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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Fine Art Takes A Long Holiday

Fine Art Takes A Long Holiday Gino: Business at his 45-year-old Tarzana art gallery is off 40 percent this year. By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter It’s not for nothing that they’re called starving artists. The business of art has never been easy, especially in the San Fernando Valley where the tourists that many gallery owners in other places count on to pay the rent are hard to come by and the panache of a Bergamot Station or Venice Beach is conspicuous by its absence. But those difficulties pale in comparison to the current business climate for local art gallery owners. Mounting losses in the stock market, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and rising home prices that leave little for interior decorating have all cut right to the heart of many of these small business owners. “Sept. 11 had a big effect,” said Robert Gino, the co-owner of Orlando, a 45-year-old gallery on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana that claims to be the longest established contemporary gallery in Southern California. “I would say business is down at least 40 percent. People are coming in, but they’re not buying.” The handful of galleries located in the Valley are not closing their doors, thanks largely to rents that are often a fraction of the going rate on the other side of the hill. But, like Gino, many report business is down by 40 percent or more, and the sharp downturn is taking a toll. “We’ve taken inventory we’ve owned for more than five years and are selling it at cost to produce money to reduce inventory and pay bills,” said Thomas Hecht, whose parents, Charles and Edith, opened Charles Hecht Galleries on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana 38 years ago. The oldest galleries in the Valley located here when the population was booming, pricey homes were being built and, perhaps most importantly, many of those flocking to the area had brought with them from the East Coast an appreciation for fine art. In the past decade others have joined them, eschewing the tonier Westside for neighborhoods from North Hollywood to the East Valley because rents are affordable. Specialties vary from European old masters to California contemporary. Prices can range from $100 for an oil by a budding, but unknown, artist to $90,000 for a museum-quality work by a listed artist (one whose works are sold at art auctions). The majority of sales are in the $200 to $800 range. For most gallery owners in the Valley, the business is a labor of love a way for former art teachers, artists or patrons to stay in touch with the objets of their desires and share their appreciation with others. “We’ve kind of established a little art community here, and when people come in from the area they say, ‘I’ve never seen art like this,’ so it’s a chance to educate them,” said Charles Borman, a former Cal State L.A. teacher who opened Village Square Gallery in Montrose five years ago. But staying in business typically takes a good measure of pluck. Rents for the kinds of spaces and lighting necessary can be as high as $7,000 a month. Even in the Valley, where rents are more likely to be at least 25 percent less than the Westside, it can take two years to recoup the initial investment of renovations, rental costs and art purchases. And the Valley has some special challenges of its own, these gallery owners say. “It always has been referred to as a cultural wasteland,” said Gino, who prides himself on discovering local artists as well as featuring other better-known contemporary painters and sculptors. “It still is. Many of these people, because of their lack of knowledge, don’t know this is art. They’re so used to going to art fairs in the parks. They come in with swatches and say, ‘I’m looking for these colors to go with my couch.'” The trick is to secure artists with their own followings, but keeping those who can draw a large clientele can be difficult. Popular artists are often spirited away to Santa Monica, Venice or downtown L.A. where their works can bring twice what they do in the Valley. Borman, whose gallery runs a new exhibit every two months, was featuring the works of Cecilia Miguez when another gallery owner saw the exhibit and invited Miguez to show at his West L.A. gallery. “The first year, her pieces were selling for double what they were selling here for,” said Borman. “Then she showed for two more years and now they are selling for $24,000 to $30,000. He’s in an area where people have money and they spend more.” Miguez continues to exhibit her work at Village Square, but now only as part of larger group shows, where she need only devote one or two pieces. Most galleries in the Valley like Hecht, which specializes in European old masters and contemporary fine art, still retain many of the same customers they had several decades ago. “We count on our collectors coming back year after year,” Hecht said. But those collectors no longer buy at the same pace they once did. And newer collectors cannot always be relied upon to boost the local scene, as one gallery owner learned recently. A regular at Orlando was buying one or two paintings each visit and shipping them back to New York, where he lived. Gino had a theory about why the collector, a prominent television personality who seemed to like what he found, never referred any of his friends or associates to the gallery. Then one day, after floating it, the collector confirmed Gino’s suspicions. “He didn’t want them to know what he paid for it,” Gino said. Galleries like Orlando and Charles Hecht have taken advantage of the Internet to expand their potential customer base. Hecht began using eBay about a year ago “and it’s proven effective,” he said. Other gallery owners, like Sunny Meyer, are glad for a restoration business that helps to boost sales. “I think my business is up, but I offer a service,” said the proprietor of Sunny Meyer Fine Art at Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards in North Hollywood. “Restoration art is probably 50 percent or more of my business. That grows as my reputation grows.” Mostly, these gallery owners say, their livelihoods depend on attracting and retaining a client base that stretches beyond the borders of the San Fernando Valley. The regular clientele at Orlando, for example, comes from Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Brentwood, along with other parts of the country. Said Gino, “I don’t think I would have survived if it were just from the Valley.”

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