Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Thomas Kinkade phenomenon was quite interesting. Those of us in The Trade watched it with a great deal of interest, marveling at how well they promoted his work, and the structure of the organization as they developed franchises as well as Lighthouse-owned galleries. The trouble always comes when people try to over-reach, though, and that was what I saw as the future of the organization, but I also expected it to begin a lot sooner than it did. Law suits begin when people begin to question how they were sold, the promises, the authoritarian way things are handled when they voice complaints.

Sandy owned a gallery just off of Highway #101, and that was the one I was most familiar with, as she and I did business on Lewan prints. She was sharpo and was a font of information because she had enough experience to understand what was going on, and enough independence that she did not get entirely sucked in. She was full of questions at times too, because of the way Lighthouse did business and she wanted my opinion on some things. Knowing that I had had both wholesale and retail galleries, had been a publisher as well, and had many years of experience.

Several times, as the number of prints in an Kinkade Edition climbed higher and higher, she could not figure out the total number of prints, strange as it may seem. This was due to the way they were written up, with separate numbers for everything but a series for Timbuktu, or so it seemed. They were confusing, almost like a slick lawyer's language for what should have been simplicity itself. We could not arrive at the same figure, and by now they were "limited" to eight or nine thousand per Edition. Then she had a discussion with someone in the San Jose headquarters, I guess, and asked me to give her my opinion in writing, whether the normal or usual Edition was less than a thousand.

Yes, I wrote that letter for her and how she used it I don't know, except that I got a telephone call from some jerk in San Jose who told me he was the Sales Manager there, and unless I retracted the letter, he would file a suit against me. In effect, I told him to get lost. By far, I would say that the 950 S & N, plus A/Ps, were the usual. But there is no law or system which requires it.

The figures on the Editions climbed and climbed until they were much larger than the normal "open end" editions, just ordinary unsigned prints. Is it legal, sure. It is just a lot out of the ordinary, like some of the western series of prints by artists in that field. Too many people pay the high prices for such large editions because they rationalize that these are good investments. Sometimes, if you're the first one in and the first one out. But, all in all, in spite of those Bible references, I question the integrity of a company using this combination of tactics. It speaks more of greed to me than anything else, obsfucated by Biblical hocus pocus.

There were plenty of precidents set by other artists, so they were on safe ground; it just seemed to some that there should have been more clarity or transparency to the totals. Then, there was a new issue to content with, the different sizes, the same image published in smaller sizes without signatures, an unexpected twist for most dealers and certainly, buyers of the S & N prints, feeling that once the image was produced, the original plate was destroyed and no further reproductions of that particular image would be marketed.

Again, no laws were broken that I know of, yet those who pay $500 to $1,500 for an image have the expectation that this is an exclusive image, that it will not be reproduced in other sizes in open end editions. There were Kinkade collectors who had fifteen to thirty S & N prints on their walls at home, veritable Kinkade galleries on their walls, and many of them felt let down. They were everywhere but in the 99Cent stores, it seemed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Almost anywhere you look on the Internet, it's ripe with fraud. Any place you can list art, your name will be associated with examples of this fraud, people selling things they know little about to buyers who know far less than they should. The world of art on the Internet has been invaded and is one giant scam run by a giant class of scumbags.

Yes, there are many fine art galleries, but services on the Internet relating to art list the scum right alongside the finer galleries, giving the scum some aspect of legitimacy. Mixed in with this are items siezed by the Government, in many cases fraudulent or forged art, which is then resold by the U.S. Government, often enough bought up by scam artists and resold to the general public once again as authentic art. Should the government sieze it again, I'll bet they resell it to more crooks. What a laugh, put one guy in jail for selling it, then allow another guy to sell it back to a different victim. At this rate, why not let the first guy remain in business and continue to sell the fraudulent art, thereby saving the expense of a trial?

In my prior artist (September 1, 2006) I mentioned the size of a run, or number of prints in a Limited Edition. Four colored prints in an open-end run are simply lithographs, the same as the landscapes and seascapes on paper that you once bought in a picture frame shop for $5.00 to $20.00. The run could be 5,000 or 100,000, for as long as they would continue to sell, the publisher could contine print them.

There was an arbitrary figure of 950 Signed and Numbered prints that was sort of considered standard in the industry, and almost all the artists, whether doing wildlife or cottages, or any other subject matter, and dealers seem to accept. No, it was not a State or Federal law, just a number that became accepted.

When this artist or that one increased the size of the Edition, it was usually frowned upon, and some resellers would even reject the print and refuse to sell it. Most, however, if the prints were selling well, would accept the new number without saying much about it. When Marty Bell's editons increased dramatically, then the dealers went along with it; after all, it would give them more to sell when the clients had the money to buy.

Lighthouse Publishing however, threatened to sue me when they first begain enlarging the editions of Thomas Kinkade's prints, simply because a dealer asked me and I furnished her with a letter giving the above information. Imagine? Because I had said that "most" artists limited their editons to 950 S & N, they wanted to shut me up. The call came from San Jose one day

Friday, September 01, 2006

Arrogance is not the way to conduct investigations, but if what I have observed in recent years is any indication of the direction this investigation will go, Thomas Kinkade is in deep trouble whether he is guilty of any wrong-doing or not. His attorney bills will be $100,000 at the minimum, whether he is guilty of any wrong-doing or not. And he will be sorely inconvenienced for months, whether he is guilty of any wrong-doing or not. Experts, you see, come out of the woodwork for either side and one has to exercise care in whom you select for your information. College instructors, for example, seldom have any experience in the real world, the business world, the selling of art on a day to day basis, and those that do do not need a College Degree in order to be a success in the field of art. Who would you turn to for expertise, the college professor with tenure or the professional dealer who has spent twenty years on the floor?

Certainly, an FBI agent with four or five prints on his wall at home may have little idea of where to begin and there aren't any books written that will guide him, so he has to turn to other art dealers to gain some knowledge. Time and again when I had an Art Gallery on Wilshire Blvd., in Los Angeles, members of the FBI, the L.A. County Sheriff's, and the L.A.P.D., would stop by to discuss some matters they were investigating and listen to what we had to say. In some areas we were of great help to them, in others, little. My Gallery Director at that time, Godfrey Gaston, had expertize in different areas than I did, and I know that between us, we gave them a lot of inside information that helped them tremendously in the work they were doing.

In one law-suit that I filed personally against another dealer for selling me a forgery of a Dali print, I had one of the most careful and knowledgeable dealers I knew, Bernie Sternthal, testify on my behalf, but the Referee, a retired judge, asked him one question, "Do you have a College Degree in Fine Art?", and when my witness said, "No", the judge disallowed his testimony. Sternthal had more practical knowledge and experience in that particular field of art than you could find in a dozen rooms full of College Graduatesl. There were literally no scholars in that particular area that was involved in my law-suit, but the Judge had his own riduculous opinion on what constituted expertise and what did not. Does it take a College Degree to be knowledgeable? Hell, no. Stupidity comes in all degrees, even amongst judges. Is there any legal precdent saying that an "expert" must come to Court with a college degree?

In recent years though, there seems to be a different attitude on the part of investigators, the "we know everything" and therefore, like the Pope, infallible. In one matter, I had for company and discussion, an old, retirned, FBI agent and he was apalled at what we had experienced in a case that eventually collapsed, because we had been right all along. It took a year or so before the D.A. folded it, but there were untold thousands in investagation costs, attorney's fees, wasted time, grief and fear of prosecution for those investigated, sort of a reign of terror if you will, because the investigators absolutely refused to pay any attention to the voices of experience and reason, or to view anything that was contradictory to the case they were building that was false from the beginning to the end.

Thomas Kinkade, for example, is only one of a succession of artists who derived a living by painting scenes with English cottages and manors, following Marty Bell, for example, Dennis Lewan, Richard Peterson, and others that escape my mind. Marty Bell and her husband, for example, visited me in my gallery in Los Angeles and asked me to represent her work, to develop a sales plan, and I turned them down. Steve Bell then took on the job and did more than I ever could have done to make his wife, Marty, a national name, and they built sales that were in millions. Even if I had had foresight and had realized her potential, my answer would still have been in the negative. I simply did not like the work and still don't. But I had not criticism of their success; they followed their dreams

A while later I became the agent and publisher for another painter, who also did fine English cottages and Manor Houses, Dennis Lewan. He was then and still is, in my estimation, the most ethical and business-considerate artist of this group, or of many groups for that matter. We began to invade the Marty Bell market, and soon had several very successful prints on the market.

It was around this time that we began to hear about another "cottage painter" named, Thomas Kinkade. Dennis and I had been strongly moving in on Marty Bell's market, but then we had a period of confusion, and in walked Thomas Kinkade and Lighthouse Publishing to take over our accounts and make the competition interesting and tough. He came on like a steam locomotive and soon had the major portion of the market for this type of print, Marty Bell fading into the background. Marty Bell, for example, had been losing dealer confidence when she began to steadily increase the number of prints in each editon from 950 S & N, plus A/P's, to 1,800 and upwards. This aroused those dealers who had a firm opinion that Editons should always stay below one thousand S & N prints. True, it is an arbitrary figure, but at the time it was pretty much standard in the industry.

Steve and Marty had also begun insisting that dealers buy a certain quantity of each print, which now exposed the underside of the business, the "dogs" that begin to accumulate in a dealer's storeroom, the slow-sellers. This is where you develop ill-will and begin to lose your dealers, by forcing them to "eat the dogs" that you should acknowledge as mistakes and not force upon your dealers at all. Who really knows in advance what will sell and what will not? One Editon may sell out in weeks, 100% fully sold out, while another at the end of the year has sold only 15 to 25%. Every publisher experiences this problem.

Eventually, from what I was told, Steve and Marty Bell, once riding high, faced a long and trumatic financial upheaval. The cause, from my observations, over-confidence, greed and arrogance. That's my opinion and most it is probably shared by many dealers who did business with them. You cannot mistreat your dealers and survive for long. The dogs slowly begin to eat up your profits from the fast-selling editions and your storeroom soon is too full of them to accomodatethe latest editions.

Again and again I have seen this type of contract enforced: If you want my work, you must unequivocally commit yourself to buy a certain number of each edition. If there is a business slowdown or a national disaster (which might bring your art gallery to a sudden stop, 100% drop in sales, and no reserves), the artist and/or publisher continues to reap profits while the dealer stacks up losses.

The publisher then becomes a predator, like a Praying Mantis dining on its' mate. The publisher has a guaranteed income; the gallery struggles to exist. The publisher continues to drive around in the latest model Mercedes; the gallery owner has a car that is six years old. The publisher begins building a new and larger home; the gallery owner passes on the news to everyone who visits the gallery, but they're struggling to keep up the payments on their own home.

At times you may have the option that after so many months of non-sale, you have an exchange privilege. Fair enough, except that they've operated on your money for those six months. Or like an artist in Hawaii, okay, you can exchange them, but only against this group of prints and each one will cost you $200 more? No matter what field of endeavor you're in, there are always those flim-flam artists.

That's where the "exclusive" arrangement comes in well, invest in a name artist, because you're more likely to find inexperienced people and they depend upon you for all their knowledge, sort of like attending a Liberal brain-washing school (such as Berkeley). The artist's work is touted as an investment to the collectors, and the granting of an exclusive gallery arrangement is an investment for the buyers. Somewhere in here the word integrity becomes more and more difficult to read.

Personally, yes, I've been on the receiving end of such deals and it has been costly and in one case, each partner of the publishing company was driving a Rolls Royce. After the company went backrupt they were still driving the same cars. Then too, publishers might decide that they don't need the artist any longer, but continue to publish and distribute his latest work without his knowledge or even his help.

(Coming: Editions, Larger Editions, Still Larger Editions, and Humungous Editions. Painter of Light, Investments? Did you say Investments?, Certificates of Authenticity, Open-end Editions, Signed Editions, Signed?? Editions, Celebrity Art, and more.)