Friday, May 09, 2014

What every art society needs - an exhibition shop

There are lots of people who'd love to buy art but only some can afford to do so. Those who can't afford to buy the original art they like for the price it costs are however happy to settle for the next best thing - the digital fine art print or the fine art card - even if these don't come cheap!

Those who know their customers and markets well make sure they have sufficient stock of both prints and cards available for people to buy at exhibitions - and then display it well.  In other words, there's scope to operate rather like the 'proper' fine art print room at the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts - which does an absolutely amazing amount of sales because the art is so much more affordable compared to the rest of the art for sale. It covers all the bases and satisfies the depth of every pocket. (I'm not denigrating 'proper' fine art prints here so much as making the point that there are always buyers at every price point - but they are not always captured by every exhibition)

I'm starting my posts about the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists with a prompt for those who'd like to make their art society exhibitions even more successful.

Each year, I go to the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists and, in addition to very healthy sales of artwork I always see a very busy 'shop' area where people hand over wads of money for cards, prints and books by members or by the society - plus art materials associated with named artists. I know - because I've been one of the purchasers on a number of occasions.

It normally takes two people operating the card machines to keep the queues down. (This is also separate from the people covering the sale of the original artwork which happens in a different part of the exhibition)

The shop in the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists
This year they've relocated the shop, made even more room available and hung more prints on the wall and it's a pleasure to look at!  Plus they've started a line in SBA products.

Judging by what it looked like when I first took a look (some three hours after the exhibition opened) and when I left near the end of the Private View, visitors managed to purchase an amazing amount of products relating to both member artists and the society on the first day of their exhibition.  In fact it looked like they needed to do a major restock before they opened the following day!

The reason for raising it on my blog is I don't think I've ever seen another art society do it better - with the exception of the permanent shop housed in the Bankside Gallery which benefits members of the RWS and RSPP.

Never ever underestimate how much turnover and commission can be generated for the benefit of both artists and the art society through a well run exhibition shop.

Never ever underestimate just how much stock is needed for a well run and well patronised exhibition shop!

All they need now is a website which can direct purchases all year round to their members' websites.........

[P.S. If you'd like to offer your experience of and/or recommendations for DO's and DON'Ts for an exhibition shop please leave a comment below]


  1. I agree with all you've said , but the mention of prints /reproductions raises a concern in my mind. Digital printing is a fantastic modern way of making reproductions of paintings ,drawings etc, of great quality. But reproductions which seek to pass as limited editions because the artist has signed them and added edition number ,title etc are not acceptable in my view. Buyers can be lead into thinking that they are buying something which has added value, something that the artist worked on. when in fact they are getting a reproduction plain and simple, though usually of a high quality....archival ink and paper etc. Too many otherwise good shops/galleries stock these kind of images

  2. I can see pros and cons on this one - having seen an exhibition this week where David Hockney was selling his digitally made prints as a limited edition.

    I think we need to see distinct differences in treatment between:
    * "proper" fine art prints ie handpulled
    * digital fine art prints - made as digital as per David Hockney (ie there is no plate to break!)
    * limited edition high quality fine art prints made using a giclee process for reproducing original artwork
    * poster prints also using the giclee process but where both paper and inks might be inferior

    Personally I think two things:

    1) the people who handpull handmade prints maybe need to think of a way to differentiate themselves because handmade digital is here to stay - and we now have digital limited editions

    2) those who use the term "limited editions" for their reproductions must only do so if they use the best paper and inks AND it is a genuine limited edition! (no duplicates in other guises!)

  3. I totally agree with what you say. I worked in the shop for a few hours on the day of the private viewing and was interested to see how much was being sold, what was being sold, and more importantly what people were asking for that wasn't in stock but really should have been.

  4. I'm sure you'll be doing a note for the Exec! :)

  5. The David Hockney reference is interesting,in that he really is making prints in a completely new way, which does`t have a distinctive name yet. I think that the definition of fine art print as "an image that does not exist in any other medium" is a good one, thus photographs pass the test as do the kind of digital prints made by Hockney. In all forms of printmaking the buyer must rely on the honesty of the etching plate can be used to make prints after the stated edition is complete...who is to police its destruction.... just as easily as a digital image. If someone buys a reproduction of a Vermeer they don`t expect to have bought something that the artist had a hand in ( not least because the artist is long dead) but if they buy a reproduction of a work by a living artist, especially at a high price, that has been signed as a limited edition, then I think they do, even though the method of making the reproductions may be exactly the same.
    There is a very good article on this subject on (click Articles, then For Artists then scroll down quite a long way to Reproprint Issues.

  6. There's an awful lot of very expensive botanical art engravings which reproduced original botanical art at a time when that was the only way that this was possible

    Hence the definition of "an image that does not exist in any other medium" simply doesn't work in terms of art history!

  7. Yes ,though I did say the definition was a good one rather than a perfect one ! Botanical engravings weren`t exact reproductions, they were very very close most of the time thanks to the skilled engraver that made them and the skilled painter who hand painted them .And they became an art form in themselves. The fact is, as you said in your first comment, print artists will have to try to sort it all out. So far almost all good open submission shows have a No Reproductions rule, but the day might well come when it will be very hard to tell the difference .

  8. Well we already have a very good example of one art society which couldn't tell the difference!


    and then importantly

    and no less important - the answer!

    It's a tale which is always worth retelling

  9. Thanks for the links, they made absolutely riveting reading.(Sheryl Luxemburg`s home page has an acrylic on linen entitled "Faking It") ! It has all made me think that it is a pity that some artists can`t embrace digital technology for what it is and can be...a NEW method of making art not just a way of making cheap reproductions . And perhaps it is the digital artists who should find a new way of labelling and describing their work..not copying the existing way..and having confidence in it for itself and the things only it can do.As far as I`m concerned Hockney has the right idea ...he is completely transparent about the methods he uses to make his digital prints. To get back to where we began....if more gallery/art society shops took a stand that could be a good start


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