Coincidence Gallery discovers the sad paradox of Richmond's art scene: This is a great place to make art, but a tough place to sell it. 

Art for Sale

In January 1997, Kathryn Henry-Choisser threw open the doors of Coincidence Gallery at 2401 W. Main St., and invited the public inside to view art created by some of Richmond's most promising artists.

It wasn't long before Coincidence became a regular stop on the first-Friday art circuit, drawing scores of art lovers to its monthly openings. Artists who were eager to exhibit their work in Coincidence's spacious and attractive galleries kept Henry-Choisser busy viewing slides of their work. Local art critics (Style's included) consistently gave high marks to the gallery's exhibitions.

From all appearances, Coincidence Gallery was a success. Except in one area, Henry-Choisser says. Nobody was buying the art.

"I felt like we had a good rapport with the art community and the people that like to look at art," she says, "but it really came down to a sales issue. We just weren't making any money."

On April 15, Coincidence Gallery will shut its doors with the closing of its final exhibition "The Shape of Coincidence." The exhibition will feature works from nearly all the artists who have had solo or two-person shows at the gallery in the past three years — among them Amie Oliver, Greg Kelley, Valerie Bogdan, John Digby, Wolfgang Jasper, Andras Bality, Tom Chambers, Todd Drake, Dawn Latane, Mark Bryant and Diego Sanchez.

Henry-Choisser's voice is tinged with sadness when she talks about making the difficult decision to close Coincidence. She says she has found it increasingly difficult to devote time and energy to managing her own art career, her 3-year-old son and the gallery without sufficient financial support.

"I thought that if we had artwork of the caliber that we have got here, that it would just happen," she says. "Purchasing art is such a big decision and it is kind of a tricky one ... It was more difficult than I thought it was going to be to sell."

Oliver, a local artist represented by Coincidence, says the sales problem is not limited to that gallery. "I think Richmond is one of the toughest markets to sell work in," she says. "... But the irony is that it's a very nurturing environment for an artist to work in."

Coincidence is one of the few local galleries that truly represents artists by serving as a kind of broker between the customer and artist even during times when an artist does not have a show hanging in the gallery. "The gallery was very important to me," says Andras Bality, who has had two solo shows at Coincidence. "I was able to send people up to Coincidence to see my work ... having a home base in your home town was nice."

Oliver, whose work was shown in Coincidence's first solo show in February, 1997, is frustrated by the gallery's demise. "Why can't the community support a place like Coincidence?" she asks. "People do support the openings. They come and drink and enjoy the atmosphere and the energy of all of these creative people, but don't feel like [art] can be a part of their life beyond that."

Beverly Reynolds, director of Reynolds Gallery, has been in the business 21 years and says it is always difficult to make a living selling art. "It is very tough to mount strong exhibitions...," she says. "You have to spend a lot of time talking to people and showing work and trying to develop interest. We're rejected every day."

Melanie Christian, gallery coordinator at Main Art Gallery, says she also has difficulty selling art, but because Main Art also includes an art supply and framing shop, it is not as big a concern. "We are really lucky," she says. "Because we do have the frame shop and the retail shop we are able to run more of a risk as far as the shows. ... We do want to sell the work, but we're not banking on it."

So why aren't Richmonders buying?

Bality, who has exhibited in Budapest, New York and Philadelphia, thinks it is often difficult to convince people that they need art. "It's a hard business," he says, "I think it is because we don't perceive ourselves as needing art so its the last thing you're going to buy, and only if you have extra money."

"People don't realize how much it improves the quality of life," Christian adds. "I think they see it as a luxury."

And Henry-Choisser believes that people, even if they are interested in viewing art, get intimidated when it comes to buying it.

"If you like it and you can afford, get it," she advises. "Once you start buying art, even if you are not a wealthy person, you want to continue buying it. It makes your home just come

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