Common Misconceptions Collectors Have

About Art Galleries and Buying Art, Part II

Would you know how to locate, evaluate and assess quality art if we didn't have art galleries committed to culling the best work by talented artists from around the art world and presenting it to us-- the public-- show after show, month after month, year after year? Unless you're an experienced art world professional or seasoned collector, probably not. In spite of the invaluable services galleries provide, they are constantly and continually challenged just to survive in business, especially in the online age. So with this in mind, here's Part II of how art buyers can effectively navigate, understand, do business with, avoid critical mistakes, and maximize the overall benefits of their art gallery experiences. Blunt though some of the following directives and admonitions may be, take solace in the fact that they're the 100% bona fide truth. Know your protocol, support your galleries, and profit!

Note: Many of these pointers also apply to buying art directly from artists, online or anywhere else you might find it for sale.


Misconception: Galleries like hearing people tell them how much they know about art.

Reality: Some buyers and collectors feel they have to challenge or one-up galleries with their art knowledge or act like they're so informed, they don't need to hear any information or opinions from anyone. The most irritating among them think they know more than gallery owners and, whether they do or not, that they're required to lecture those owners on what art is all about, and to top it all off, not buy anything. If your agenda is nothing more than to show gallery personnel how learned you are, here's a thought: Save it for the mirror.

Gallery owners love talking art as long as the conversations are mutually beneficial, meaning there's something more to the interchange than you simply talking to hear yourself talk. Galleries are great places to discuss art, artists, and art world happenings and events-- especially the kinds that are relevant to those galleries-- and to exchange ideas, perspectives, share opinions, and most importantly, learn. They're not contests, they're not games of skill, they're not places where you go to pick fights or demonstrate how fabulous you are. And remember-- galleries are businesses, not discussion forums so hopefully you're there to do more than just talk.


Misconception: Anyone can go into any gallery, ask whatever questions they want to about whatever art or artists they're thinking about buying, and feel in no way obligated to support or patronize those galleries.

Reality: Would you walk into a law firm or doctor's office and ask for free consulting or advice? Unless you already do business with a gallery or fully intend to, do not use them as research facilities or to ask questions about art or artists, especially art you're thinking about buying elsewhere. While we're on the topic, unless you have an established relationship with a gallery, do not use their reference books or catalogs or pry into how they access their art information. And unless you really want to upset someone, don't ask questions about art that's not for sale at their gallery. If you intend to do your collecting elsewhere-- online, at auctions, at other galleries, or by beating the bushes for art outside of traditional settings-- then learn to do your research in those places as well.


Misconception: Galleries are happy to answer questions about other galleries.

Reality: Absolutely not. This is about as inappropriate as you can get. Unless you have a longstanding relationship, what makes you think a gallery will confide in you about their competition?


Misconception: Galleries want to hear about all the great buys collectors make. That's also a great way for collectors to impress galleries.

Reality: There is hardly anything a gallery could care less about than hearing you brag about all of your art triumphs, some of which may not be triumphs at all and you don't even know it, but the gallery would never be so crass as to tell you. Why would you even go on about something like that? What's the point? If you want to impress anyone, just keep collecting masterworks (quietly on your own) and perhaps one day find a gallery, museum, organization, art website or publication to showcase them or do a feature on you. Better yet, if you like what certain galleries show and sell, add some of their art to your collection.


Misconception: Part of buying art is to see how little you can pay for it.

Reality: Don't bargain purely for sport. Gallery owners know exactly what you're up to when you do this, and you will not ingratiate yourself to any of them... guaranteed. In fact, every time you do it, expect to slip a notch or two down that gallery's priority list of clients, like those who get offered the best art first. A number of do tend to be somewhat flexible when it comes to prices, but unless you can make a good argument for why you should pay less, pay what they're asking.

What many collectors don't realize is that discounting prices often affects how much artists are paid as well as how much profit the galleries make. Not only do discounts impact a gallery's ability to support their artists through exhibitions, publicity, catalogs, art fairs and so on, but they often result in the artists being paid less as well. Most artists, even artists who sell everything they make, are still not very flush when it comes to supporting themselves and their families. Rather than look at art as just another product to pay as little as possible for, consider instead the lives of the artists making the work and the financial health of the galleries (and gallery system) showing it. Your support counts.


Misconception: It's OK to bargain a gallery down on an asking price and then not buy the art.

Reality: Yes, if you want to seriously compromise your relationship with that gallery. Only bargain if you fully intend to buy the art when offered a better price. Do not put a gallery through loads of negotiations or multiple viewings without being committed to buying the art. Never waste a gallery's time with casual haggling.


Misconception: It's OK to make an offer on a work of art, have that offer accepted by the gallery, and then not buy the art.

Reality: Yes, if you want to permanently damage or even end your relationship with that gallery altogether. Why would anybody even do that? Believe it or not, some people do. And believe it or not, a gallery owner will never forget if you do it.


Misconception: It's OK to ask questions about whether an artist is going to become famous or successful in the long run, or in other words, if the artist is a good investment.

Reality: Gallery owners are not brokerage firms or financial advisors, and they're certainly not psychics. They show what they believe to be quality art by skilled, talented, accomplished artists. Do you like what you see? Do you think owning it will have a positive impact on your life? If yes, then buy, appreciate and enjoy it. Obsessing about what art may or may not be worth either now or at any point in the future is NOT how to enjoy it.


Misconception: It's OK to look through art in a gallery's stacks, back rooms or storage areas.

Reality: No. Ask permission first.


Misconception: A collector should ask to see absolutely everything a gallery has access to by a certain artist, including making a request to visit the artist's studio before they buy any art.

Reality: This is going too far. Galleries and artists work together to select the best possible art for any given show, and that's exactly what you see there-- the best art. There's nothing in it for either galleries or their artists to hide that art elsewhere. If you already have an established relationship with a gallery, have specific reasons for wanting to see more art, can explain those reasons in a way the gallery owner appreciates, and you ultimately intend to make a purchase, fine. Otherwise, be confident that what you see on exhibit at any gallery represents the high end of their artists' art.


Misconception: Collectors shouldn't trust their own instincts about art they like. They should check with third parties like spouses or close friends or the Internet before they buy in order to make sure everyone approves of their choices.

Reality: Do you want to build your own collection or build it by consensus? Having conviction about what you buy is what successful art collecting is all about. You can't necessarily satisfy everyone on the planet, but you can always satisfy yourself. Standing behind every work of art you own and being able to defend it to anyone who has doubts or questions about it is essential to establishing your reputation as a respected dedicated collector.


Misconception: Buying art directly from artists or online wherever you happen to find it is the same as buying from galleries except cheaper.

Reality: To begin with, galleries continuously look at and vet all kinds of artists, choosing only those who they believe to be the best, most talented and accomplished for their shows. Next, they vet all the art by those artists, choosing only the best works for their shows. Unless you know your way around the art world and are as skilled as gallery owners at evaluating artists, developments and events in art world, and telling the difference between good, better, best and not so good art, the money you think you're saving by scouring the artscape for bargains may actually turn out to be money you're wasting.


Misconception: Buying art from galleries in major art centers like New York or Los Angeles is better than buying locally, even when the artists they show don't live or work in those major art centers.

Reality: Quality art by an artist can be found at galleries anywhere, not only at galleries in major art centers. Often, an artist's best work can be found at galleries in or near the cities where they live-- especially if those artists have solid regional reputations, and especially if those artists are loyal to their most longstanding dealers (which many artists are). If you're interested in art by a particular artist, it's up to you to research and locate all galleries that sell it. But once you've done that, prioritizing those galleries based solely on location rather than on the quality and selection of their art can be a big mistake.


Misconception: If a transaction with a gallery doesn't go according to plan or proceed exactly as expected, the buyer should give the gallery a hard time and badmouth them to other galleries.

Reality: Not a good idea. If a transaction with a gallery goes poorly, or you don't like the way a particular gallery does business, or you don't see eye-to-eye with the owner, but you still like their art, either figure out a way to work together and continue to do business or end the relationship completely. Do not go on a crusade to denigrate that gallery, complain about them, attempt to change the way they do business, or otherwise disparage their reputation. This will not only get you nowhere with that gallery, but it will also compromise your reputation and relationships with other galleries who don't want to risk the same things happening to them.


More bad behaviors guaranteed to sabotage the success of your collecting:

* Act like a gallery should show you all kinds of attention or act deferential before you decide to buy any of their art.

* Request special treatment from a gallery you have little or no relationship with. Good working relationships evolve over time, not all at once or under pressure.

* Go to a gallery opening for one artist and ask to see work by another artist or discuss matters unrelated to the show.

* If you're visiting a gallery for the first time and someone doesn't recognize you, ask, "Do you know who I am?"

* Be demeaning or abusive to a gallery's staff and tell them you only want to speak with the owner. Staff constantly interact with the owners, and treatment like that usually gets reported.

* Use galleries as showrooms only. For example, if you're really interested in a particular artist, go to all the gallery shows for that artist, but instead of buying anything, contact the artist and try to buy directly from them.

* Wait until a gallery show is over and then try to buy unsold art directly from the artist. Going behind a gallery's back like this undermines their dedication and commitment to their artists as well as seriously damages your reputation as a collector. In fact, loyal artists will usually tell their galleries what you're up to.

* Walk into a gallery carrying food or eating.

* Touch the art without first asking permission.

* Call the gallery or gallery owner outside of regular business hours.

* Visit a gallery when you're drunk or otherwise under the influence.

* Complain to a gallery about how you thought the art you bought there would go up in value or be worth more or go up in value faster than it has. (There is no guarantee art will go up in value, and buying with only financial considerations in mind is the worst way to collect art.)

* Treat art like a short-term investment, as something you buy to sell rather than keep. Only buy art you think you can flip for a profit after owning it for brief periods of time.

* Buy a piece of art or take it from a gallery on approval, immediately try to sell it to someone else for more, and if you can't, either return it or trade in for different art.

* As a bargaining strategy, tell one gallery that another gallery is selling similar art for less, or that you're thinking about shopping at another gallery instead if they won't give you a better deal.

* Talk about art you've bought or are thinking about buying by artists the gallery doesn't represent.

* Bargain on a piece of art by talking about everything that's wrong with it.


(art by James Marshall aka Dalek).

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