Life and Times: Artful approaches to a tough art market

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Studio East Gallery owner Terry Falquero, right, with customer Dennis Scamardella of Staten Island during the Gallery Walk in Greenport last weekend.

In the art world, when the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Art dealers, the first to be affected during an economic downturn, know that now is the time to show resilience. During this particularly difficult recession, they’ve reinvented how they do business, hoping that art buyers will return in full force when jobs do.

“We’ve considered changing our way of operating,” says Hector deCordova, who runs deCordova Studio and Gallery in Greenport with his wife, Joyce. “We usually get a good mix of people — older folks and the 30- to 40-somethings. But this year they seem intimidated about walking into a large show, because they don’t intend to buy. Some act apologetically, as if walking in is an intrusion.”

The deCordovas are experimenting with more intimate shows — smaller exhibitions of works by single artists viewed in the unique setting of their gorgeous old Victorian home/gallery on Main Street. “It’s a way for viewers to get a sense of scale and imagine how a particular artist’s work might look in their own homes,” says Mr. deCordova, who hopes this welcoming setting will attract visitors, many of whom for now just wish to enjoy looking at art.

Because large themed shows are expensive propositions, Amy Worth, director of the South Street Gallery in Greenport, will launch fewer of them. She will instead offer an assortment of new works by familiar gallery artists. Caroline Waloski of The Sirens’ Song will spend more time creating and showing her own etchings, and Glynis Berry, director of Art Sites in Riverhead, is thinking about more exhibitions of artist-driven themes related to community and environment. These shows will benefit her newly formed not-for-profit, Peconic Green Growth. Going forward she plans fundraising events to support the organization’s many environmental causes, including alternative septic systems and the creation of sustainable sites within communities.

Art-based fundraising events, especially auctions, are popular win-win situations for artists, dealers and organizations, all of whom share in the profits. Bidding has benefits: It’s great fun — an adrenaline rush excited by the steal of a deal; it’s competitive and social — everyone gets to be seen; and it’s an affirmation of personal taste — look how many others want what you do. Last but not least, it’s an opportunity to support a worthwhile not-for-profit and walk away with a work of art you love.

Mr. deCordova reports that his recent benefit for 88.3 Peconic Broadcasting was a huge success and he’s planning others for next year because, he says “It’s surprising how many people visit us after they’ve seen works by the artists we represent at auction.”

Ms. Worth, who puts a different spin on the benefit sale, concurs. Her 10×10=100 exhibition and sale has people lined up in the street for hours for an opportunity to purchase a small work for just $100. “We are delighted to be offering one 10” x 10” board per artist,” she says. On the eve of the sale, buyers are allowed to make their purchases of the art-filled boards on a first-come, first-served basis. This December, the benefit event will support the North Fork Environmental Council.

Though these events barely fill gallery coffers, they do draw people into the gallery. Ron Rothman, director of Art in Southold Gallery, uses live music performances related to his exhibitions to enhance attendance. He packs in crowds with concerts that this year included one by Caroline Doctorow. Some performances carry a small $10 charge, others are free.

Workshops and gallery talks also encourage people to participate in the art scene and while galleries have for years augmented art sales with classes in a variety of media, they have made those offerings ever more alluring this year. This summer, Ms. Worth hosted a workshop with Naomi Campbell, an internationally known artist who teaches at New York’s Art Students League. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, award-winning impressionist painter Peggi Kroll-Roberts will hold court during classes that include a plein-air session focused on interpretations of light and dark using the draped figure.

Terrence Joyce’s summer potpourri of enticements resulted in good sales for his Greenport gallery. For an opening in May, featuring Hawaiian artists Jack and AJ Ferrel, Mr. Joyce provided lively music and a sushi chef. The artists stayed on for two additional days to demonstrate their use of 15th century French painting techniques. In an outreach to artists, Mr. Joyce also held an upbeat, free 12-week workshop, titled “The Artists’ Way,” led by Isabell Haren Leonardi. Painters, printmakers, sculptors, writers and musicians gathered to discuss how to follow their hearts and talents at a time when, says Mr. Joyce, “the culture often sees only superstars as having something to offer mankind.” All these ventures take an enormous amount of time and effort, sighs Mr. Joyce, who keeps his gallery open seven days a week and frequently works past 11 p.m.

The collateral benefits of programs that nurture a general interest in the arts are paying dividends. Audiences are comfortable in these “no strings attached” settings. They ask questions freely and become part of the art dialogue. Many participating gallerists report that increased traffic and sales follow such events. This is especially evident with the new series sponsored by East End Arts and Peconic Landing. Every third Thursday, July through November, local gallery directors host free arts-related programs at Brecknock Hall, the magnificently restored 19th-century mansion that serves as venue for this collaborative program.

A standing-room-only crowd attended Amy Worth’s session, “About the Sea,” the theme of her gallery exhibition. Her discussion with artists and writers who draw inspiration from the sea featured author Michael Tougias, a sea-disaster survivor, who spoke about his book, “Overboard,” which chronicles his ordeal. Storm paintings by Orient artist Annie Wildley, were displayed as backdrop.

On Thursday, Sept. 14, Caroline Waloski and Terry Falquero of Studio East will discuss art inspired by the epic 9/11 attacks. Ms. Waloski will show select prints from a 9/11 portfolio produced by 43 artists from the Manhattan Graphics Center. Five complete portfolios are in the permanent collections of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library and the New York Historical Society. These prints will be exhibited at The Sirens’ Song Gallery, from Sept. 27 through December.

The stock market may rise and fall during a recession, but art is a quirky commodity that transcends its own market. It is what keeps our North Fork community the vibrant place it’s become.