This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Even artists, who like to appear oblivious to the ebb and flow of business, know that a recession isn't the best time to open an art gallery. Existing galleries, particularly ones in high-profile and high-cost neighborhoods, are struggling right along with their artists.
So when Mikell Stringham decided in 2009 to open a gallery of contemporary art, she knew she needed an innovative business model.
"I was thinking of a more flexible and sustainable model, one that didn't have huge overhead, one that would have global reach and still maintain the interpersonal relationships between the gallery, artist and clientele," Stringham recalls. She also wanted enough freedom from business hours to travel to international art fairs.
Stringham looked to the Internet. An online gallery, she hoped, would meet her needs and wouldn't tie her to a brick-and-mortar business.
Selling art online is not unusual; most galleries have an online presence in addition to their brick-and-mortar outlets. One obvious limitation to any Web art gallery is that the buyer's first exposure to an artwork is through relatively low-quality digitized images. The visceral impact of the art is lost a real sales problem with the high-end contemporary art in which Stringham specializes.
But the approach can work, she says, if the collector trusts the gallery owner.
"When you are dealing with high-caliber original work, it's important that people know that someone, an adviser, is going to walk them through the process of acquiring the piece and that they can trust the source," she says. "I'm much more of a relationship person than a retail person."
Stringham's artists and clients also are able to escape the online matrix through "pop-up" art shows, held at design-oriented businesses or hip residential lofts. She brings her artists and their work into the space for an evening about once every three months, and then invites her clients to browse, meet the artists and have a glass of wine.
"It gives buyers an opportunity to see what the work will look like hanging on a wall," she says. It's a symbiotic relationship with the managers of the space.
Prudential real-estate agent Dave Fisher has opened loft space at 35 W. Broadway to Stringham where her potential clients (who are also Fisher's potential clients) met the artists face to face. The loft spaces are unfinished and require a creative imagination to see their potential.
"The key for us is attracting people who are capable of casting vision into space," Fisher says. "[The contemporary art buyers] were just the right crowd."
Walt Cowie at the Light Spot Modern Design sponsors pop-up shows with Mondo artists.
"Several of the artists were here and they gave lectures on contemporary art," he says. "It's a nice cooperative effort. We provide the space and she brings in people to see the art."
Again, Cowie sees a close match between lovers of contemporary art and those who appreciate high-end German and Italian furniture.
To further reach out from cyberspace, Stringham also acts as an "art concierge," letting her clients "audition" a work in their home with a liberal return policy. "I know that an artwork takes on a whole new life when placed outside of a gallery in someone's home or office," she says. "With contemporary art, in particular, it's sometimes hard for people to conceptualize what it will look like in their home."
Though Mondo is working out to be a full-time business, Stringham doesn't think online galleries will replace traditional brick-and-mortar. "Galleries will always be important to the art world."
Tour a Mondo 'popup' gallery
April 28th, 7-9 p.m. at Light Spot, 2927 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake City. http://www.mondofineart.com