Storage is an issue that we don't often discuss in the art world. Unsold inventory represents a heavy financial and emotional burden for artists and galleries tied to the potential, perhaps theoretical, value of the works. Artists and galleries both sit on years of production in hopes of eventually selling the work and to maintain 'control' over this supply-side problem. Museums and private collectors have vast troves of contemporary art in climate controlled storage spaces. Museums are only able to exhibit 5% of their collections at any given time on average, while private companies have been growing and consolidating the business of storing art.
The value of art is a complicated thing but its economic value is built on a foundation of scarcity, authenticity, and exclusivity. The thing is, contemporary art is one of the least scarce things in the world after atmospheric carbon and micro-plastics. The abundance of contemporary art threatens its high prices and must be carefully controlled as not to ‘flood the market’.
Generally, this means that artists cannot give away unsold work, galleries cannot lower prices for works from previous exhibitions, and collectors quietly sell their pieces at regional and online auctions. The visible auction world of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are carefully choreographed events with guarantees for sellers to help regulate the prices of artists. This is breathlessly reported by Wall Street Journal reporters thrilling over celebrities in the room and the sheer, narcotic effect of billionaires. The downside of the speculative economy is subsequently downplayed as works are quietly withdrawn from sales and returned to storage. The art market reporters who thrill over auction records rarely report on plunging prices for artists who simply vanish from the auction pages.
The image of stacked art crates dead-ending in a climate controlled warehouse, recall the final scene from the Raiders of the Lost Ark, lurks behind the art market’s emphasis on sales, seemingly always in the present tense. It’s clear no one wants to talk about the flip-side of new and stratospheric prices, the old and interned, until the market comes around with renewed interest. The promises of discovery and rediscovery contribute to the art world’s practice of hoarding, because, ‘hey, you never know.’
Conventional wisdom suggests that good art will find its buyers, which is a polite way of not saying that most art is garbage. This is a deeply helpful stance when personal taste and money tend to drive what is deemed good, rather than any critical consensus. It’s interesting to think about the excitement and tears elicited by audiences looking at the Museum of Modern Art’s rehang of its permanent collection, bringing seldom seen works of artists marginalized by the dominant narrative of Modernism, a story that has excluded swaths of women and people of color. As the art world has been forced to reconsider the white, patriarchal, Western cannon of Modernism, it has also been forced to re-evaluate what is judged as ‘good’ art. This reconsideration has brought art previously deemed less important by curators out of storage and into newly renovated spaces.
Watching MoMA reconsider what is good, interesting, or important reveals something of how judgements of quality are relative and built on a sequence of decisions. MoMA’s collection has largely been determined by a board of wealthy individuals who are solely responsible for final decisions on the museums acquisitions. Curators can propose acquisitions to the board, but ultimately the board has final approval for what they will accept into the museum, either through purchases or donations. At San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, visitors can expect to see about 60% of the works on the wall drawn from the Fischer Collection. The Fischer's funding for the museum’s new building came with several conditions about how it could use their collection. This places a rather narrow limit on the pool of ‘good’ art that the museum’s curators can access to develop scholarly exhibitions. It’s hard to imagine, alternately, what curators would do if they could get access to massive freeports in Switzerland where there is enough art to create the world’s largest encyclopedic museum.
I don’t have any work in MoMA’s collection and I’m sure many artists with studios and monthly storage unit payments don’t either. What is clear to me is, the dream of holding on to work until it is acquired by a museum or major collector, is one of the reasons that keeps us from thinking about other ways of releasing our art into the world. Artists aren’t just brands tending to professional careers, but people who have staked most of their life to the things they make. It’s not just inventory, but quite literally, a life’s work. While we are often happy to sell work to collectors or donate it to benefit auctions, the idea of giving work away for free, can trigger a profound sense of failure.
The difficulty of giving art away extends to the public, even people who would otherwise like to buy art if they could afford it. In a capitalist, consumer-based society, we determine and define quality through price. Things that are still free like parks and libraries are communal spaces for sharing. On the other hand, if you can make something appear more authentic and artisanal, you can charge a lot more for products or services, much like art. This consumer-based impulse makes people suspicious of ‘free' art, immediately raising alarm bells that something must be wrong. There is no easy solution for that, and you can ask any dealer who has struggled to develop a market for an artist they believe in how difficult it can be to convince art collectors to buy a work.
I am proposing something between letting go of work for free and trying to sell it on consignment. I have sold quite a bit of artwork over the last 16 years and continue to sell works in galleries. Along the way I’ve also made work that has not sold, which has slowly returned to my studio. I don’t have room in my 400 sq/ft basement studio in Bushwick for the work, and it has had years to find a buyer on consignment. Theoretically, this work still has retail value, but its implicit ‘sell by date’ may have expired.
With “store-to-own” you are invited to acquire my unsold inventory by storing it in your home, office, business, museum, or institution. After a period of 5 years, ownership of the object(s) will be transferred to you, the long-term borrower, using a simple contract. To acknowledge my own economic self-interest, I or my estate, shall retain a 50% stake in any future sale of the art work. Beyond that, the contract includes a 10% resale royalty clause currently unavailable to artists in the US. It remains a logical possibility that my artwork will appreciate significantly in value. It's also possible that it will be a worthless burden as changing conditions on the planet make the idea of storing art objects seem strange and implausible. Something left over from a previous era of relative comfort and stability for the middle and upper classes who had the time, money, and education to contemplate individualistic cultural artifacts.
The process is relatively simple. Select any of the available art works and fill out the store-to-own inquiry form. I will send you a contract to sign electronically and then we can arrange pick-up or shipping of the work. The terms of store-to-own are listed in the contract including the duration of the storage, good faith efforts to insure the work, loaning the work for exhibition, and what happens in the event that someone else wants to buy the work before the terms of transfer are complete. The longer you hold onto the work, the cheaper the price will be for you to buy the work outright. You may choose to negotiate with that interested buyer and sell it to them, but you'll have to give me a 10% cut. The names of all borrowers will be published on a public spreadsheet.
If you are interested in participating, please browse the available works, read over the contract, and contact me. If you should feel inclined to buy the work outright, at retail cost, these works have been released from their obligation to a commercial gallery so all proceeds go to me.