A.J. Fries is one of many WNY artists whose work can often be found for sale in local galleries
Buffalo is known as a source of exceptional fine art and also as a challenging market in which to sell it. Gallery owners Elisabeth Samuels and Barbara Hart would like that to change. “If you want commercial galleries,” Hart pragmatically offers, “the only way they can exist is if people buy art. If the artists have no galleries to exhibit their art, then there will be no visibility.” Hart points out that, for many people, the Allentown Art Festival is their only exposure to artwork, though she describes it as more product than art. “I don’t mean that as any kind of a slam, but that’s what the vendors are there for, to sell a lot of art. Galleries tend to be more about the story that’s created by the art. There’s a concept that an artist and curator put together.”
Samuels believes that people should surround themselves with art, which cultivates our humanity. She regrets that most people only see visual art in museums, which seem separate from their daily lives. “I think that being able to walk into [a gallery] and be surrounded with art is the first step in realizing that you can own this and have it as part of your life,” she says. Samuels would like to see art collecting grow more egalitarian in Western New York, but the ninety-nine percent, she fears, leave collecting to the elite: “For a lot of people, art collecting is seen as something only a select group get to do, and that’s not true. Particularly in Buffalo where there is an abundance of exceptional artists and excellent well-priced art, people have an opportunity to acquire really good work and they don’t have to be wealthy.” Samuels believes that Buffalo has all the makings of an arts destination, but area residents must play their role in supporting local artists and galleries.
“I’m amazed,” says Hart, “at how many people buy posters and not art. By the time you get done framing it, it often costs as much as real art.” Hart points out that there is an emotional reward to buying art. She believes it can be gratifying to purchase an original work that you respond to on a personal level, or that marks an anniversary, or relates to you as an individual, “not something that was in the Pottery Barn catalogue.”
So how do people know good art from bad? “That’s the challenge,” says Samuels. “Experience is how you become more sophisticated. As you gain more information, you feel more comfortable making judgments.” Of course, that’s where galleries come in. “You become more informed by seeing it.”
Hart recommends just following your heart. “It’s like buying a jacket because you like the jacket and you look good in it,” she says. “It’s the same for art; if you feel good about it, get it. We buy our kids art. We just say, ‘Here it is; you’re getting this art,’ and our kids are like, ‘Wow.’”
Samuels states, “People are insecure about their own judgment, so they go off to New York and look for someone there to give them reassurance that this work is good.” Then she adds another advantage to buying art by Buffalo regional artists: “You have the opportunity of knowing the artist who created it; there’s that human connection.”