In my last blog, I ventured way out of my depth and wrote about gallery sales. I think I’ll splash about in this deep water a little more.
I mentioned that artworks in galleries seem to be getting smaller. The logic, I am pretty sure, is that smaller is more affordable, and that is definitely the case. But are artists actually dropping their prices?
Many years back I learnt about Picasso selling his works ‘au point’. I think that was the term – I’m not finding it at the moment via Google. Anyway, the idea was that Picasso had an agreement with his dealer at one stage that he would be paid by the square centimetre – the bigger the canvas, the more Picasso got.
I doubt it was quite as simple as that. Think plumber. You have a call-out charge and a per-minute charge, not just a per-minute charge, which would correspond to a per-centimetre charge in Picasso’s case. Basically, you have to pay the plumber, just like the supermodel, for getting out of bed. If Picasso only had a per-centimetre charge, then he wasn’t being paid for getting out of bed.
Some years back, when I was producing purchasable paintings, there was a constant dilemma for me over pricing. Being reasonably savvy with statistics, in the end I did this: I drew up a list of prices for my works within the past few years, along with a list of their sizes, in square centimetres; I then did what’s known as linear regression analysis, which yielded a slope and an intercept, which correspond to per-minute and call-out charges, respectively. With this formula in hand, I could very quickly price any painting of mine; it didn’t even matter much how it looked.
What has this to do with small artworks, the trend I am claiming is widespread now in commercial galleries? What I am wondering is if the rate at which artists are being paid has actually fallen, or if the slope and intercept are still the same, with the lower range being sampled from an unchanged regression equation.
I don’t know the answer. Selling smaller works does make them more affordable, though I have argued in my last blog that the strategy has potential pitfalls. Selling works that are smaller than a particular artist has sold in recent years also has another advantage: no direct price comparisons are possible – if sizes were identical with previous years, then it would be obvious that prices had gone down, if they had. So selling smaller works may be a way of disguising a price fall; if that is the strategy, I wonder what buyers make of it – would they be surprised that the value of art, in particular of a purchase they made a year or two ago, has (temporarily) dropped?
Probably not, given what’s happening to optional-purchase prices right across the economy. In other words, they’d probably cope with the shock.