The Art of the Deal

Skot Foreman brings big-name art to an unexpected seaside town

When he first went solo in Dania Beach, Foreman didn't sell just fine art. He also sold exotic furniture and antiques he had collected during several trips to places like Nepal and Indonesia. The items sold well, he claims, but sales from the art "outstripped" them. "Ultimately [selling furniture] was taking away from my effectiveness," he says. "I decided I had to stick with my real passion and distinguish myself in the art field."

First Foreman had to concentrate on building his stable, which he did mostly by calling on friends from his Rosenbaum days, as well as networking with interior designers. Today Foreman says he receives several unsolicited packages a day from artists across the country looking to get solo exhibitions. (For example Foreman recently rejected a California artist whose cheery watercolor portraits didn't "fit with" his style, which leans toward bronze, stone, and glass sculptures; mixed-media works; and a little pop art in the vein of Andy Warhol.)

Additionally Foreman had to build his client base. His former banking colleague, Mike Fitzpatrick, recalls how he started collecting. "Here I was in banking, and for me to make a purchase, it meant using my whole $2000 bonus... which really counted," says Fitzpatrick, who now owns a Fort Lauderdale marina. "But Skot's enthusiasm rubs off on you. You trust his judgment, and he gets you excited about the art."

Only 15 South Florida galleries were selected to exhibit at this year's Art Miami. Foreman's gallery made the cut.
Only 15 South Florida galleries were selected to exhibit at this year's Art Miami. Foreman's gallery made the cut.
Surfing is one of the art broker's favorite pastimes. He says he "becomes one with nature" when he rides the waves.
Surfing is one of the art broker's favorite pastimes. He says he "becomes one with nature" when he rides the waves.

Today the "proud owner" of Purvis Young's artwork, Fitzpatrick convinced his brother to start collecting. Then his brother got a few of his friends interested. And so on.

But all that good will, Foreman contends, doesn't automatically translate into a fortune. Foreman admits he marks up artwork 100 percent "or more" after he and an artist settle on a price. His margin has been enough for him to buy and refurbish his small home, to own and maintain a 1969 Mercedes convertible, and to make investments.

Overhead costs cut his profit, though. He pays rent, a full-time assistant's salary, entertainment costs for prospective clients, and bigtime promotional expenses. He places quarterly $4000 ads in Florida Design Magazine as well as numerous other national art publications. He creates glossy artists' biographies for mass mailings. And for receptions, which run on a six-week rotation, Foreman spends thousands more on invitations, fine wines, and hors d'oeuvres, as well as travel costs for his artists.

Among six artists interviewed for this story, no one expressed concerns that Foreman might be making too much.

One of those artists, Chris Dolan, moved to Miami in 1997 after enjoying a successful career in France. A single mother with three kids, the painter says she was careful about selecting an art dealer. "I had concerns about integrity at some galleries," says Dolan, whose mixed-media works go for $5000 to $20,000. "But with Skot I felt immediately comfortable, and he's done very well by my work. We price things so that I have a certain [financial] security, and he keeps me aware of everything that's going on with a client. He would never do anything to make me unstable."

Foreman declines to describe any specific deal. But deals hypothetically work this way: He agrees with an artist on a price of, say, $10,000, with the artist garnering $4500 of that. A client makes a firm offer of $7500. Foreman may ask the artist to lower the price. If he or she declines, he may decide to sell and decrease his take. (In some cases he's also made more than the expected amount.)

That kind of deal is par for the trade, comments Helen Kohen, a former Miami Herald art critic. "It's standard procedure that certain gallerists take a certain percentage, usually 50-50; sometimes 60-40," she states. "Most important dealers -- even Picasso's dealer -- never publish their final prices. It is a private, word-of-mouth matter. There are conventions in this business, but there are no rules."

It's a brisk afternoon in mid-January at Foreman's gallery, the day before the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Macuria Montolanez, a SoHo artist who splits her time between Vermont and Costa Rica. With a Pat Metheny CD playing on the sound system, Foreman stands atop a tall ladder dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a baseball cap. After taking down one of Dolan's giant paintings, he says he is disappointed in the December exhibition of her works because he sold only 30 percent of the artwork. Usually he sells around 50 percent.

Next to the exhibit area, through a concrete-and-brick archway, is a larger space called the south gallery, where he rotates artwork every few weeks. "I don't like people to come in and see the same things over and over," says Foreman, "because if they do it means two things: one, you're not selling, and two, you're not stimulating people."

Stimulation helps sell art, Foreman contends. He carefully hangs the 14 works by Montolanez, some 6 feet tall and just as wide, along the 20-foot-high walls. The oil-painted wood and canvases are filled with dark, subtle images (thus the exhibition's title, "Shadows and Silhouettes"). The pieces are filled with a kaleidoscope of warm hues: greens, yellows, ambers, and plums. He must arrange them so that the colors are in stark contrast. A washed out aesthetic would hide the works' essence, like a snowman with white button eyes.

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