Shopping Galleries: Art is in the eye of the beholder – and also at the malls, these days
Beth Karlin/Shopping Centers Today
Art connoisseurs tend to gather in New York City’s Chelsea, Chicago’s River North or the Miami Design District to see and buy fine art. Until recently, such people were virtually certain to view the purchase of art in a shopping mall as more than a little déclassé, observers say. “Many … prefer boutique shopping in urban areas,” said retail consultant Jeff Green, who heads Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. But things are changing. The fact is that connoisseurs are not the only ones buying art these days, as lower-cost but high-quality reproductions and even originals are now broadening demand beyond city dwellers and the affluent. And the trend has supporters. “Art shouldn’t be restricted to the great world cities,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail division of Prudential Douglas Elliman. “It is meant to be shared. If you can buy fine clothing, electronics or home furnishings in a shopping center, why not fine art?”
It seems many art chains agree, judging from the way they are building up their presence inside U.S. malls and shopping centers. Martin Lawrence Galleries, which operates roughly a dozen galleries, opened a 26,000-square-foot space in Simon Property Group’s The Forum Shops at Caesars last year. It has been a good fit, according to Maureen Crampton, Forum Shops’ director of mall marketing and business development. “It complements our tenant roster and has added a key dynamic to the center.”
Lumas Art Gallery, meanwhile, is scoping out space inside top malls, according to Consolo, who represents this Berlin-based purveyor of high-end photographs. “I put a half dozen offers out yesterday and got responses within 15 minutes,” she said. “It’s being very well received.” Lumas is an international dealer with only two shops in the U.S., stand-alone galleries in New York City’s artsy SoHo district. Lumas’ limited editions of works by vintage photographers such as Edward Steichen and Man Ray and by contemporary artists like Sabrina Rothe and Jose Manuel Ballester sell for between $500 and $5,000.
Opera Gallery, a longtime tenant at the tony Bal Harbour (Fla.) Shops, brings in potential shoppers through its art shows and lends sculptures for Bal Harbour’s outdoor spaces, according to Matthew Whitman Lazenby, a Bal Harbour Shops operating partner who represents the third generation of the center’s ownership.
“We’re very picky about where we go,” said Maria Saraceno Ward, marketing manager for Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, which owns Martin Lawrence. The dealership offers works by a range of artists, from contemporary painter Robert Deyber to art deco sculptor Erté to Rembrandt.
The late Thomas Kinkade started the trend in 1992, with primarily reproductions of his art selling at popular price points. Canvas reproductions range from about $100 to thousands of dollars, depending on the size. “Tom’s vision was to make his art available and accessible to anyone on a global level,” said Jann Sheehy, a Kinkade retail leasing consultant. Kinkade has 350 dedicated galleries in the U.S. and Canada, about 75 percent of which are in shopping centers.
The recession has forced The Thomas Kinkade Co. to shut down about 100 galleries. But the company, buoyed by the increase in sales that followed the 54-year-old painter’s death in April, still plans to roll out about 20 stores next year and 75 more over the three years following that, according to Sheehy. Further, the company is in discussions to boost its U.K. presence from five venues to 25 and to expand into Germany and Australasia. Kinkade’s family, which in early July was trying to resolve a dispute over control of the artist’s estate, supports the expansion, according to Mark Hill, a company executive vice president.
Consultants say Kinkade’s death and that of painter LeRoy Neiman in June have focused attention on popular art and drawn new buyers. Even so, though, the demographic fine-arts sellers typically aim for is middle-aged people with household income upwards of $100,000.
These art galleries are not for every mall, some say. “Art isn’t an impulse purchase,” said Sheehy. Indeed not: Shoppers may see a painting, sculpture or photograph they like when shopping, but they may need to discuss it with family members before returning to purchase the piece, she says. “We’re not scanning bar codes. Buyers are writing big checks.”