To be a seasoned art dealer is to have taken some knocks over the years. There’s just no way around it. Stay in the business beyond the length of a college internship and you’re going to get some scrapes on your skin and soul. Slide back the cuffs and hems of the designer suits and dresses worn by those of us who have made it to the top, and you will see the well-earned scars from battles won and lost.
Despite this, it’s not the occasional backwards drag through the thorny bushes that makes our business challenging. It’s that, despite this, our craft demands that that we always have a smile for a collector walking in the front door. That even in our darkest moments we need to be living in the moment of the best day of our charmed careers.
Now I’m not saying we are a beaten and cynical lot — far from it. As someone who talks to dozens of art-selling folk every week, that’s not the case at all. Heck, you could not pull off this schizoid performance if, at your core, you weren’t relentlessly optimistic. I’m just saying that we’re…complicated. And not without our dark sides.
Perhaps that’s why, when I came out to Exclusive Collections’ San Diego gallery location to record a conversation with their CEO and owner Ruth-Ann Thorn, it took me a moment to get my bearings. Ruth-Ann always seems to find her way to the positive, no matter how frustrating the topic or painful the tale. No matter how much I personally pushed, poked and tried to chisel away at that candy shell, I just kept on finding more of the same positivity. And it pissed me off almost as much as it endeared me to her.
Ruth-Ann has been through her wars too. In some ways, much more so than many others. And she is always willing to admit how hard things are. She just refuses to take on the negative when there is a choice. During the first part of our two-part conversation, we spent a lot of time discussing one of the most difficult topics for us in the art biz: Whether or not the next generation entering into what has typically been the art-buying age will actually be buying art. We considered that maybe they will but just not in a way we are able to sell it. Or maybe they just won’t be buying from us in particular.
A conversation like this will mostly get you lot of deep breaths and pained looks into the middle distance from just about any art dealer I know. But not Ruth-Ann. It almost felt like she was not only unafraid, she was actually excited to take it on — to figure out and win the greatest challenge facing the gallery world today.
She’s a fabulously annoying bundle of art-selling optimism.