Picasso at your local price club

Since last spring, the company has been selling fine art, including limited-edition lithographs by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Joan Miró.

Greg Moors, an art dealer in San Francisco, began selling art at some of the company’s stores in brief experiments last spring, and for the last two months has been selling on the company’s Web site, Costco.com. The artwork is museum quality, matted and framed.

“There were so many double takes at the stores,” Mr. Moors said. “People stopped in front of these lithographs and said: ‘Wow! What is this?’ “

Mr. Moors sold 43 pieces of art during appearances at Costco stores – in the La Jolla area of San Diego, as well as Concord and Mountain View, Calif., and Issaquah, Wash. “I consistently did fairly well,” he said, “considering that people are coming in to buy hamburger and walking out with a $1,200 work of art.”

Get this:

Ms. Elsner said Costco applied the same pricing system to the art that it did to other goods, marking them up no more than 14 percent above what it pays Mr. Moors. He said his markup was “way below what retail galleries charge” but declined to be specific.

Tony Pernicone, an art appraiser who owns Avanti Fine Arts, a gallery in Larkspur, Calif., north of San Francisco, and previously directed the San Francisco Art Exchange and other art galleries, said: “At a legitimate gallery, generally the markup is 100 to 150 percent, depending on their overhead and the cost of the art. Obviously, you get galleries that try to go higher.” Costco’s price of $1,550 for a Chagall Bible Series lithograph was $500 to $1,000 less than a gallery would have charged, Mr. Pernicone said.

In other words, “non-dignified” intermediaries are entering the market and offering the goods at cheaper prices, thereby separating the artwork from the attached aura of the sale. Let’s root for the artwork, not the aura. Here is the story. Here is the web site, note they are temporarily out of stock. Here is the sort of work you can buy, albeit from another seller.