Gallery owners find their business pretty as a picture |

Gallery owners find their business pretty as a picture

John Seelmeyer

Peter Stremmel, who was working in the art business when a $1 million sale of a painting was a very big deal, can only shake his head these days as he reads about $100 million bids at New York auctions.

“At its highest levels, the art world is going crazy,” says Stremmel, the executive director of Reno’s Stremmel Gallery.

Step down from the highest levels to places such as Stremmel Gallery — an important regional gallery that serves a national clientele — or to galleries that serve predominately local buyers, and things aren’t nearly so frothy.

But galleries are doing just fine as the region’s economic rebound continues to build steam.

In fact, galleries weathered the recession fairly well as consumers with enough disposable income to purchase fine art kept their passion burning through the downturn.

Peter Goin, a professor of art at the University of Nevada, Reno, says the market for fine art in northern Nevada doesn’t have the strong underpinning that would be provided by a large base of consistent collectors.

“So most sales are in the ‘this and that’ category of selling now and then,” says Goin, who notes that some northern Nevada artists sell only a portion of their work locally but also rely on sales in Sacramento, Los Angeles and New York.

But galleries in northern Nevada manage to carve positions for themselves.

Forty-five years after launching the Reno gallery with his wife, Turkey, who serves as its gallery director, Stremmel says economic conditions play a relatively small role in the success of Stremmel Gallery.

Far more important, he says, is the firm’s longstanding relationships with artists as well as buyers and sellers of fine art. (The gallery deals primarily in a wide range of contemporary art.)

Equally important, Stremmel says, is a carefully nurtured reputation.

“I know it sounds arrogant, but we’re the arbiters of what is good and what is not good,” he says.

Still, the gallery changes with the times and stays close to its customers. A strong Internet presence closely links the Midtown gallery with buyers across the world. Some shows in the gallery may challenge audiences; others comfort buyers who want well-crafted depictions of the landscapes of the West.

Finding the right mix challenges gallery owners large and small.

“The art world is very different from regular retail,” says Rich Van Gogh at Liberty Fine Art Gallery at 100 W. Liberty St. “People who are buying art are using disposable income. You can’t sell them a piece of art they don’t like.”

And gallery owners aren’t like the many retailers whose hearts sink when a competitor opens nearby. A cluster of galleries, Van Gogh says, creates its own momentum.

Van Gogh was eager to open right next door to the Nevada Museum of Art, and he’s timed receptions and other events at his gallery to take advantage of gala nights at the museum.

The gallery represents about 20 artists who work in a variety of media and also commit to staffing the gallery. Displays change monthly as Van Gogh says constantly fresh inventory is one of the keys to the success of the gallery since he launched it with Terri Schultz in 2012.

Now they’re extending their reach into a new and unknown venue with a 1,000-square-foot space at the Great Western Marketplace in northwest Reno.

Another approach has been taken by East Fork Gallery, and the Gardnerville gallery’s strategy was well-designed to weather hard times.

It’s a cooperative launched 35 years ago by 13 founders who shared the work of the gallery and stood by it during difficult times, says Janice Powell Shedd, its current director.

“We have kept the doors open,” she says. “I credit the founders for their creation of a good organization.”

The gallery, which carries the work of as many as 50 artists in media ranging from painting to stained glass and pottery, has subtly shifted its focus as once-agricultural Douglas County has become increasingly cosmopolitan with the arrival of newcomers drawn by its spectacular scenic backdrop.

And Shedd says the gallery draws a solid stream of potential buyers as well from the thousands of visitors at nearby Lake Tahoe.