Buck Kiechel drove back to Lincoln from Georgia Wednesday, bringing with him paintings by, among others, Thomas Hart Benton, that he would be offering for sale as soon as possible.
That's because Christmas is coming.
It's, not surprisingly, one of the busiest times of the year at art galleries and retailers. And getting desirable stock from artists, historic and contemporary, international and local, is key for Kiechel Fine Art, Lincoln's most prominent and largest commercial gallery.
“When you’re in the retail industry, if you ignore the holiday season, you’re a fool,” Kiechel said. “We definitely get a spike in business, really starting in mid-November to right before Christmas. It’s traditionally one of two or three top times of the year. In the local gallery business it’s definitely a peak between Christmas and New Year's.”
To that end, nearly every Lincoln gallery — commercial or nonprofit — mounts its version of a holiday show, “exhibitions” that are in many ways the opposite of the solo and themed group shows that are presented the rest of the year.
“You’ve got to get a lot out that’s affordable, good, but reasonably priced,” said Iron Tail gallery’s Anthony Slattery. “You have to have things that people want to buy and can walk out with that day.” At most exhibitions, purchased artwork remains on view until the show ends.
To that end, Iron Tail has a holiday show featuring the work of seven people, artists from Des Moines, Iowa; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Los Angeles; Kansas City, Missouri and Lincoln.
The Lux Center for the Arts has gone even farther with “Gifted,” filling its largest gallery with jewelry, ceramics, wood and fiber art from artists around the country.
The room feels like a holiday gift shop — which it is. And the work for sale is designed to appeal to every price range with paintings by Lincoln’s Stephen Dinsmore going for more than $2,000 to hand-bound leather notebooks from U.K. artist Louise Knight for $17.50.
In addition to offering affordable work, galleries also come up with special holiday pieces that are unique to them.
At Iron Tail, those pieces are pinstriped Christmas ornaments, done by gallery co-owner Marie Kisling, aka Miss Kiss, who pinstripes cars, guitars and, at the end of the year, round glass bulbs.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I can use them to experiment with things I’m thinking about doing bigger. I just have to get used to working on rounded surfaces. And I have to get busy.”
The ornaments are $12 each, $60 for six and $20 and upward for a custom ornament.
Kiechel, which represents many of Nebraska’s top artists whose work goes for thousands, has come up with a way to sell their work for under $50 — by putting a Keith Jacobshagen painting and a Francisco Souto drawing on coffee cups. Those cups sell for $25 each, two for $40 and three for $75.
A couple more thoughts on buying art at the holidays — or any time for that matter:
* If you’re buying a piece for yourself, be it a painting, drawing, sculpture, photograph or ceramic, don’t expect that purchase to increase in value over the years.
“Buy dead artists, your odds are a lot better,” Kiechel quipped when asked if it is true that most art doesn’t increase in value. There are several local contemporary artists whose work will hold its value and perhaps increase, he said. But pieces don't.
* If you’re thinking of buying art as a gift, well, things get trickier. Short of letting the recipient pick out the piece, those purchases become guess work that might result in a gift that quickly finds its way into a drawer or box never to be seen again.
Artist Charley Friedman has a solution for not-knowing-what-to-buy dilemma: “If you want to give someone the gift of art, give them a membership to a museum.”