Billion Dollar Buyer

Billionaire tells artist that charging $225,000 per sculpture will ruin his business

If you are Pablo Picasso, it's not too hard to sell a piece of artwork for $179 million: His painting "Les Femmes d'Alger" became one of the most expensive ever sold.

But if you are not Picasso and are instead one of the country's many artists or business owners struggling to make a living, valuing your products at exorbitant, above-market prices is not the wisest decision.

That's the lesson billionaire restaurateur and host of the show Tilman Fertitta tries to impart to artist and sculptor Jed Malitz on this week's episode of "Billion Dollar Buyer."

The owner of Jed Malitz V2 Gallery in New Orleans, Malitz has only been able to make money off of one of his five monumental glass sculptures over a period of four years. The low number of sales is putting his business in jeopardy. Malitz estimates he can only stay open three-to-six more months.

Though the sculptures — human forms made of floating ribbons embedded in glass — are impressive to visitors at the gallery, the bottleneck to Malitz's success are his prices. His sculptures cost approximately $225,000 each.

"Your prices are simply too high," said Fertitta.

With costs at approximately $50,000 per piece, the markup is significant.

"You don't get a four-to-five time markup until you become successful," Fertitta said.


Sculptor and business owner Jed Malitz has been unable to sell his monumental glass sculptures, the centerpieces of his collection.
Sculptor and business owner Jed Malitz has been unable to sell his monumental glass sculptures, the centerpieces of his collection.

Fertitta encourages Malitz to increase his profile as well as lower his prices to create demand.

Malitz concedes on increasing his profile, and he throws a successful gallery opening for the press and potential buyers. But on prices he remains obstinate.

"The issue for me is once you make a catastrophic markdown in the art world, you will never recover it," Malitz said.

He remains determined to continue trying to sell his sculptures for $225,000. It would match the price he got on his first sculpture and would make himself appear more relevant to art world elites.

Tilman Fertitta explains pricing to sculptor Jed Malitz.
Tilman Fertitta explains pricing to sculptor Jed Malitz.

The problem, according to Fertitta, is this price doesn't match the market. No buyers have thus far been willing to accept that price.

"Jed seems to think the market has valued his art at $225,000 but it wasn't the market — it was one patron several years ago," Fertitta said. "The truth is, the real market's telling him just the opposite."

Fertitta prods Malitz to price his pieces at cost, $50,000. Doing so would keep the gallery's doors open and recapture the money Malitz invested to create the sculptures.

Against the advice of the host, though, Malitz won't budge. He appears unable to remove his pride and emotions from his business calculations.

By the end of the episode, he remains certain, but the future of his gallery is far less so.