Tony Morton: Being Allies in Art
Breaking down barriers between artists and patrons
Photos by Charlie Neuenschwander
Tony Morton specializes in relationships of a unique sort. The art dealer and owner of Kasum Contemporary Fine Art in the Plaza District is at the hub of a special network he has created that includes a broad spectrum of artists and patrons.
The hard part is helping all parties find what is most deeply satisfying and intriguing to them, whether they are creator or consumer. And if that happens, the business side of things will work.
Both artists and art patrons need an experienced ear, someone who easily interacts with both perspectives. And that means careful listening, which produces a deep understanding of both parties in an art sale.
Patron Support Patrons often are intimidated with the process of buying art. That’s where Morton comes in.
“With the people who come in here, the hardest thing to do is break down the barrier,” he says about those who think that a gallery is the same as a museum. In this setting, people are expected to interact, talk about their preferences and ask him questions.
He says “education is the hardest part” of what he does with prospective purchasers. It is a necessary process of carefully listening to the patron, understanding what appeals to them and then helping them learn ways to talk about what they like in art.
Morton wants his patrons to think of their relationship not as gallery/client, but as “allies.”
Artist Support Morton is not an artist; his background is in marketing. But his wife, printmaker and mixed media artist Stacey D. Miller, keeps him in touch with the artistic process. Their long-term relationship has helped in his understanding of what types of support artists need in order to pursue a career.
“Where most gallerists have purely a market experience, I’ve also had the opportunity to stand behind, be a patron for, struggle through the experience of actually being an artist. So it’s provided me with quite a bit of insight,” Morton says.
He understands the frustrations and needs that artists have.
Currently, Kasum Gallery is working with 54 artists and has a list of about 150 regular patrons who buy art that is larger than 30-by-30 inches, with another 500 occasionally buying smaller pieces.
A key element of Morton’s work is helping artists to understand what elements or aspects of their particular art are the most appealing to his patrons. And that means helping artists to understand criticism that may be upsetting. After all, art comes from deep within, so criticism can seem deeply personal. But it’s not. It’s commentary on how someone else perceives the work and has little to do with the artist as a person.
“I think that a lot of times when an artist is upset initially, that’s the deal,” Morton says about helping artists to keep criticism in perspective. “They are staying in their own perspective.”
Expanding the understanding of perspectives gives Morton the capacity to help patrons acquire art that is meaningful, and to help artists make a living and see their work have an impact on the lives of others. And when that happens, art adds value to people’s lives.