When the Archer hotel opened in New York in 2014, the developers “wanted to build a curated art collection which helps to tell their marketing story, but on a small budget”, says the art adviser Deborah Goodman Davis. She began asking artists to license reproductions of their work—a practice that has gained traction in the hospitality industry and forged a new market niche for artists.
To fill the 180 guest rooms at the Archer, Goodman Davis approached artists including Sam Messer, Thomas Broadbent, Sophy Naess and Thomas Allen about reproducing several of their existing works. The artists agreed on the price and number of reproductions, then many sent digital files or original works to be scanned by Kalisher, a North Carolina-based facility that alters, produces and reproduces art for restaurants, hotels, hospitals and cruise ships.
Business has been booming in recent years, says the company’s owner Jesse Kalisher. “Eight years ago people were not digitally printing at volume for commercial projects, at least not in the hospitality industry,” he says. But as digital printing technologies become more widely available, it is becoming easier for companies to commission reproductions of existing works from artists and galleries directly.
Kalisher is currently commissioning, producing and reproducing works of art for the new 32-storey Hilton Convention Center in Cleveland, Ohio. With an art budget of $1.6m, the company is
supplying works for all of the property’s 600 rooms and its common areas.
Goodman Davis says she looked to the business model of 1000 Museums, a company that prints reproductions of works at museum kiosks, and thought: “If museums allowed reproductions of their works of art, why could we not do the same with any work of our choice?”
Ultimately, she says, the practice benefits artists, too. About 50% of the overall budget for the Archer project went to the artists. One was “able to make a down payment on a studio with our licence fee”, she says. “It is easy income if an artist is willing to have work reproduced”, says Messer, whose drawing of the author Paul Auster’s typewriter was turned into prints. “In my case, I just gave the image and they did all the work".
But the transactions become less lucrative when galleries get involved. The Michigan-based photographer Thomas Allen, whose New York gallery, Foley, sold work to the hotel on his behalf, says: “The commission I received was not all that much”. Compared with editorial work, “as a revenue stream, it’s not that impressive”.
Kalisher agrees that “in most cases there is not a lot of money in it for the artist, and certainly no room for a gallery”. Once the proceeds get split between adviser, gallery and artist “the money just isn’t there when it comes to reproductions”. That’s why around 80% of his business comes from clients who hire the company’s in-house artists to create and produce work themselves. That way, “if a client says we want it blue instead of red, we just push a button”.
For some artists, some money is better than none. “Everything adds up,” Messer says. “In reality, they could just have printed [my work] and waited to see if I ever found out.”