Melanie Werner has been working in the art field for over 15 years. Her eponymous Pittsburgh gallery, elegantly housed in a late 19th c. steel-baron mansion turned boutique hotel, specializes in European and American artist of the same period to post-war. In addition to her work with Galerie Werner, Werner served as the curator for the Hardy Family Art Collection and gallery director for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, (Farmington, PA). But eventually, the robust fine art market of south Florida lured Werner to move her private client and curatorial services to luxury-ridden Palm Beach. Today, Werner Curatorial is sourcing and placing fine paintings to discerning collectors on a very private basis. “Navigating a career in fine art requires constant tweaking of the sails. That, combined with elegant hustle, quality experience and taking risks has energized my art practice.”
Galerie Werner was founded in 2001 while Melanie was living in Paris. There, she began sourcing European paintings and works on paper. The gallery grew to two locations in Pittsburgh and also participated in high profile shows in NYC and Palm Beach. The opportunity to manage and influence the art program at Nemacolin was a dream come true and within a few years, the program was running efficiently.
Melanie has two beautiful children and has enjoyed a long-time relationship with an amazing man who’s not only a terrific sounding board but helps her stay focused throughout a myriad of simultaneous projects.
Always working even during her downtime, she is bringing a patented packaging technology developed for ‘on-demand’ customized fragrance to market.
How did you get started in this business?
As early as age 7, I was fascinated with the art world. My family played the board game titled, Masterpiece which involved buying and selling art at auction and avoiding buying a forgery. In college, my parents advised me not to become an art history major and suggested I go into marketing, PR or related business field. I did. The early part of my career was spent in marketing, which, in turn helped me when I opened my gallery in 2002.
What inspired you to start this business?
Living in Paris for over a decade had a profound influence on my love for art and equally important, the business of art. A life-long passion started with an eagerness to visit art museums in every city I traveled to. But loving art and earning a living through art are on opposite sides of the coin. The business of running an art gallery is challenging, but done thoughtfully, can be a wonderfully rewarding way to earn a living. At the end of the day, I love making the deal; placing the right painting with the right collector is fulfilling. It’s a very happy business!
How do you make money?
This much I can reveal; be prepared for many ‘lean’ years, and if the ‘fat’ years don’t outweigh the ‘lean’ years, it’s best to find another profession. It’s a very difficult business.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Profitable? Or really profitable? The answer to both is, “A long time, but it’s working very well now!”
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Never doubted myself or the vision I had for the business. I did doubt the market I was serving. Pittsburgh’s a relatively small and conservative city and running an art gallery there has its challenges. That’s why I took the business to NYC, Palm Beach and the Hamptons. Those were great opportunities to grow my client base and compete against major galleries. Don’t regret it one bit, and now that I’m working in Palm Beach with truly seasoned and knowledgeable collectors, I’ve never enjoyed the field more.
How did you get your first customer?
My first clients were a couple introduced to my gallery through a designer. I’ve never forgotten that sale because ‘sales’ validate everything you do as a gallerist; one of the top reasons you’re in business.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Establishing a relationship and building rapport and with collectors is the best way to grow your practice. Gaining trust and earning credibility is essential and this doesn’t happen overnight. You also have to be where your clients are; social media campaigns have no role when working with HNW individuals. It’s all about the relationship!
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Reducing my attention to Galerie Werner to serve as Curator for Nemacolin Woodlands and the Hardy family was a difficult decision. As curator for Nemacolin it was a job I greatly enjoyed…and it lead to another door unexpectedly opening. I’ve segued that experience to creating Werner Curatorial; expanding the private client and curatorial services for collectors in Palm Beach County. It was a leap of faith…. but a professionally growing experience. Yes, I’ve a lot of balls in the air but I’ve a masterful juggling act. J I’m working nearly all the time to keep things running smoothly and super appreciate the ‘all too rare’ down time with friends and family.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Integrity + hard work is the age-old recipe. There are no shortcuts.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I sourced a beautiful 18th c painting by an artist who had a painting in the permanent collection in a small museum in the south of France. The painting sold to a good collector through Sotheby’s. Apart from being an important sale, it validated my eye and skill at finding hidden, art gems.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
My work in the art field is continually evolving. While many art dealers specialize in a certain period, I’ve fostered a diverse and well-rounded base of knowledge. I get equally excited about 18th c academic painting as I do about 21st c emerging artist using today’s digital modalities. In my case, being willing to adapt and responsive to art market changes has helped keep me remain relevant as a dealer. My role with Galerie Werner continuously adapts to new opportunities and the challenges of running a business
What business books have inspired you?
It’s not a business book, but The Stranger, by Albert Camus, inspired me. It affected my perspective on how to best utilize our time on earth. We’re all born, we all die; with what, with whom, where and how will one live your life and fill your time while alive. Caused me to place a greater importance on what’s relevant.
You’re incorporating more Contemporary art into your curatorial and placement practice, why the change?
I love history and historical works; traditional paintings are yesterday’s treasures. But with Contemporary, you’re selling tomorrow and that’s energizing and exciting. I’m easily adaptable and can make a case for why each is beautiful in its own rite. It’s fun to move between the two divergent art worlds and collector mind-sets.