After six years in the Mission, ArtZone 461 will likely close up shop, said the owners, who are still trying to decide whether to move to a smaller location or maintain the current space with a change in their business model.
Sales of fine art, said owners Steve Lopez and Eric Koehler, have simply not been strong enough to sustain the 7,500 square feet of space they have leased at 461 Valencia Street since 2008.
“Apart from winning the lottery, we’ll probably find either a smaller space, or close temporarily and maintain an online presence,” said Lopez, adding that he would like to stay in the gallery business. Before setting a final move date, the gallery will try to sell decorative art such as brass door knockers and old jewelry. If these sell well, the owners may maintain the gallery at its current location.
Lopez and Koehler have maintained ArtZone 461 since 2008, when Lopez moved from the Charles Campbell Gallery at 647 Chestnut Street after a legal battle with former partner Charles Campbell over who would assume ownership of that property.
Since then, he and his new partner Koehler have concentrated on showcasing local artists, with shows that have included work by E. Dale Erickson, Susan Danis and Terry Thompson.
Lopez said that despite their best efforts, sales have not been strong enough. In a letter to supporters announcing the probable closing, he made it clear that he was unhappy with the absence of any reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle. “For the record, we are extremely disappointed that local art critic, Kenneth Baker, never reviewed any of our shows in the San Francisco Chronicle in six full years of ArtZone 461’s commitment to showing works by local artists.”
Lopez said the failure of the press to review the gallery was an insult to their artists and to the space of the gallery, which Lopez called “unique.” In addition to the gallery space, ArtZone 461 has a library-like seating arrangement where visitors can leaf through a variety of art books, as well as a kitchenette in the back.
Lopez also said that galleries have a difficult time because few people have enough of an education in art—a problem that begins in the public schools.
“I think the audience for painting is undeveloped,” said Lopez, who said the lack of art funding in schools doesn’t help. “These are people that don’t have a sense of art history, that wouldn’t know Picasso from the Mona Lisa.”
Though they opened in the middle of the financial crisis, Lopez blamed their failure more on this lack of interest than the recession. “The stock market is way recovered, way more than recovered,” he said. “And people have more money. And they come in and they look and they like.”
But they don’t buy.
Lopez said he fails to quite understand why. He compared owning a piece of art to owning a share of a company. “If you buy stock through a paper trading app and you get a certificate, and you hang it on your wall for some reason, that stock could go up, it could go down, it could skyrocket, and in all of those possibilities, would you rather have been looking at a stock certificate or a painting?”
Most recently, Lopez tried a Kickstarter campaign to publish a book of his artists’ work. The gallery reached out to more than 18,000 people, yet had fewer than 100 pledges. “You expect a certain percentage of that audience is going to make a donation or make a purchase,” he said. “It’s just astounding to me that that didn’t happen.”
Lopez hoped that the majority of support would come from small donations of $10 or $25, an ultimately unfulfilled wish, with half of the backing coming from clients who had already supported the gallery, and another third from artists, family and friends.
Lopez said there’s little he could have done to stave off the inevitable. “The people that I’ve spoken with, other people who have galleries or are familiar with the art market—I haven’t gotten any feedback that there’s anything I could do.”
Except perhaps one thing.
“Definitely we could have had more of an internet and social media presence,” said Lopez. “The gallery model isn’t working. The model that is working is online.”
Next for ArtZone 461 is an inventory reduction sale, which will last through Sunday June 29. Discounts will range from 10 to 30 percent. After that, Lopez would like to transform the gallery to sell catalogs, decorative arts, furniture, jewelry and even some vintage clothing. That sale will last through July 20.
Once that’s over, Lopez said they will decide whether to maintain the space with a business model focusing on things other than fine art, or whether to move to a smaller space.
No matter what happens, Lopez believes in the value of art. “It’s vital for society to live with original art. It’s been going on forever.” And despite the gallery’s troubles, he does not regret his time there. “We’ve operated this as a labor of love.”