A top tip for selling art –> Live with it

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from our Sunday reading series – a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

There’s a lot to be said for living with art. It’s all too easy to dismiss a piece on first sight, and then forget about it entirely. Give an art work time, and your view can do a 180 degree turnaround.

Curators likewise experience this, and here’s a case in point. As an early-stage gallerist, artists were sending works to my gallery for a Chicago art fair. One artist was cutting it close finishing a couple of pieces and managed to deliver them just before the crates were to be loaded for shipment. With no time to spare, I hardly had a moment to glance at the pieces before they were whisked away by the shipper.

Upon arrival at the booth, I excitedly unpacked the two paintings. Oh dear. No, they weren’t damaged (thank goodness). They simply did nothing for me, unlike the artist’s previous work. Disappointed, I hung them on the walls of the on-stand storage area, so that they were accessible to show clients, yet wouldn’t take exhibition wall space for work I felt more comfortable selling.

The following month, I included the two pieces in a group show at my gallery. Though internally dubious, I supported the artist’s ongoing development. And then.. and then… something changed: I utterly fell for the two pieces. By the end of the exhibition, I found the pieces to be sublime. On thinking carefully about my reaction, I eventually realised that the artist’s use of a particular frame had distracted my view of the painting. With increased study of the oil on canvas I saw beyond the traditional framing job, finding appreciation for the muted multi-layered tones.  Artists often do them same, putting discarded and in-progress work aside, only to return later with a fresh eye.

Not only is this important to understand as artists or curators presenting shows, it’s also incredibly useful with potential buyers. What if an established collector isn’t so sure of an artist’s new direction? Or how about someone being taken by a piece but not being 100% certain about it?

Take the work to the client to view in the setting where it would live. If they’re still uncertain, allow them live with it for a week. (Note that documenting such a consignment is paramount, accompanied by an insurance that specifically covers consigning unsold work. Often this requires you to personally accompany the work for the consignment handover.)

Not only do a great number of artists, dealers and art consultants experience terrific success with this selling technique, they also deepen relationships with clients. During site visits, you get to know one another better, you also find out other problems that you can solve for them. What might a ‘problem’ be? Discussing what to do with blank walls and spaces is a great starting point.

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Note: While the above is an incredibly effective method, ensure you’re protected. Pieces can get damaged and sharks out in the world will try to hold onto works without paying. Both unfortunate circumstances are rare, yet real, too (I’ve seen both).

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