If you’re in the art world, like really in the art world, then you probably understand the strange business of it. But, if you’re like most of the world, while you might love and appreciate art, the business surrounding it is probably pretty foreign. On vacation in South Florida, I decided to go on an adventure with my friend Alexa to the Wynwood galleries in Miami. Having been in love with New York for a long time, I’ve always hated the stereotype of New Yorkers being mean; though in certain areas, the stereotype is undeniable - the Chelsea gallery district probably ranks at the top of that list. Miami was different, gallery workers were polite and courteous, and I felt comfortable enough to shelve my reservation and ask questions… Like, “How much does this piece cost?”
The first note-worthy stop on our journey was N’Namdi Gallery on 23rd St. The walls were incredibly diverse, with one or two pieces from each artist - all of which breezed past until we found this:
We couldn’t move any further. Granted, we had walked into a corner, but that wasn’t it; we were paralyzed by the marvel of “Red Skirt”. This piece was truly stunning… It may have been the most hideous thing I’d ever seen in my life.
“She’s smoking out of her eye”, Alexa observed. There was a bra-pad vagina, and bubble wrap glued arbitrarily down toward the brown clouds in the bottom two corners, which could best be defined as violent sharts. With the oppressive red fabric holding her down, the invasive hand crawling up against her stomach, and the small, naked man looming over the skeptical woman’s head, we deduced that this was a piece about the impending threat of the feminine revolution… Just wait until that cigarette burns through that first bubble - it’ll set off the whole strip, and that world will explode. *POP! POP! POP!*
Engaging in an analysis like this, driven by art-induced mania, there’s no keeping quiet. I can’t imagine the gallerina - two rooms, but only about 25 feet away - couldn’t hear us. It almost stopped me from approaching her, but I HAD to know how much this thing cost. So I brought her in and eagerly bulldozed through her pamphlet to hear her proposition; “35.” She looked at me, in my slobbish tank top and denim cut-offs. “…Thousand.”
Next stop on the gallery tour was Alma Fine Art (Photography gallery). I usually love the self-serious photography collections, but wasn’t into the exhibit until 2 things, 1) Alexa’s interpretation of the following picture as “We are all asparagus”,
and 2) when I discovered the adjunct video installation room. Shortly after my dreams of being an animator had been shattered by the reality that I hate animating, I decided to linger around in film school anyway because, a combination of sound and visuals, it seemed like the perfect medium. 20 years old, and just reaching the pinnacle of pretension, I decided that I wasn’t going to create the pedestrian fluff that my thousands of classmates were doing, I was going to be an artiste; I was going to make abstract narratives intended for galleries and museums, that 97% of cinemaplex-goers wouldn’t understand (and maybe the other 3% could only pretend to understand.) It was another short-lived deviation from reality.
I have to admit that I’ve rarely actually seen video installations in galleries (only museums) so it piqued my curiosity intensely to see what was being displayed. 2 of the videos caught my attention; on one wall was a projection of a circular collage of vignetted stop-motion videos of mundane activities, and on another was a projection of a vase onto the wall-space over a half of a simple, antique wooden table mounted about 2 feet off the ground. Looking at these videos, I realized that the content wasn’t that interesting, but I was fascinated to find out, ‘how is this sold?’.
Back into the main room, I interrupted the gallerina to inquire. “So, when you sell the piece with the table, do you sell the table too?” I asked her.
“Yeah, we could probably get you the table! I mean, I’m not really sure, we haven’t talked about it yet… It needs to stay up right now for the exhibition, but we could totally probably sell you the table with the piece!” She beamed with a sort of confused enthusiasm.
I learned that each of the videos are sold on a simple DVD, and cost $5,000 and $8,000 for the two that I mentioned above. It seems pricey for a DVD, but I understand the abundant costs of filmmaking, people need to profit off their work, and further, this is ‘art’ - collectors enjoy paying for it. But at what price point do they also expect to be the sole owner of the work?
Digital media is, by nature, mass produceable, and mainstream production companies strive to turn a profit (or at least break even) through the potential to distribute their work on a large scale in which patrons of a movie pay a substantially less amount to own a DVD, and have a minimal sense of ownership of the work itself (as much as the ability to access it). So, for these pieces of video art, where buyers are charged a much higher retail price, is there a cap on how many DVDs are produced? The answer was a shocking “no”.
The girl told me that they had two copies in stock currently, and would be making more for future exhibitions. I assume that while some collectors collect to support artists, most collect also as an investment in something that will aesthetically or ideologically suit their tastes, while also retaining (and increasing in) value as an asset. How, then, does this investment retain it’s value? What if one of the DVD patrons were to upload the work onto the internet, publicizing what X number of people paid $8,000 for? Is it then the content of the disc that’s of value, or the original disc itself? At that point, your investment becomes kind of a weird one, where the DVD itself would be best preserved and kept on display for being the original release of this work, but, in that case, unwatchable. At least, if you buy the table, you have something that nobody else has. I wish I knew how much that thrift store table would’ve cost as an add-on.
The last gallery we went to might’ve been my favorite; sort of, contemporary art almost at it’s most absurd (just short of performance art), as far as sale-ability. Gallery Diet (we pronounce it like ‘Viet’).
The migraine-inducing lighting and 4:55pm-scattered gallerina made it difficult to spend much time here or glean much information. But I emailed them retrospectively to get some prices.
Found Letters - $3,000
Umpire [aka podium with busted ball] - $5,000
It seems bargain priced, relatively, but what’s it all really worth?