The More the Merrier

Are the "published" and decorated prints of Edina's Fingerhut Gallery the same as collectible originals? Or are they exceptionally expensive posters?

"I really admire him," Justin Fingerhut, age 28, says of his father. "He's extremely creative, and always busy. His wheels are always spinning, and he's very diverse in his life." Justin followed his father into the business and is the director of the Edina gallery, a career choice made easy by a lifetime of art appreciation. "For me," he says, "it started early in my childhood when my father started his first gallery. It was seeing the excitement and passion of what he had. It empowered me...

"My father discovered Jiang in 1984, and knew immediately that he had the artist to take him into the future. He decided then to start the publishing company. The first piece my father had of Jiang's sold within an hour, and it wasn't even framed."

Throughout the gallery, Jiang's editions of colorful animals figure prominently, as do the Mediterranean scenes of Barbara McCann in their cake-decoration color schemes, the Toulouse-Lautrec-meets-Boris Vallejo café scenes of Joanna Zjawinska, and the brightly colored jazz-riff abstractions of Peter Max. These artists work with the same method as Jiang, touching up editions of screen prints with paint to make them unique. All of the selections are encircled by thick, ornamental frames made of various shiny metals.

Tomorrow belongs to you: Jiang Tiefang's "Beautiful Tomorrow" (above), from a print run of 375 copies, and assistant gallery director Lonni Ranallo
Diana Watters
Tomorrow belongs to you: Jiang Tiefang's "Beautiful Tomorrow" (above), from a print run of 375 copies, and assistant gallery director Lonni Ranallo

As Ranallo talks about the history of the gallery, a few visitors become interested in the work of Michael Wilkinson. These are two-foot-high blocks of clear acrylic in which the artist has carved out, in great anatomical nuance, the negative shapes of nude women. (Imagine embedding a tiny woman in a block of ice, then removing the woman.) The largest of Wilkinson's sculptures, which is nearly three feet tall, costs $40,000. The visitors laugh loudly and perhaps nervously at his work, then leave.

"This is not an easy business," says Ranallo. "It's stressful and hard to make money." She describes customers who are still suspicious from the crazy art market of the 1980s, when prices were wildly inflated in the Twin Cities and across the nation. She says today's art market is dominated by a "best price" mentality. "Frankly, I wish this would go away. I hate to turn people away, but they come in and try to negotiate our prices....And I'm not marking up my paintings three times or anything like that. It's a low-margin business--I mark up maybe 20 to 40 percent--and there's not a huge turnover. We don't have a bunch of $300 prints by the front door priced to move....Our business is very labor-intensive. We carry expensive pieces, pay high rent, and are open 12 hours a day."

 

Let there be no mistake, though: The artwork does move out the door. Although neither Ranallo nor Justin Fingerhut will give precise sales figures, they both say it is not unusual for the gallery to sell out a show. During a phone call a few weeks ago, Barbara McCann, the artist whose new show of prints and originals opened on August 14, indicated that she expected to sell out the work. The McCann exhibit comprises seven or eight prints at $2,000 or so apiece, and fifteen paintings at $6,000 apiece. (As of this writing, the paintings were nearly sold out.) This one show, then, out of about ten to twelve that Fingerhut holds each year, stood to take in about $100,000, a nearly unheard-of amount at most Twin Cities galleries. If most of the Gallery's exhibitions over the year do as well, then the Edina gallery likely takes in $1 million in sales each year.

Furthermore, as McCann went on to explain, all four of the national Fingerhut Galleries (the other three are in the high-rent California towns of Sausalito, Laguna, and La Jolla) would open displays of her work over the course of the following week, and each gallery expected to sell out each show. According to McCann, the Fingerhut Publishing Group, a connected company that produces the serigraph prints for each of the Fingerhut Gallery artists, also regularly sells out the large editions of each artist's work which they publish every three months. These editions, Jason Fingerhut explains, go to as many as 1,000 other galleries across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. "Allan really loves this business," McCann says. "I think he's a frustrated artist at heart.

"Everybody thinks they're a publisher these days," McCann adds later. "But there are really only about six really good ones. Tons of galleries carry this kind of work across the country. Allan's operation is on the higher end. His serigraphs are more expensive to make [than off-set lithographs]....Allan shoots to reach the top of the line." According to McCann, a print run of up to 500 costs "a couple of thousand dollars" to create--although she later says that she's unfamiliar with this aspect of the business. This does not include the cost of hiring assistants to paint on every print, a process McCann supervises. (Ranallo and Justin declined to discuss the cost of publishing prints.)

While McCann meets with Allan Fingerhut to choose the works he will then publish, the artist also speaks enthusiastically about the Edina gallery. "They're great," she says. "It's been fun...They're well-educated and fun to work with. They sell my work."

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