NARRATOR: IT'S PRETTY RARE IN THE ART WORLD FOR PEOPLE TO TALK OPENLY ABOUT PRICES. TATYANA OKSHTEYN, THE OWNER OF THE BLACK & WHITE GALLERY, IS AN EXCEPTION:
Tatyana: when Iím interested in an artist, my very first question, is have you sold any work at all to anybody. And so far, everybody has sold something to a friend, to father, or whatever. But it gives me a really good indication of what people were willing to pay for totally unknown work of art.
NARRATOR: THE ARTISTS WHO SHOW AT THE BLACK AND WHITE GALLERY ARE OFTEN RIGHT OUT OF ART SCHOOL. CUSTOMERS RANGE FROM OLDER COLLECTORS TO FIRST TIME ART BUYERS, LIKE THIS YOUNG ATTORNEY:
> [ambi of gallery] Woman: I love some of these, theyíre absolutely beautiful. I could see some of these in my apartment
NARRATOR: TATYANA EMIGRATED FROM THE SOVIET UNION IN 1980. SHE WORKED AS AN INVESTMENT BANKER FOR 20 YEARS UNTIL 2001.
Tatyana: 9/11- that was a catalyst event for me. My office was just across the street from the world trade center. And I pretty much came home in the evening and said, Iím not going back there. †
NARRATOR: SHE OPENED HER GALLERY THE NEXT YEAR. TATYANA IS ATTRACTED TO ART THAT HAS LAYERS--THAT TAKES TIME TO UNDERSTAND:
Tatyana: I like work that is more- as I tell people- more like Hitchcock than Frankenstein [laugh]. Iím interested in young people who are really thinking, about the world around them, about their relationship to that world
Foster: My name is Megan Foster and I show at the Black and White art gallery. I make sort of graphic interiors. Theyíre- sort of have a look of architectural line drawings. Theyíre acrylic paintings on canvas
NARRATOR: IN THE SPRING OF 2002, MEGAN WAS FINISHING UP HER MFA AT COLUMBIA. TATYANA CAME TO HER FINAL THESIS SHOW AND FELL IN LOVE WITH THE PAINTINGS. SHE GAVE MEGAN HER FIRST SOLO SHOW AT THE BLACK & WHITE GALLERY LATER THAT YEAR:
Tatyana: The work was priced at 2000, 2200 and a lot of pieces sold. Because the price was not a hurdle to overcome, for people who just liked the work.
Foster: itís a nice bonus check [laugh] when you make some money for your paintings. And then, if you have a successful show, then your career increases and the prices increase
Tatyana: In 2005, she- it was her second solo show. And the work was priced for twice that amount. 5000, 5500. The idea is to create a demand for artist work. And the lower you start, I think the faster you can create that demand, because the work goes into multiple hands and people see it in those homes and those apartments, and uh- people talk about it and thatís how it goes. Itís viral.
NARRATOR: PERHAPS THE BIGGEST EFFECT ON THE PRICE OF ART IS THE DEALERíS CUT: USUALLY 50 PERCENT. THAT MAY SEEM HIGH, BUT DEALERS NOT ONLY NEED TO PAY RENT AND RUN MARKETING CAMPAIGNS, THEY TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR ARTISTS' CAREERS. AND TATYANA SAYS THAT ARTISTS CAN'T DO THIS ON THEIR OWN:
Tatyana: Itís impossible to create and do the business side. If some people claim they can do it, theyíre either bad artists or bad business people.
> [phone ring] Receptionist: Luhring Augustine
NARRATOR: ACROSS THE RIVER FROM WILLIAMSBURG, THE LUHRING AUGUSTINE GALLERY IN CHELSEA IS A BIT MORE ESTABLISHED THAN THE BLACK & WHITE. THEY REPRESENT TOP ARTISTS LIKE RACHEL WHITEREAD. SHEíS A SCULPTOR KNOWN FOR HER PLASTER AND RESIN CASTS OF THINGS LIKE ENTIRE ROOMS AND WATER TOWERS. ROLAND AUGUSTINE HAS BEEN RUNNING HIS CHELSEA GALLERY FOR 20 YEARS:
Augustine: Most of the artists that we work with, uh- have been artists that we work with from the beginning of their careers. Such as Rachel Whiteread. I think we've done five one person shows of Rachel's work in the past 15 or 16 years. And the prices have gradually increased to significant price levels.
NARRATOR: THE PRICE OF AN ARTISTíS WORK MUST ALWAYS GO UP, OTHERWISE, COLLECTORS START LOOKING ELSEWHERE. AN ARTIST WHO STARTS OUT IN A GALLERY LIKE THE BLACK & WHITE, SELLING FOR UNDER TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS, IDEALLY MOVES UP IN THE GALLERY FOOD CHAIN, AND ENDS UP SOMEWHERE LIKE LUHRING AUGUSTINE. TAKE RACHEL WHITEREAD: ROLAND AUGUSTINE AND HIS PARTNER FIRST SAW HER WORK AT A GROUP SHOW AT A LONDON GALLERY:
Agustine: We offered to include work of hers in a group show, and then actually hosted a one person show of hers in New York. And began our rapport. A work of art that was sold 16 years ago for letís say $35,000 would probably be selling in the vicinity of $350,000 today. Because the fact that weíve done our jobs correctlyógetting it into the right collections, and helping to manage her career properly
NARRATOR: AND THATíS THE GALLERISTSí JOB: THEY GET COLLECTORS AND MUSEUMS EXCITED ABOUT THEIR ARTISTS.
Goetzman: I sort of think of gallery owners in the way I think of participants in the financial markets.
NARRATOR: WILL GOETZMAN IS AN ECONOMICS PROFESSOR AT YALE WHO STUDIES ART MARKETS. HE SAYS THAT AN ART DEALER IS VERY MUCH LIKE AN INVESTMENT BANKER DURING AN INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERING:
Goetzman: The investment banker really has to define why this company is such a great thing to buy, and how you might actually value it in relation to other kinds of firms.
NARRATOR: FOR TATYANA, THE FORMER INVESTMENT BANKER-TURNED-GALLERIST, THIS IS RIGHT UP HER ALLEY.
Tatyana: With collectors, I become like this transformer of that energy, from the artist, through my own sort of understanding, where this artist is and where he or she can be placed in the current sort of map of the art world, and hint on the potential of that artist.
NARRATOR: IT'S THAT POTENTIAL AND ITS SUBJECTIVE NATURE THAT MAKES THE PRICING OF ART SEEM SO MYSTERIOUS. BUT WILL GOETZMAN SAYS THAT IT ISNíT.
Goetzman: We like to put art up as that one aspect of modern life that is separated from the market. But of course its not.
> [ambi of gallery] Woman: I look at pieces that I like and think Iíd like that in my home. And the next question is how much does that cost and can I get it. How much could I easily write a check for? 700 dollars.
NARRATOR: THERE REALLY SEEMS TO BE NO FORMULA. A PAINTING IS SOMETHING THAT'S BOUGHT AND SOLD, LIKE A PAIR OF SHOES OR AN APARTMENTóAND PRICES FLUCTUATE IN THE SAME WAY, BASED ON THE ECONOMY, OR ON WHAT'S IN STYLE.
Tatyana: When I open a show and all of a sudden the word starts spreading around that this is a hot artist. I cannot explain why it happens. But when it happens it's great.
NARRATOR: FOR STUDIO 360, IíM SARAH ELZAS.
This piece aired the weekend of September 2, 2006, on Studio 360
Producer: Sarah Elzas
Edited with Michele Siegel
Recorded in New York, NY