Conversations with the Experts: Laurence Miller on the Contemporary Photography Market

A conversation with Laurence Miller on the trends in the contemporary photography market and how the gallery is adapting.

galleryIntell met with Larry Miller, Founder and Director of the Laurence Miller Gallery in midtown Manhattan to discuss the gallery’s collection at the ADAA: The Art Show 2013, and how they were adjusting to the ever-changing dealer-collector paradigm. The video interview is available here, and in this portion of the interview Mr. Miller talks more about the changing collector landscape and how the gallery is adapting to the new financial and behavioral demographics.

galleryIntell: Do you get new collectors?  For instance, after the 2008 market correction, do you see a change in clients?

Larry Miller: I used to have hundreds of clients. I would do a show and sell 40-50 pictures. Younger generations have entered [the market] and they are now interested in color. Photography grew from black and white to color, from small to large. And so, the whole field evolved. Now, there is not a single art gallery in the world that doesn’t show a photograph of some sort. Last year we had our assistant go and count how many booths have photographs, and 27 out of 72 galleries were showing at least one photograph. Part of the problem is that our slice of the pie diminished as everyone wanted to involve themselves in photography. I used to be one of the five galleries that specialized in photography and now I bet there are 400 galleries that carry photographs. So we’ve had to adapt to shifting tastes, shifting generations. The nice thing about Muybridge is that [his images] appeal to multiple generations so I think that’s a good thing.

gI: And what about the new collectors?

LM: I get new shoppers and most of them are one-time visitors. That’s the difference. They’ll come in and say: “I’ll take it. How much is it?” They don’t really care about how much it is untill after they buy it. And then you call them two months later and you offer them something and “No no…”, they were just decorating the house in Aspen or their fifth residence, or whatever it is. I’m not sure they have a lot of good work in their collections either.

gI: How do you define a collector?

LM: A collector is someone who spends a lot of time researching, having conversations, reading books, visiting endless galleries, doing a lot of museum exhibitions, and who is willing to follow their own instincts, take chances, be wrong, make mistakes and bring a personal sensibility or vision to their collection. And we’ve had some wonderful collectors over the years who’ve bought lots and lots and you learn from them. The greatest thing is how much you learn from a collector. That Muybridge’s contortion, I didn’t think of it being an alphabet until someone said it’s an alphabet. I will learn from you today from your questions. It’s a dialogue and so the exciting collectors are the ones who are interested.

gI: The marketplace, and that includes the art market, is adapting to the new rules of commerce. Many galleries sell their inventory online. Has the internet been a good resource for you?

LM: I now have regular clients who I’ve never met who buy from my website. So I feel fine about that because that means they trust me.  And one of the things about most photography as a multiple, you can pretty well rely that its condition is excellent, its authentic and I have a broad enough reputation that I’m not selling any phony-baloney stuff. So, I have a couple of clients who are pretty regular so I started realizing as all the business was done at art fairs and on the internet, my show might be one-third of what’s on the web. For example, my next show will have 15 pieces on the website, while only 11 pieces will be hanging in the gallery. We might get 10,000 visitors a month to our website and maybe 200 people a month to the gallery. Everything is shifted, and we shift accordingly. Unfortunately, you don’t have that real experience of looking at an original. But at this point people trust me.◊

According to industry research* the overall confidence in photography market has reached 92% and most of the experts believe that interest in the segment will continue to grow in the next six months. Works priced at $100,000 and above have improved their confidence rating from 66 to 93 while images priced at $10,000 and above are expected to continue to  have a broad-based confidence in the next 6 months.

This interview © galleryIntell

*ArtTactic. Photography Market Confidence Survey – November 2012