If you think owning an art gallery means holding elegant Champagne receptions for sophisticated clients and fascinating artists every day, think again.
Owning a fine art gallery is like running any other small business: It's risky, expensive and challenging.
"Too many people go into this business because they think it's going to be fun," said Karl Borenstein, who owns a 7-year-old Santa Monica art gallery bearing his name.
Borenstein and other gallery owners--or gallerists, as they call themselves--say the formula for success is complex: It requires an "eye" for good art, formal art education or an apprenticeship in a respected gallery or art museum, plenty of money and a heavy dollop of financial savvy.
He and others estimate that it costs $300,000 to $500,000 to open a fine art gallery from scratch in Southern California or any other major U.S. city. Of course, some galleries open on a shoestring and succeed.
In fact, about 200 galleries operate around Los Angeles, according to Carolyn Campbell, spokeswoman for the 4th International Art Fair, which runs through Monday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
"The rule of thumb in the art world is that if you can forgo terrible economic disaster in the first five years, you can make it," said Christopher Ford, director of the Pence Gallery on Colorado Boulevard in Santa Monica.
In December, 1986, Ford joined forces with Putter Pence, an art collector, to open the gallery.
"Galleries are not initially great money-making enterprises," said Ford, who majored in art history at Columbia University in New York City and worked for several major galleries there.
According to Ford and others, finding the right location for your gallery is essential to its success. Being near other galleries is important because people in the mood to buy art tend to visit more than one gallery at a time.
Next, you need enough money to design and complete the interior space and install lights. Meanwhile, the gallery owner is busy finding the artists whose work he or she wants to represent. Smaller galleries frequently prefer to sell art on consignment rather than buy the work outright. Galleries usually receive 40% to 50% of the sales price, but that is negotiable depending on the stature of the artist.
Before a show opens, the gallery owner must pay to insure and ship the art to and from the gallery. And once the art arrives, the gallery must advertise and promote the show.
Many galleries are financed by wealthy art collectors or investors with a passion for art. However, Borenstein used money from his art publishing company to open his gallery, and Gene Sinser, a retired executive, used money from his picture framing business to open a new gallery in Larchmont Village.
Raising money to open the Meyers/Bloom Gallery was the worst part, Jeanne Meyers said. She and her partner, Ruth Bloom, wrote a business plan and spent a year raising money from a group of investors before they opened their Santa Monica gallery about two years ago.
"I hated raising the money," admits Meyers, a former Hollywood casting director. She said owning a gallery is a seven-day-a-week job because, even on her days off, she visits art museums and other galleries.
"Unlike most retail businesses, a gallery is based on personal relationships," said Meyers, taking a break from setting up a booth at the Art Fair, which features modern art from 160 galleries in 20 countries.
Meyers said no matter how much money you have, it is almost impossible to buy your way into the business if you don't have the right contacts and art background. She worked at the Borenstein Gallery for two years before striking off on her own with Bloom.
Good art gallery owners nurture their artists and provide a total support system for them. It is not uncommon for gallery owners to pay the rent for or feed and clothe an emerging artist they believe in.
Charlie Schieps, one of the Art Fair's organizers, said people who own art galleries are not in it only for the money.
"They do it for the life style," said Schieps, who once worked as an assistant to painter David Hockney. "They love their artists like their children."
Karl Borenstein agrees: "You need to love what you are doing with an almost uncompromising passion." For those thinking about opening a gallery, here are some tips from successful gallery owners:
Consider the business a long-term investment.
Figure out how much money you need to start and then raise twice that amount.
Remember that the quality of the art you show will be judged by your peers in the business.
Develop every relationship you can. Get to know museum curators, art collectors, dealers and other gallery owners.
Work for an art gallery to gain experience.
Allow yourself to be obsessed by it.
Book Gives Tips on Filing Systems
If your filing cabinets are out of control, you might want to send for a free copy of "How to File and Find It," published by the Quill Corporation, a mail-order office supply company.
The 64-page guide book discusses how to sort and eliminate documents before they even get into the file drawers. It describes how to use color-coding and record-retention schedules among other time-saving techniques.
For a copy write to: Quill Corp., Box 464, Lincolnshire, Ill. 60069-0464, or telephone (312) 634-4800.
Survey Says Owners Optimistic
Small-business owners' spirits are rising, according to a recent economic survey by the Washington-based National Federation of Independent Business.
Judging by responses from 1,800 member companies, the employment picture should be brighter in the 1990s. One-fourth of the firms surveyed said they plan to increase prices in the fourth quarter of this year. Capital spending during the past six months continued to be strong, with 56% of the companies reporting that they had made some capital expenditures.