Gallery gifts

By McKenna Corson

Buying art for yourself can be difficult. But buying a piece of art for someone else? That can feel impossible.

An artistic piece’s medium, its content or message, the artist, the desired feelings or memories a piece evokes, where it will be displayed – the list is endless and particular to every eye. 

Wood bowl by Reinhold Friebertshauser, $250. For sale at Artisans’ Corner Gallery in Newbury.

However, local experts from Contessa Gallery in Lyndhurst, Artisans’ Corner Gallery in Newbury and Koehn Sculptors’ Sanctuary on Green in South Euclid advise against turning away from gifting art out of fear it won’t match someone’s taste. 

“Art is something that when somebody sees it, it reminds them of a place, a person or a time. It has this deep inner meaning,” says Monica Glasscock, gallery coordinator, manager and framer at Artisans’ Corner Gallery. “But art is a little difficult to buy for somebody. It’s nonreturnable.” 

The first place to start is deciding whether the gift will be a surprise for the recipient or not, says Steve Hartman, the owner, founder and curator of high-end, Fine Art Dealers Association member Contessa Gallery.  

“Subway,” (2020) by Mr. Brainwash. Mixed media on aluminum, plywood and Plexiglas, 60 x 205 inches. Price: $495. For sale at Contessa Gallery in Lyndhurst.

“I think both work very well, depending on the personality of the giver and the personality of the recipient,” Hartman says. “It has to be a match of how well does the giver know the recipient? There’s a lot of personality involved in that.” 

Victoria Koehn, owner of Koehn Sculptors’ Sanctuary on Green, suggests the gift giver think about any experiences they’ve had with the intended beneficiary, taking note of the recipient’s personal taste demonstrated through the interior design of their home. 

Before deciding on a piece, Koehn encourages they picture it on display in the other person’s home, really seeing if it fits. Does this person prefer more simplistic works, or do they enjoy more ornate artwork? Are they traditional or are they modern? 

Koehn stresses that while it’s a piece to the art gifting puzzle, art doesn’t have to match the giver’s personal taste.

“Buying things out of the box and things that just you like, I’m not sure that’s the best way to purchase anything for somebody,” Koehn says. “It has to be what you like, but you have to be able to imagine that person experiencing that piece with the same amount of pleasure.”

Above: “Tree of Life,” by Victoria Koehn. Steel. Price: $98. For sale at Koehn Sculptors’ Sanctuary on Green in South Euclid.

If the gift giver doesn’t trust their art buying skill for another person, Glasscock offers the equally meaningful idea of purchasing a gift certificate from an art gallery or vendor, and then shopping together with the recipient.

“That way, it gives you a great adventure that day,” Glasscock says. “Time well spent with your friend, and they get exactly what they are looking for.”  

If the gift giver decides on the surprise route, the next step is finding a gallery or vendor with extensive knowledge of their wares and expertise in art from a curatorial and value standpoint, Hartman says. The gift shopper can have their questions answered, connect with an artist or get suggestions for pieces that best match the recipient. 

This also means the gift giver steps into the recipient’s shoes to purchase a meaningful present. 

Glasscock says it’s essential the art buyer makes sure the receiver is reflected in the piece – whether it features a favorite color, suits a room in their home, symbolizes a shared memory or experience, or highlights a particular hobby or interest of theirs.

“There’s always some type of art that’s going to fit that, and there’s definitely something in all price ranges, styles and genres,” Glasscock says. “Think about something that would just make them happy, smile every time they look at the gift and think of you.”

To Hartman, a good, artful gift is one that transcends superficial value.

“It’s something they think would resonate with the recipient,” Hartman says. “It should be beyond just the visual level. It could be something that they think would touch the recipient, either emotionally, spiritually, philosophically or even physically.”

Below: Necklace by T. Hickey, $17. For sale at Artisans’ Corner Gallery in Newbury.

Even with an eagle eye scanning galleries and vendors, happening upon the perfect gift cannot be forced. It can be completely coincidental, and “just the way the stars and the moon line up that you see that piece,” Koehn says.

But when you find that exact artwork – whether it’s an elaborate sculpture, decadent oil painting or elegant light catcher – there’s no doubt.

“When I select a gift, I think of that person,” Koehn says. “If it speaks to me, I get that sparkle – a feeling like I know I found the perfect gift.”