CGN Art Dealer Q & A: Tom McCormick, McCormick Gallery
During this time of Covid-19 social distancing, we figured this would be as good of a time as any to reach out to gallerists and ask them a few questions about their thoughts on the current times, best business practice, and career history. If you have followed CGN for a while then this will come to you as a follow up from our Q&A series from 2017. We hope you enjoy!
Number of years in business: 49
How did you begin your career?
Graduating from University of Kansas in 1971 with a printmaking degree I had become obsessed with antiques collecting and old stuff in general. I landed a job with a dealer in old master, modern and contemporary prints, The Lakeside Studio, based in Lakeside, Michigan (John Wilson, the studio owner, later started the Chicago Art Expo.) They did not have a gallery location but rather did one-day presentations on college campuses from coast to coast, and my territory was everything east of the Rocky Mountains. I drove over 84,000 miles in 18 months and visited what seemed like every college and university campus there was. I also had appointments at major museums along the way such as MoMA, the Whitney Museum and the Library of Congress. Everywhere I went people were kind and open, interested and eager to see our inventory of 16th to 20th century prints. I wrote hundreds of invoices and collected hundreds of checks, all of which had to be mailed each evening back to Lakeside. I also started collecting 19th century prints. After my second year on the road I couldn't face another motel room and I quit to go get my MFA, (and begin selling off my collection). That job was the only one I ever had and it set my sail for the rest of my life as a dealer.
What inspired you to open a gallery?
I always dealt privately from home and at fairs, but I never really wanted a gallery. It seemed like too much responsibility, but I still always mused about it. When I turned 50 my wife, Janis Kanter, said: "Get a gallery or don't get a gallery, but stop talking about it!"
Is there a unifying element in your program or artist representation?
I have to like the work, like the artist, and feel a fighting chance of selling it.
How are you connecting with collectors and artists right now? Have you added to or increased your digital outreach?
Over the past two decades, as the gallery scene in Chicago has shrunk we have certainly seen an uptick in our online on out-of-state sales. I still really value the local collectors and consultants we work with, but one can't stay in business just dealing locally.
Which exhibitions have you had to postpone or adjust due to COVID-19?
John Santoro, new paintings.
Janice Biala, paintings from 1952-1962.
What percentage of your sales have previously been online vs in person (including art fairs)?
I can't name an exact number, but I have always felt that well over 50% of our business is to people who do not reside in the Chicago area.
Do you want to share any silver linings, insights or anything else with readers, collectors and fellow dealers?
My personal silver lining is just having been in the ball game for so long. One builds a reputation and inventory along with far flung relationships and a degree of financial security with the passage of so many years in business.
My other advice might be to always make people happy they shopped at your place.