The Art of the Deal

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

"This is the editing process.... You have to achieve the right balance," Foreman says, hefting pieces from place to place and leaning them against the walls, then standing back to study the effect before hammering metal brackets with thick nails. When he finishes hours later, having aimed small spotlights at the works, Foreman displays the energized serenity of a Tibetan priest who has just completed an elaborate mandala.

The following night is showtime. Two uniformed Broward sheriff's deputies are stationed outside the gallery to protect wealthy patrons, who are likely unaccustomed to Dania Beach's very unglamorous environs. Inside the gallery all is artistic ambiance. Dozens of white candles flicker from plate glass window ledges. Waiters in black tie serve shrimp and salmon tea sandwiches on silver trays to a crowd of 150 or so people from academia, corporate America, and bohemia. Thumping house music, not too loud, plays from overhead speakers. The giant palm-leaf fans whirl hypnotically.

The time is 9 o'clock, an hour before the reception is to end. Three small red dots are pasted next to three of Montolanez' pieces, meaning negotiations to sell are or soon will be under way. The artist, a warm fortyish woman duded up in shiny black leather and spiky hair, is a veteran exhibitor. She basks in the crowd's admiration. Foreman, attired elegantly in black jacket and slacks but looking tired around the eyes, is also working the room.

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.

In this setting Foreman courts his clients in a style that is neither obsequious nor imperious. Instead of pitching the artwork, he easily develops a rapport with people. He listens as they talk about their travels, businesses, and families. He makes their interests his own.

"Have you seen the new photography book about hats in African-American culture?" asks a fashionably designer-clad black couple from West Palm Beach.

"No, I haven't," Foreman responds, "but it sounds interesting. Is that something that stems from the South?"

Later that night Foreman says that, when it comes to dealing with people in general and those from other cultures in particular, he's "like a sponge, just taking it all in. But I also try to be humble in whatever I do. This business is all about developing relationships. I've had clients who have vacillated over paintings for a year or two."

Randy Leib, a collector from Atlanta who has bought 12 pieces from Foreman over the past three years, adds: "I know that he's knowledgeable, but I also like the fact that there's never any pressure in buying. Skot makes you feel like you've been invited to his home rather than his business. Other galleries put on too many airs."

What galleries can't put on too many of is shows. And long before this night is over, Foreman is already thinking about the fact that he has only a few days left until perhaps his most significant event of the year.

On opening night of the five-day Art Miami show, an entire wing of the Miami Beach Convention Center, where representatives of 135 galleries from 24 countries have converged, has been converted into a giant maze. White walls have been erected to separate collections from Korea, Colombia, Spain, and France. Foreign languages mix in the aisles like liqueurs in sweet mixed drinks. A couple thousand guests at the invitation-only event walk around sipping wine and smoothies, browsing the eclectic artwork with checkbooks in hand. "Honey, we could transfer the funds from our mutual," an elegantly attired woman suggests to her husband, who scribbles some figures onto a check. They are pondering the purchase of a bronze nude sculpture from a Madrid gallery with a labeled price of $9500.

In the far left corner of the cavernous space, Foreman stands at a curved glass table, pouring Susan Farver, a New York Times advertising rep who has collected from him for ten years, some merlot. Normally a casual dresser, Foreman has opted to go more formal, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and silk print tie.

On three walls illuminated by soft spotlights, Foreman has hung a variety of paintings from his stable of artists. Featured are Purvis Young's warrior figures painted on plywood; Chris Dolan's human figures glistening with oils in neutral, earthy hues; Nick Vukmanovich's yellow painted canvases featuring, as Foreman says, "sexy little deviants" with large, shockingly pink eyes and pistol-like purple nipples"; and Lina Binkele's paintings and sculptures of horses. Binkele, who has flown in from Bogotá for the show, chats in her limited English with guests.

In the first hour of the opening, with two more hours to go, Foreman appears to be off to the races. Binkele's work is hot; two of her paintings, listed at $9000 each, have sold. "Things look good, and we've had several clients stop by who have expressed an interest in all the different artists," says Foreman with that twinkle that signals madness is in the air.

By evening's end Foreman has sold or is negotiating to sell six works. They might bring in a total of $30,000 or perhaps $90,000. The result depends upon the input of dealer, artist, and collector.

After spending 31 hours during five days talking up the artists' works and trying to close deals, an exhausted Foreman says he's "all talked out." Like the sale to his clients in Deering Bay, things didn't go quite as well as planned. He has broken even, he contends, having sold about $50,000 worth of art while paying the same to cover costs associated with the show (framing, movers, lighting, artists' expenses, and the exhibit space itself, which apparently isn't cheap but also isn't disclosed, in accordance with Art Miami policy.)

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