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Fine Art Wholesalers, the Alternative to Galleries?

by Claire Haasl

When I first visited Slaymaker Fine Art, in the heart of Lakeview, it was a little like walking back in time.  Maybe it was the interior architectural gems like the beautiful tile covering the floor, the inlaid woodwork, or the ornate chandeliers that had me transplanted to another time because it definitely wasn’t the artwork.  There was a variety of work from landscape, to abstract, to figurative and back again and all of the work seemed to speak of a current aesthetic and style.

Stacks of works at Slaymaker

Stacks of works at Slaymaker

The first floor is predominantly a show room and houses large framed paintings, but as I proceeded to the back of the space there were many unframed canvases hanging like the posters at the museum store on those poster rack things, (my apologies if there is an official name for those poster rack things).  And as I bypassed the line of patrons in the complimentary drink line, I made my way to the stairs to the second floor, also filled with framed and hung paintings of cityscapes and still lifes.  Up on the second floor there were piles of work laid out on large tables ready to be shown to patrons at a moment’s notice.  It was then that I realized that this gallery was packed floor to ceiling with artwork.  In fact, after checking my notes, I realized it wasn’t a gallery at all, but a warehouse.

Have you ever heard of such a thing?  A fine art warehouse – what a great idea!  At Slaymaker Fine Art they house the work of over 80 artists, but most of their business is not selling to individual art collectors.  In reality, the individual buyer only makes up 5% of Slaymaker’s business.  The other 95% is mostly selling to art galleries, as well as other art dealers and corporate art consultants.  The artworks are sold at wholesale prices and the artists represented by Slaymaker receive a paycheck – twice a month!

Unstretched paintings on a rack at Slaymaker

Unstretched paintings on a rack at Slaymaker

If you are an artist reading this, you may be thinking, “How do I get in on this?”  The answer is that it’s a little more difficult than you might expect.  I sat down with Woody Slaymaker, the owner of Slaymaker Fine Art, and asked him just that question.  He said he wasn’t looking for any new artists right now but the best way to get on his radar, or the radar of other wholesale dealers like him, is to present your work at a trade show, buy a booth, hang up your best work and hope and pray that a dealer will be looking for the style and aesthetic that your artwork offers.

It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  Wholesale art dealers have to cover all the bases when it comes to what galleries are looking for.  They contract many artistic styles in order to provide a range of work, and if an artist with a certain aesthetic leaves for one reason or another the wholesaler must go out looking for the same sort of artwork to replace, or fill in the gap the previous artist had left.  The artists that are lucky enough to fill those gaps are the artists selling their work.  They skip the gallery step and let someone else take care of getting their work out to the public eye.

Slaymaker_Stairway

Slaymaker's stairwell

It’s an interesting step to omit when trying to sell artwork.  Most of us think that if we want to buy art the place to go is an art gallery, so it would make sense that we think that’s the place to sell our artwork, too.  Who knew that there are ways around gallery representation and the 5-10% cut they will receive for selling an artwork?  Don’t get me wrong; the gallery step is an important one, not only for artists and collectors but also for the art economy.  But I still have to wonder with so much emphasis always put on the art gallery and the stigma behind it, how many artists are being informed of the option to sell their work wholesale? Well, hopefully a lot more now.