Kris Gebhardt, a mixed-media impressionist painter, is adrenalized because he and his wife, Angela—who is an abstract artist in her own right, as well as Kris’s business partner—are front-row spectators as the stale, over-sanctioned industry of last century collides with the vibrating new way to buy and sell art. Like today’s authors who write and sell books without publishers, or tomorrow’s rock icons who are making it without a record label, painters and sculptors are going solo— and saying goodbye to the traditional gallery matrix.
Putting art on display is the future of buying and selling this commodity, and international art fairs are the becoming more popular for this purpose. But first, artists have to correspond with collectors, designers, and art magazines; post lots of pictures on social media; and fill out countless forms online in order to add pieces to art websites. You’d think that after all that marketing, the artists’ and former gallery owners’ work would be done. Au contraire! In this brave new frontier of show, tell, and sell, the sweat investment is just the beginning.
The Gebhardts pore over their vast inventory to decide what to pack. Nestled among the climate-controlled walls of their warehouse are hundreds, maybe thousands, of paintings that range in size from two to three feet tall and every bit as wide, to seven feet tall and more than eight feet wide. Decisions, decisions. Only a few will be selected to exhibit.
As former brick-and-mortar gallery owners, the Gebhardts were used to doing a lot of the heavy lifting to make sure their art hung in all the right places. But they traded gallery ownership for a life of entrepreneurship. To perpetuate their brand, they work a lot harder, taking their catalog to international collectors at art shows in Miami, New York, and California, rather than hoping that a collector from China will happen to walk through their door in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. What they have learned is that people want and need art. To succeed in today’s ever-changing art arena, they must manage their marketing and social media, wield hammers, string lights, and display their pieces in strategically selected areas of exhibit halls all over the country.
Virtual galleries alone aren’t enough; artists are turning their talent into lucrative small businesses. Maybe getting noticed happens in their spare time, and many are even successful enough that they can quit their day jobs, but the bottom line is that the old business of art is dying. Long live the new art sector! This self-serving cottage industry of sorts is creating jobs and contributing to the economy in a way that dealing with galleries never allowed them to do. More distribution channels means more art is making its way to the marketplace and into the hands of collectors to be enjoyed, rather than being cloistered in the bowels of galleries, which are existing on life support at best. Creators are breaking the system, providing customers with freedom, better service, and more choices. This makes Kris and Angela enthusiastic for what the future of the art world will bring.
“The international art fairs bring collector, artist, and the art together, which is a much more meaningful experience for all,” says Kris Gebhardt. At these events, the Gebhardts meet with tens of thousands of enthusiasts and patrons—would-be buyers—whom they never would have had access to in the previous incarnation of the industry. Buyers file through the building’s maze of eclectic, sophisticated, signature, and classic pieces. They meet the artists and schmooze all the while, adding to—or perhaps just starting—their collections with a purchase directly from the artist. It’s a little like buying opera tickets from Pavarotti, ballet seats from Baryshnikov, or a Ferrari directly from Enzo.