Costco Returns to the Business of Selling Fine Art
Along with the bales of toilet paper and drums of tomato sauce that Costco customers load into their online shopping carts, they can now add an original Warhol or Matisse, a result of this giant discount retailer’s recent decision to re-enter the fine-art market.
Quietly and cautiously, like someone newly divorced returning to dating, Costco has begun selling fine art again after quitting the business six years ago when questions were raised about the authenticity of two Picasso drawings it had sold online.
In the two or so weeks since Costco, a warehouse club store, began listing “Fine Art” in the Home & Décor section of its Web site, it has sold 8 of the 10 works it initially listed, including two framed lithographs by Henri Matisse, one for $1,000, and the other for $800; a framed lithograph by Georges Braque for $1,400; a framed screen print by Andy Warhol for $1,450; and a framed textile-and-paint collage by Heather Robinson for $1,699.99, said Greg Moors, the San Francisco dealer supplying the art to Costco.
Mr. Moors said he has about five more works that he expects to list on the Web site over the weekend, but added that it takes time to find and frame original art.
Ginnie M. Roeglin, senior vice president for e-commerce and publishing at Costco, said, “We just started this program and are just testing a few things.” She declined to comment further on the decision to sell art again.
Mr. Moors said in an interview that he was driven by his vision of art for everybody, and he dismissed any incongruity in the notion of a discount warehouse club selling fine art. For many gallery owners and Internet art sellers, “the deal is more important than the customer,” Mr. Moors said, but with a brand-name store like Costco, “the customer is more important than the deal.”
Galleries will sometimes take sizable markups on works of art they purchase for resale, according to dealers. By contrast, Mr. Moors said, Costco is charging a maximum of 14 percent over what they pay him, the same markup it applies to all its merchandise.
Costco is certainly not the first large chain to offer fine art. Between 1962 and 1971, Sears sold more than 50,000 works by artists like Picasso, Rembrandt, Chagall and Whistler through its catalog and in its stores as part of the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art. Customers at Sears could buy a work on layaway for as little as $5 down and $5 a month. Sears guaranteed every purchase just as it would with a refrigerator or lawn mower.