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ANN CLARK PRIFTIS: ART DEALER

Ann Clark Priftis is President of Clark Priftis Art LLC.  She's an art dealer who resides in New York City and Baltimore, Maryland.  Her career includes stints at private galleries in Manhattan, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  http://clarkpriftisart.com. She's a bright, lovely lady who I think resembles singer Lisa Loeb with a dash of Parker Posey as Mary Boone in the film, "Basquiat" thrown in for great measure.  In short, she's hot! (See, "Art History Babes" from "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal).  I had a great email chat with her.  Here it is ...

MICHAEL: Hi Ann.  First of all, I remember when we first met during your days at the Agora Gallery in New York City.  One of the reasons why I love that gallery is because it really focuses on emerging artists from around the world.  Do you also love emerging art or do you prefer some other genre?

ANN: While I deal in a wide variety of work - everything from Barye to Picasso, emerging artists can be the most exciting genre to work with.  I think every art dealer and collector dreams of finding the "next big thing" - that artist whose work is discovered in a random warehouse somewhere, still selling for $500.  With the advent of the internet and sites like myspace, truly undiscovered talent is becoming increasingly scarce - if an artist has not been discovered by someone in the industry yet, they simply set up their own website and introduce themselves to the community.  What I love about emerging artists is the freshness they bring to their work … the different ways in which up and coming artists attempt to push the boundaries of art, the creative methods of using different mediums and the unique interpretations of old subject matter.  Emerging artists challenge us to re-visit familiar topics and themes, but to view them with fresh eyes.  In this way, they serve an important purpose - to keep us thinking, on our toes and visually challenged.  They break us of our visual complacency that easily sets in in this world where we are bombarded by visual imagery.

MICHAEL: That's so true.  How did you become an art dealer?  Was it something you dreamed of growing up?

ANN:  Not at all.  Both my parents were graphic designers in Manhattan - the pre-computer era of graphic design.  My father's cubicle mate was Romare Bearden and his former boss was Arthur Sackler ... so I guess you can say I grew up in the art environment.  I loved to draw, but never considered myself good enough to make a living at it.  I always wanted to be a filmmaker or a doctor!  When I took an art history course my senior year in high school, it dawned on me that there's a whole other side to fine art besides creating it yourself.  When I went to college, I was introduced to the business aspect of art and loved it even more.  Between the history and the business, I realized there was something I could do professionally with art where I would not have to be an artist myself.  Ever since that first class, I've been fascinated with the art economy, auctions, movements and periods in art ... it all ties into being an art dealer and appraiser.

MICHAEL: As an art dealer, how are you coping with the internet?  As you know, lots of artists are now bypassing gallery representation and marketing themselves through their own websites.

ANN: While the internet has made artwork more accessible to the mainstream, it hasn't replaced the role of the art dealer as a trusted advisor to both artists and collectors.  There seems to be a price limit on what collectors will spend on a piece they purchase online.  While some feel comfortable enough to purchase a low to moderately priced piece here or there, true collectors are hesitant and the pieces they are looking for are usually unknown to them or unavailable via websites. There is still no substitute for seeing a piece in person.  Remember, with the increased use of the internet, people have become creative with Photoshop and other programs that can drastically change the look of an artwork.  From the artist's standpoint, a website is a good supplemental tool - it is an additional portfolio in a way for clients who may be too far away to visit or for pieces that are too large to easily transport.  However, the artist still needs to secure these clients first.  Simply having one of a million artist-created websites does not give you much of an advantage in the sale of the actual work.  It is only if that website is leveraged as a marketing tool that the site can contribute to the artist's success.

MICHAEL: Ann, I've talked with some seasoned collectors who say they continue to be somewhat intimidated by galleries and the whole gallery atmosphere.  Let's face it, many people think that art is only for the rich.  The snobbish reputation among some in the art world doesn't help.  What can galleries do to address this issue?

ANN: You bring up a good point here Michael and here's the issue: the art world likes to maintain a certain air of mystery about it.  Insiders want fine art to remain mysterious, highbrow and elitist.  At the same time, smart gallerists and dealers know that the art world must be accessible to people in order to ensure its future.  My philosophy on this is to educate the masses.  The more educated a client or potential client is, the more valuable an asset they are to the dealer...and of course, the client feels more at ease with his/her decisions.  People need to know more about how to collect art, where to look for art and what to look for in a quality piece.  Teaching people is not giving away trade secrets, it's simply giving them the basics to reach a comfort level where they will consider purchasing.  I teach classes as often as I can on basics of art collecting, appraisals and artist representation.  These classes work to my advantage, because the consumer starts to understand what not to look for in so called "art professionals."  In regards to snobbish gallery employees and owners ... I tell my clients this: I've yet to meet a gallerist who does not enjoy talking about him/herself or his artwork.  Ask them questions.  If for some reason they do not speak with you frankly, I would be suspicious of their merchandise and opposed to giving them my business.

MICHAEL: Okay Ann, here's a tricky question.  It seems to me that with every new generation, society "should" grow wiser and for lack of a better word, better.  Do you think living artists today are "better" than their predecessors?  Assuming that they don't directly copy the past, today's artists really do have a great foundation to build upon.

ANN: I think that artists living today have different resources at their disposal than artists of  other generations.  If they are smart and creative, they will use some of these resources to push the boundaries of their art.  What I think is interesting about the question you posed is the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Amazing similarities exist between modern artists and their predecessors.  Every time an archaeologist discovers a new cave painting or a piece of a Grecian vase, we are taken aback by the artists' level of sophistication and the similarities of form and design.  I do not think living artists are "better," just different.  What I wonder about is years from now, what will this generation of artists be known for, who will be the real stand-out artists and what will this era in art be responsible for conceiving idea-wise?  Are there really any art movements happening?  Any ground-breaking ideas or styles?

MICHAEL:  Along those lines, where do you think art is going?  With all of the resources out there for art, it still has never had the competition that it has today with the media, entertainment, the internet, etc.  I'm concerned that it really may only be available to the highbrow crowd.  I mean, look at Art Basel Miami Beach!

ANN: I think, just like everything else, when art reaches the point of absurdity, it is forced to change.  In the '80's fine art reached an all time high ... people were borrowing money to purchase pieces.  Then the bubble burst.  Art fairs like Basel developed as a way to consolidate galleries and provide a condensed experience for viewers.  Now, during the week of Art Basel Miami, there are so many satellite shows in other venues around the Miami area, that people barely have the time to see them.  Fine art, as it always has been, is something interested people seek out.  Unfortunately, it's rarely presented on a platter to the average person.  Therefore, art automatically attracts the kind of person who is independent thinking and acts on interests while pursuing an independent education and unique experiences.  This means that naturally, a certain type of person is circulating around the art world.  Collectors and artists need to take heed however of the current art climate - it is artificially bullish and while no immediate end may be in sight, there will eventually be one.  The barely known piece hammered down for an outrageous sum in the heat of an auction, may be out of perspective in a few years when the market changes and more logic once again seeps into the sale of art.

MICHAEL: You mentioned earlier that you liked to draw as a child.  Do you apply creativity or artistry in your work as a dealer/administrator?  What do you envision for yourself in the future?

ANN: I believe that my strong suit as a dealer is sniffing out the up and coming artists and finding the perfect fit between collector/business and artwork.  My mind is artistic in the way that I am able to envision artwork on blank walls and can see ways to improve upon existing artwork.  I often visit artists' studios where they will ask me for advice on their artwork or to critique their pieces.  I am able to see the spaces on the canvas that need adjustment and can advise artists on ways to make the most out of their unique style.  In the coming years, I want to continue to educate people on collecting and art appreciation in the effort to increase the general base of potential and future collectors.  What I hope for are increased opportunities to do this - I would love to work with radio and television in this capacity.  It would be wonderful if there were a Rachel Ray of the art world ... hey, if cooking and general household organizing can be exciting for people to watch, art is the next frontier!

MICHAEL:  Thanks Ann.  Perhaps we can co-host such a show.  It would be a blast!

ANN: That would be awesome.  www.clarkpriftisart.com.



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