every penny of what they make and I'm happy to give a percentage of what I sell to them for that reason. They bring a lot of credibility to artists and in fact the artists bring a lot of credibility to them. It's a two-way street.”
His true passion is to express his creativity, but he is never sure if anyone will appreciate his art and will actually buy it.
“It doesn't matter how long I've been painting, how long I've been selling, it's still an exciting moment that someone cares enough about what you've done that is truly from your heart,” he said. “You're exposing yourself on this gallery wall and they come up and say they can't live without it. It's hard to put that into words and it never grows old. It's pretty exciting stuff.”
The “Art for Sale” exhibition will be on display at the AGSC until April 22. The gallery is open Monday to Thursday from 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 1-5 p.m.

Read 675 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 March 2018 09:33
Matthew Liebenberg


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