Art Business: Investing in Artists

15 Nov 2007

Most artists are familiar with the axiom that states there is art created for commerce’s sake and art created for art’s sake, but few are able to find a happy medium between the two.

by Daniel Grant

Most artists are familiar with the axiom that states there is art created for commerce’s sake and art created for art’s sake, but few are able to find a happy medium between the two. Sonoma, California, painter Keith Wicks was certainly feeling the frustration of being stuck between commerce art business and creativity: Galleries weren’t always quick to pay him after sales (sometimes they didn’t even tell him that his work had sold), he had collectors but wanted a wider audience and more exposure, and he wanted to raise his prices so he could focus more closely on individual works. Most of all, he wanted to spend less time dealing with the business side of art and more time creating it.

Fading Sun Over Notre Dame by Keith Wicks, 2006, oil painting, 72 x 96. Private collection.
Fading Sun Over Notre Dame
by Keith Wicks,
2006, oil painting, 72 x 96. Private collection.

Enter Darius Anderson—the founder and president of Platinum Advisors, in Sacramento, California, the managing member of Kenwood Investments, in San Francisco, and a longtime friend of Wicks—who posed a thought-provoking question to the artist: “If you could paint anything you wanted, what would it be?” The two discussed Wicks’ thoughts on the matter and conceived a plan that would allow him to concentrate solely on the art of creating. The concept was that a group of wealthy people would invest in the artist’s career, providing him a monthly stipend, paying for all materials, and paying for him to travel to places where he could paint en plein air or collect images to inspire studio work. In exchange, these investors would own a share of the artwork he produced during the time they were subsidizing him, receiving a return on their investment as his paintings sold.

Anderson brought together a group of eight well-heeled investors to do just that, and each pitched in $25,000. The money was used to pay for Wicks’ supplies and travel to New York City, Paris, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; arrange and promote an exhibition of his work; and provide Wicks a $10,000 monthly stipend for one year while he pursued his painting. At the end of this relatively stress-free year, Wicks had produced 100 works (93 paintings and seven charcoal drawings), which were exhibited at Building One, on Treasure Island, in San Francisco, from September 16 through September 17, 2006. The result was 37 sales, amounting to $260,000 in proceeds. The investors made their money back and then some.

Before the project began, a real-estate investor and the owner of a government-lobbying firm in Sonoma created a limited-liability corporation for the plan, called One Year One Show, that included a prospectus that Wicks and all of the investors signed, clarifying each person’s rights and responsibilities. The deal was that after the first $200,000 in sales, all subsequent profit from artwork sales would be split evenly among the investors and Wicks. If the remaining 63 works—which have been estimated at $365,000—are sold, each investor stands to gain a 90 percent return on his or her investment.

“This is a more than a monetary investment,” Anderson contends. “It’s not just about our returns, although our returns are quite good.” Part of that investment was in the investors’ lifestyles, since they traveled as a group to the same places Wicks went, visiting art galleries, museums, and private collections, and shopping and dining. The largest and most expensive work that Wicks produced that year—Fading Sun Over Notre Dame, a 72"-x-96" oil painting, valued at $40,000, depicting a view of the famous Parisian cathedral from the restaurant where Wicks, the investors, and their family members dined one evening—was purchased by one of the investors. Reflects Anderson, “That painting evokes the memory of the whole wonderful experience.”    

Visit Wicks’ website for more information.



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