Costco does not usually bring about thoughts of aesthetic refinement. However, the mothership of all wholesale stores has returned to the fine art market after a dustup over a Picasso six years ago derailed the operation. (A $40,000 supposedly original drawing by the master was later deemed fake by Picasso's daughter.)
This time around, the discount warehouse club seems to be going more cautiously. Nestled discreetly under their Home & Décor tab, the Fine Art sub-tab currently features ten sold-out items... none of which are Picasso drawings for $40,000.
At first glance, though, these offerings look similarly unbelievable. A Warhol for under $1,500? Look a little closer, and the price to name ratio starts to make sense. The bigger names being sold are all attached to limited edition prints, from a lithograph of Henri Matisse's "Tete" for $829.99, to one of Warhol's "Kiku" for $1,349.99 (a shade under the average "Buy It Now" rate on eBay).
The lone two paintings offered come with featherweight names attached: "Nonpareil Bunting" by San Francisco-based artist Heather Robinson, and "Flowers in a Pot" by R. Cot, an artist whose main claim to fame seems to be that he's impossible to track down on the internet. Those originals are going for $1,699.99 and $779.99 respectively.
Greg Moors, the San Francisco art dealer working as Costco's supplier, was all praise for his mammoth buyer in a recent interview with The New York Times. Moors asserts that in Costco's matrix, the “the customer is more important than the deal,” and said the retailer is charging no more than 14 percent over what they pay him, "the same markup it applies to all its merchandise," according to the Times.
"Art for everybody" is not a new concept, not even for American retailers. In 1962, Sears began selling fine art using a similar model of lithographs by big names. Will Costco's fine art department transform the contemporary art scene? Unlikely, unless this is already a meta-post-modern-transgressive piece of performance art.
What do you think, readers? What does selling fine art in retail chains mean for the art world?
Check out the slideshow below to see some of the work that has recently been sold through Costco’s website and be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section.