A Licensing Agent’s Point of View on Surtex 2012 and the State of the Market


I’ve been publishing interviews and articles about Surtex since the end of May after returning from the show. It has been great learning and fun to get multiple views of the show. I was pleased to host an informative interview with Lance Klass, President of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing, who has shared with us his views as an art licensing  agent on the Surtex 2012 show, as well as other licensing topics.

How was Surtex 2012 compared to other Surtex shows you did? What was different and exciting for you as an agent?

This year’s Surtex seemed to be stronger, with more exhibitors and an extremely diverse group of visitors from North American and around the world.  Of the 103 companies we met with during three hectic days, perhaps 15% were from outside the United States, often from halfway around the world, all drawn to Surtex to find the latest and most compelling array of artwork available for their products.  As always, it was great to reconnect with other agents and artists and especially with licensees whom we hadn’t seen for a year.  And there were many new faces as well, including licensees who were experiencing their first Surtex.  What a pleasure to meet people we’re in touch with all year and be able to discuss active and future programs!  In this business of art licensing, relationships are often as important as the art you’re trying to license, and Surtex is a relationship-building experience.

How was the Expo and what was exciting about it for you as an agent?

Surtex is far and away the best venue for art licensing. It’s in a great location – New York City – still the business hub of America.  New York has a high level of energy and that seems to be contagious. In my experience, people who attend the brand licensing show in June in Las Vegas are more relaxed, but people who come to Surtex seem to be ready to do business and that’s essential for us.  Another exciting factor this year is that we seemed to have had more visitors coming to us from the National Stationery Show next door in the convention center.  Thus we were able to extend our reach into cards, stationery, gift wrap and other paper products – definitely a plus.

In your view, how’s the current economy influencing art licensing and trade shows?

I wrote about this extensively in an article that was published in the Surtex edition of The Art Buyer.  In its simplest terms, the nascent recovery that began with Christmas 2011 when retail popped up 5.5% nationwide has continued each month since.  It indicates that consumers do have more money in their pockets and are ready to spend it on products with artwork that makes them feel better about things.  Art is the great anti-depressant, and consumers are tired of the grays and muted colors they were supposed to want (but didn’t) after the crash of Christmas 2008.  That was just a lot of off-trend baloney that steered so many consumer products companies in the wrong direction.  What consumers want is color and more color, images that draw them in, take them away, make them feel better about themselves and about life, art that brightens their day and helps them move forward.  If the economy continues its steady growth, we’ll have even more demand for compelling artwork and our industry as a whole will benefit along with our licensees, retailers and consumers.

What will you do differently (if anything) for Surtex next year?

I’ll try to get more sleep.  I might also get another iPad so that two can be in use at one time. I also want to spend as much time next year enjoying New York as I did this year.  What a pleasure once the booth was set up the day before the show, to walk from my hotel at 53rd and Seventh up and through the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 81st and Fifth. A glorious, perfect evening in the city, enjoying Central Park, ending with hours in one of the best art museums in the world.  And of course we ate at wonderful New York restaurants.  Who needs Vegas?

Any emerging trends of importance to be mentioned?

As mentioned above, consumers want color, brightness, beauty and we who license art need to provide it to them.

Can you offer any advice to new artists about breaking into the industry?

Read the articles on your site, on my blog on The Business of Art Licensing and other sources of good information about what art licensing is and how it works.  Connect with agents and artists, network, learn. Find out what potential licensees want and provide it to them.  That means not painting for yourself, but rather painting images that will have maximum appeal in the market.

What makes for a great collection? Any advice for what kinds of designs to include?

A great collection is one that has maximum commercial appeal.  Every artist is different in approach, media, and ability.  Study the market, be inspired, put it down on paper, canvas or Photoshop.

What’s on the horizon for your agency?

We’ve expanded our stable of artists to 30 to give us greater diversity of subject matter and style and color, and we’re experimenting with styles of art and subject matter that are new to us.  We’re more open than ever before to taking on very talented new artists whom we think are a good investment.  This is a good time to be in art licensing.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I want to compliment the staff at Surtex for the way they ran the show.  The Jacob Javits Convention Center is undergoing major expansion and one effect of that expansion is that during a rainstorm on the Monday of the show, the roof leaked in our aisle, effectively shutting us down for over an hour.  That wasn’t the fault of the Surtex staff, but they went the extra mile to get us running again quickly, and after the show to provide recompense to those of us who lost valuable time, contacts and business.  These folks are a class act.

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This interview first appeared as a special feature in The Moon From My Attic: An Art Licensing Chronicle.  Thanks are due to artist and blogger Alex Colombo for her fine work on interviewing artists and agents and thereby providing artists with valuable information about art licensing.

Lance J. Klass is the President of Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing at www.porterfieldsfineart.com.  Mr. Klass studied international economics and economic theory at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Davis, and has worked in the field of art licensing since 1985.

This article is (c) Lance J. Klass.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may not be reproduced with the expressed written permission of the author. 

For information about copying all or part of this article, contact the author atart@porterfieldsfineart.com

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