In this new “Gallery Spotlight” series, we’ll be featuring art galleries that are continuing to keep their doors open – in at least a virtual sense, that is. This week’s spotlight is on The Red Piano Art Gallery, South Carolina’s oldest professional gallery of fine art.
Cherie Dawn Haas: It’s no secret that things, due to the coronavirus, have changed dramatically within the past couple of weeks. What adjustments have you made as a gallery since the outbreak?
Ben Whiteside: One of the upsides to living in the very small town of Bluffton, South Carolina, is that self isolating is not hard to do. There aren’t that many people here to begin with, so we follow all of the guidelines and stay home. Our approach to continuing to work is to reach out to our existing collector base. The Red Piano was founded in 1969 so having five decades of collectors to call, email and, yes, even to write real letters, gives us a lot to do. Email and social media are our “go to” methods of collector outreach and communication.
What’s your biggest priority at this time? Over the next year?
Our main priority is to stay healthy and do what we have been asked to do by our local, state, and federal governments. With regard to our gallery, we strive to stay engaged with our artists and collectors. It would be an understatement to say that business has slowed. My expectation is that, once this virus has passed, business should come back with strong demand. Our intention, and what we are telling our artists, is to be ready when that demand comes back to the market.
What advice do you have for collectors as they navigate these times, and beyond?
Currently, given the anxiety, stress, and common distractions, it is difficult to get the attention of collectors. Top-shelf quality, however, will always find a market. So for the collector that has the interest and the means, now is a great opportunity to support the galleries and artists that they collect. This is true any time and especially in difficult times.
Anything else you’d like to add about the current issues galleries are navigating?
My hope for the art gallery business, as well as all business, is to be ready to come back. Small business is the backbone of American business. There is not an art gallery in this country that is not a small business. Reach out to your collector base through, email, and online social media. Use the phone and give them a call. The bottom line is to continue to work for the artists you represent.
What are some of the ways you find artists to represent?
We are approached weekly by artists looking for professional representation. I’m constantly amazed at the number of talented artists in our country. Every town, state, and region has talented painters and sculptors. My business partner, Jack Morris, told me that when we started, back in the early nineties, that we would have the opportunity to represent whoever we wanted to. At that time, I thought Jack was nuts. The top living American artists of the day were very professionally represented, and had been for most of their careers. Jack could not have been more right!
Today, we represent who we consider to be those painters and sculptors. The key is that we have to believe in the work. If you don’t believe in it, you can’t sell it. If you do, then you would own it. The artists we are proud to represent are the artists we own in our own fine art collections. In addition, local, regional, and national juried art shows, national fine art publications, such as Fine Art Connoisseur, present many opportunities to find artists to represent.
Regarding your fine art exhibitions, do you have a current online show?
Currently we are featuring Stephen Scott Young, Joseph Orr, and Peter Batchelder on our website home page, redpianoartgallery.com. Having the opportunity to represent Scott is simply an honor. In my opinion, he is the leading artist of my own generation, the sixty-somethings. Watching Scott work in his studio defines for me, what is a god-given talent. Being completely self taught and working incredibly hard over the past 40 years has brought Stephen Scott Young to the attention of museums and interested collectors, coast to coast as well as internationally.
More about The Red Piano Art Gallery: Gallery owners since 1994, J. Ben Whiteside and Lyn Whiteside acquired Morris & Whiteside Galleries in January 2015 and combined gallery operations under the Red Piano Art Gallery firm with which they have been associated since 2002.
Stay tuned as we continue to feature contemporary art galleries here.