Prices: It’s OK to ask
The price list (commonly referred to as the line list or checklist) is usually sheathed in plastic and kept at the main desk. If you don’t see it, then politely ask for it. If there are no prices on the line list, you can ask “What is the price range for this show?”. If you like those numbers then walk the show. A red dot sticker means the piece is sold. Multiple red dots means it’s a print series and more than one in the series has sold. A half-dot means that there’s a “hold” on the piece, just like when you put an item of clothing on hold at a department store.
Do not ask for a discount; you are not in a bazaar.
Gallery directors think carefully about the prices they charge. If they want to offer you a discount they will. See Stark Guide’s “Tips for Beginners” for information on designing a layaway or payment plan.
The gallery director or “gallerina” at the front desk is not there to give you an art history lesson.
Instead, ask to see the artist’s biography or curriculum vitae. The gallery may refer you to a website.
No rude noises
If you don’t like what you see, keep it to yourself. Don’t ever say, “I could do that,” because you didn’t.
Under any circumstances. Do you like it when strangers touch you? Not only is the work fragile, oils from your hands can damage it.
Museums and art galleries are not religious institutions. If you are bored or don’t like what you see, move on. Looking at art should be fun, not a chore.
Developing a point of view.
You’re going to have to do a lot of looking in the beginning to figure it out. Go to museums to learn what your taste is. Hook up with the free docent tours that take you through the institution’s permanent collection to understand art on a larger scale. Docents make the art accessible to the average Joe – they know their audience. No need to memorize scary art terms like “chiaroscuro” or names of “movements” yet — this will come naturally as you see things that pique your interest and want to know more.
Get the story.
Ask any seasoned art collector and they will tell you that the piece of art itself is a fraction of the joy. Most art collectors enjoy the experience of learning an artist’s story as much as the piece itself. Knowing why a piece looks the way it does and how the artist made the piece makes art come to life.
How much is it going to cost me?
It depends how much work you want to do. If you don’t have a lot of time then it is easier to go to the galleries that lease expensive, easy-to-visit locations and advertise in magazines and mail you beautiful glossy post cards each month. Those expenses are passed on to you – these galleries are businesses and provide valuable service by presenting an edited assortment to their clients, just as your favorite fashion retailer would. Galleries like this usually show mid-career artists. Prices in San Francisco start at around $5,000-$7,000.
Should I hire an art consultant?
Art consultants work with individuals and corporate clients. It is standard practice for a gallery to give an art consultant a commission, usually a percent of the retail price ranging from 10%-20%. This is not an additional markup that is passed along to the customer but rather the gallery is “sharing” its profit with the consultant. (Most galleries split the retail price of the art 50%-50% with the artist.) The consultant will also charge you an hourly fee for the time she spends to educate you, gets to know your taste, and pounds the pavement on your behalf.
How can I get a bargain?
You have to stray off the beaten path and see a lot of “experimental” art in galleries that feature artists who are just starting out in their careers and have not yet established a market for their work. Galleries like this that feature “emerging artists” in San Francisco generally price work from $500-$5,000. Many non-profit galleries hold annual fundraising events with silent or live auctions. Because the work is donated, the auction can start the bidding at a below market price in order to chum the waters.
Though you may not ask for a discount it is perfectly acceptable to set up a payment plan. The gallery doesn’t want to invoice you forever so use common sense when proposing the monthly payments you’ll write. Equal payments over three to six months is about right.
Pay attention to artists who take themselves seriously
Does the artist have a resume or a statement explaining their approach to their work? Does the artist participate in group shows or volunteer for a non-profit? These are all signs that this artist is going places and is doing the professional networking necessary to get noticed.
Get on the email list
Set up a separate email account and sign up for announcements in every gallery you visit.
Just in case you fall in love
Measure before you go!
Tuck the receipt and exhibition flyer into the back of the piece so they’re always together. This will increase the value of the piece if it turns out you have something really great.
Go steady with a few galleries
After about six to 12 months of dedicating your Saturdays and “first Thursdays” to gallery visits, you’ll start to get a feel for the personality or brand of each gallery. Just like the Buyer in your favorite fashion boutique, the gallery’s Director has a point of view and you’ll see a theme emerge in their choices. If you show you’re truly interested in the gallery’s program then you’ll be contacted first when the Director comes across work that she thinks you’ll like.
I want to buy everything I see
So you’re adventurous, willing to spend some money, and like most of what you see? You don’t have unlimited wall space so you have to find a “filter.” Decide on a theme for your collection. Is it regional? “Rising star” artists in the Bay Area. Stylistic? Abstract expressionism. Media based? Watercolor only. Picking your collecting emphasis is when the real fun begins!
I’ve run out of wall space
It’s difficult to “de-accession,” the term for unloading unwanted artwork. This process needs a special name because it’s hard to do! In addition to auction houses, there are galleries that deal in the secondary market. However, your first move should be to ask the artist or gallery who sold the piece to you if he will buy it back. This is not so far fetched- the gallery does not want a piece reselling on the secondary market for too low or too high a price because that wreaks havoc with the value of the artist’s newer work and could affect the public’s perception of the artists’ worth. The gallery will probably buy it back for close to what you paid for it or you could ask for a trade. If not, try the auction houses.
Take an interest in your favorite artist’s career
Talk her up! Go to all of her shows. Bring your friends on private studio visits. The more people who buy her work, the more likely it is that she will “make it.”