We had the good fortune of connecting with Charles Wolf and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Charles, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking

I love risk and I hate risk, just like everyone else. In a way, confidence comes from failing. So if it’s not going to ruin anyones life, you have to break it down from there, to get to what the real consequences of risk are. Failing will let you know a few things, but one is that you can recover from failure. So risk of “failure” is really not a consequence to be all that concerned with. Not surprisingly though it prevents most from taking the risk at all.
We have all heard the old saying, “If it was easy everyone would be doing it.” To me that degree of difficulty coupled with the degree of risk determines what kind of competition you are going to have and how early. It also determines what multiplier of success you may have. Safe bets pay small returns. Longshots pay big. Somewhere on that continuum you have your safe government workers retiring from their first job with a good pension. On the other are entrepreneurs who are going to make it or break it on their own.
Personally I tell myself that It’s okay to take an unknown risk as along as you’re willing to follow it up with another and another if it doesn’t work out. You can’t go in with the mentality that you are going to take the leap but if it doesn’t work, go home. Usually it doesn’t work. Not the way you planned. But you are a step closer, and you’re out there doing it. So many successful businesses, and people, started off in one direction and ended up in an unexpected place. To me, the word risk is equated to the word “try.” The ones doing anything are the ones out there trying… that keep trying. Creativity is always a risk.

What should our readers know about your business?

So I am a dealer and 4 time gallerist in the art world. I represent primarily living artists. Twenty years ago I was trying to figure out this market. I also have an entrepreneurial business background with tech and software. The more reading I would do the more I would discover there are no roads in this business. There are no certain channels to market. The rules and roles of the art business world are like art itself. As one author put it, the art marketing world is ‘fragmented’. There just are no clearly defined rules and paths.
That is a challenge as well as a great opportunity for someone creative. I have had the opportunity to explore a lot of the routes and rivers in the industry. Some out of interest, others out of opportunity, and many out of necessity.  For the benefit of those early on the path, I’ll sketch it. On the highly commercial side there are licensing and publishing for example. On the nonprofit side there are academic and institutional opportunities, like fellowships and grants to museums. On the merit and accreditation side there are juried shows and exhibitions, some with awards. On the grass roots level there are art shows and festivals. The lists goes on and on from ways to create, to ways to market.
There is the primary market, where you are the first owner of a new piece of art. There is the secondary market where you buy art that has had one owner or more already. As you scale up the primary or secondary market, there are blue chips; big names you know, and then Museum Masters at the very pinnacle of the secondary market, or in itself, the museum market.
The high end auction houses you have heard of will deal in museum masters on occasion and primarily secondary market blue chips. Appraisers and authenticators are needed for these higher echelon institutions and investors in secondary market work. Not so much in primary market works where the living artist can simply be asked how much they want for their work.
This an overly simplified overview but it illustrates the idea. I didn’t mention galleries there, but they are an integral part of the landscape. So I like helping artists. I have found my business, and sales and marketing skills can be of value to offer. They need representation and dealers help sell art. So through my own galleries, and privately, I represent living primary market artists. When I make a sale, the artist gets paid. Dead artists don’t get paid, and blue chip artists who may be alive frankly don’t need my help. But when my collectors want to acquire or sell,  I’m happy to broker those sales, which is usually a bit more private.
To me, if I compare the art market to a restaurant or meal, I like the appetizers, I like the deserts, I like the main courses, and I like the wines, so I am happy being with all of it. I am kind of like the waiter. Although sommelier might sound more glamorous or appropriate, it’s a specialist you really don’t need in the primary market. I can call in the specialists like appraisers/authenticators if we are brokering blue chips. So waiter is fine. I’ll be your server.
The difference is, I select all my own chefs, and as a gallerist I’m really more of a restauranteur. But in basic terms, you pay your waiter not the chefs (although that is how the chef gets paid). Not to make it sound unsophisticated, but the art world can be so unapproachable and overly pretentious and intimidating. My hope for the visual arts is to make them more accessible to everyone, and that begins with being approachable.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is a great question and funny because on a visit to L.A. My ideas are mainly to get out of L.A. In L.A. there are several different galley districts. With my affinity for living and working artists, I would recommend a studio district where you can catch artists working as well as see a variety of very fresh work. The Santa Fe Art Colony is in the industrial zone Southeast. The Brewery is in Northeast and they host an Art Walk, Santa Monica has the Studios at the hangar with 22000 square feet of studios. My go-to gallery district there is Bergamot station with 30 galleries in an enclosed area. I have just always found it accessible and easy to navigate. Downtown L.A. I would visit world renowned architectural wonder, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. In Downtown LA. one contemporary Gallery not to miss is Wönzimer on Olive between 6th and 7th. I rep for them too. Then get to Malibu for Malibu Wines and Malibu Cafe, for a lot of fresh air and elbow room with outdoor twinkle lights and nature. On the beach side in Malibu you cant beat Moonshadows for the view. Further south in towards Santa Monica and Venice is Abbot Kinney which is always worth a stroll for hip culture, or first Friday Food Trucks which is a dressy occasion or hip fashion lesson in my case.

With L.A. artist Rency Punnoose
With L.A. Artist Wayne Chang

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?

There are too many artists to mention, and since they are all “living” artists (mostly) I run the risk of omitting critical names. The ones who suspect they would be on the list most certainly are. But to all of the artists I have had the good fortune and pleasure to represent, first and foremost a grateful shoutout to you. Staff members who have worked for and with me are always appreciated, and never forgotten, even over many years. I have such a love for the art in general, and am lucky to be able to work with it.
Today I have a great time span to look back over, and the individual pieces become a blur that morphs into a general body of work that leads back to the individual artist who is often crystal clear in my mind. I get a little emotional and choked up at thought of some of the nicest, sweetest, kindest, people who have supported me.
There is story I often tell about a great but humble artist I picked up and brought onto my gallery roster. When I expressed interest in representing him, he asked “Do you think people would want to buy my work?” I replied, I didn’t know but I like it, and so we would certainly try to find out. Now he went on to sell and sell and sell, and yes, people did want to buy his work. But that same question mark is really a question mark all artists carry with every single piece they produce and hand over. My shrug back with an equal question mark is played out over and over. In effect, neither of us know for sure, but we’re both willing to risk our part to find out, and there is a level of trust between the two in that arrangement. And always a bit of admiration on my part. Neither wants to fail the other and we share a mutual hope and anticipation. Upon success we celebrate together.
This business has plenty of downtimes, from seasonal slows to economic lows. That’s when you can tell who your friends are. In this business, it wont take long. There is so little glamor and so little fame when it comes down to the backstage of any production, and in the end there is this bonded group who are all doing it for the craft and out of love. And that is what we share. The toil and the love. No matter how different we are or what role we play we all have this understood knowing, and it really is love we share. Shoutout to those I’ve shared it with.

Website: www.TheWolfFineArt.com https://www.wonzimer.com/
Instagram: @TheWolfFineArtLA  @Wonzimer
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thewolffineart/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlestonart
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewolffineart
Other: Feel free to connect on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/thewolffineart/

Image Credits
The Wolf Fine Art

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