Welcome to Season 2, Episode 6 of Meet the Expert® with Elliot Kallen!
In this episode, Elliot Kallen brings on Jennifer Perlmutter of Perlmutter Galleries to discuss the business of art.
Art allows us to see the world from diverse vantage points. Art stimulates us creatively, which makes us better, more productive, more entrepreneurial business agents. Art can speak so subtly that it forces us to think more deeply, feel more fully, engage more wholeheartedly.
Editor, Brain Pickings
Owner, Perlmutter Gallery
Jennifer Perlmutter is the owner and head curator of Perlmutter Gallery in Lafayette and Carmel-By-the-Sea.
Jennifer's work has been collected internationally and shown in New York, Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Kansas, and has been commissioned by several premier destinations including The Mirage and Hilton hotels in Las Vegas, Seoul’s Traum Haus and Toronto’s Casino Niagara.
Most recently, her paintings were included in the prestigious De Young Museum Open.
The story behind Perlmutter Gallery
Art is a luxury market. As with most luxury businesses, the first requirement for starting and running a successful art business is passion.
Specifically, you need to have a strong passion to connect clients to artists and artwork that they love. As a gallery owner, you need to understand how to build stories around your products, and how to balance and nurture the artists that work under you.
Growing up, Jennifer watched her parents run restaurants—and because restaurants are an all-consuming, 24/7 business, she wasn’t a stranger to the amount of energy that it would take to ramp up an art gallery.
In fact, she was an artist before she was a gallery owner.
She’d started as an artist in Los Angeles, building up her representation, audience, and body of work in the LAs art scene. As she grew in popularity, her pieces were placed in hotels, she was commissioned to create original artwork, and she even had a solo show.
At that point, she knew she was ready to embark on her journey as a gallery owner. In 2014, she opened her first gallery in Lafayette. A few months in, artists in the Contra Costa area began to approach her to display their art in her gallery. She began growing her network of artists, and eventually, she began to represent them.
Life as a gallery owner
Most gallery owners understand that they are at the mercy of their clients’ taste. However, Jennifer quips that Perlmutter Gallery isn’t a grocery store where she needs to stock everything. Clients should understand, she explains, that any gallery will represent the point of view of the head curator or owner — and oftentimes, that’s the same person.
As a gallery owner and artist, Jennifer has a preferred taste and style. All artwork is curated by Jennifer, and clients will experience a visualization of Jennifer’s unique taste while walking through her gallery.
As It Goes II, Jennifer Perlmutter (2021)
“There is no way that, as an artist, you can please everyone,” she admits. “You’ll create what you want to create, and share what you want to share. But you can’t get in the game if you’re trying to please everyone. It’s impossible.”
With Love, Jennifer Perlmutter (2021)
Jennifer’s taste was informed by her upbringing. Her mom was gifted at telling a harmonious story with different interior design elements.
When Jennifer went off to college and began her artist career in Los Angeles, she found herself driven by the modern movement. For instance, Jennifer loves impressionism and abstract expressionism — and calls herself an abstract impressionist.
As she began curating and bringing other artists into her gallery, she balanced variety and cohesiveness by staying true to her own individual taste.
Perlmutter Gallery, Lafayette, CA
Turning art into a business
If you’re going into art as a business, you’re transacting. That requires two parties. It can be difficult for artists to compromise on their point of view, but transacting requires compromise.
In addition to running the gallery, Jennifer helps her clients find art beyond the four walls of her galleries. Having built up her network over the last decade, she’s able to connect her clients with the right local artists. The luxury art sales cycle can span two weeks to a full year, so she strives to keep an open line of communication with prospective clients in between the initial meeting and final purchase.
Jennifer is frequently approached by clients who purchased art online, but upon arrival, the artwork didn’t translate as they had hoped. That’s a unique advantage to shopping in a gallery; you can experience the art live and avoid buyer’s remorse.
Perlmutter Gallery, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Commercial vs. boutique?
In a commercial gallery, a good deal of available art will be giclées, which are high-output reproduction prints. These prints are designed for clientele who aren’t attached to the idea of buying original work.
Commercial galleries are sometimes franchised, which means a gallery may have a location in New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago. Inventory rotates among those galleries.
Commercial galleries generally use a triple-net pricing model. That means that if an artist takes her painting to a commercial gallery at the Fisherman’s Wharf, and her net is $1,000, they’ll sell it for $3,000. That’s very common in a commercial gallery. A triple net is what happens in franchised, bigger, commercial galleries.
Conversely, Perlmutter Galleries are boutique galleries. They split commissions with the artists. The gallery takes care of the behind-the-scenes work—marketing, advertising, sale, transacting, fees, and taxes—and the artist gets a portion of the sale.
Jennifer’s goal is to retain the accessibility of the Perlmutter collection, so that when clients come in, they can buy high-quality, original art while paying less than triple-net of the artist’s price.
Perlmutter Gallery, Lafayette, CA
The future of art
Even before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar galleries, as well as representation for artists, were starting to decline.
However — Jennifer affirms that galleries will never go away. Perlmutter Gallery Lafayette has been successful for the past seven years, and she just opened a new gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
She concedes that an increasing number of people shop for art online, and their confidence in purchasing art online is only going to rise as sellers become better at the way they represent the art online. To serve the digital crowd, she accedes to measures like virtual exhibitions and auctions.
What’s changed is that no one’s coming to save you, and you don’t need permission to do anything anymore. You take the bull by the horns, decide what you want, and go for it. And the future of the art gallery is anyone’s guess. I would call all artists forward to represent themselves and create the new path.
Jennifer believes that art galleries serve a deep human need for connection. She explains, "Art is a medium for connection, and there will always be artists painting, sculpting, and creating new things to share with others."
The pandemic didn’t stop the flow of tourists from visiting her gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Perlmutter’s success — during a global pandemic — is proof that art galleries aren’t going away anytime soon.
“If what I want is a personal experience and connection, then I’ll probably always do galleries. Sharing and connecting with people is life’s purpose.”
Jennifer Perlmutter can be reached at jenniferperlmutter.com or through Instagram, @jenperlmuttergallery.
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