Selling Art, from a Gallerist’s Perspective


Is your personal story important in selling your work? I have often wondered the answer to this question from a gallerist’s perspective. So, I asked a few to elaborate their thoughts on the matter.

Paul Dahmen | Fresh Paint Art Gallery, Culver City, Calif.

Art-buying is very personal, and I feel this also applies regarding whether the artist’s story is important to a collector or not. Some collectors want to know where the artist was born, where they live, how old they are, what is the concept behind a specific series, their technique, etc. Other collectors just fall in love with a piece and have to have it, no questions asked! By nature, I like to educate and inform a collector so they know who and what they are buying, but if they change the subject before I can even begin to fill them in on a specific artist or their work, I know they fall into the latter category.

Kim Fonder | Exhibit By Aberson, Tulsa, Okla.

Selling your work… I will begin with a story relayed to me by the head of a very large print studio based in New York. The owner of the studio was relaying a conversation that he had had with well-known artist James Rosenquist. Apparently, the printmaker wanted Mr. Rosenquist to come into the studio to print and phoned to request that he come out to the studio soon. Mr. Rosenquist’s reply was succinct and to the point. His reply: “I will be there as soon as I have an idea.” The printmaker, of course curious about Mr. Rosenquist’s reply, inquired further. Mr. Rosenquist then said, “If I think about something, I tend to put it on my studio wall with a thumbtack or a pin. If that thought is still around six months later, then I begin to consider it as an idea.” The printmaker then said to me, art is about ideas… anything without ideas is not art. So, how important is it to the director that they know the artist and his or her ideas? I would say it’s integral not only to the work, but also to the promulgation of the ideas purported by the artist. And, it’s very important that the gallery directors know the story about the artists.

Here are wonderful examples of what helps us all be informed about artists:

John Baldessari

Damien Hirst

Yu Hong

Cal Guo Quiang

Julian Schnabel

Each of these videos gives us a personal glimpse of the artist, the genesis and the expansion of the ideas they are working with in a very encapsulated way. These tools are integral to the success of the work. For gallerists as well as directors, it’s important to see how the work evolves and how the work is meaningful in the world. I would say in terms of hitting the bullet points of what needs to be said, Damien Hirst’s video is the best. He gives us a very interesting persona, he gives us the why of the work, the course of the work, his background and a little bit about his history. But it’s fun and interesting and never dull. That’s what makes truly great work. People can understand and relate to it. When they know a bit about the person making the work, it helps, but largely it would be, as it informs the work.

Tracy Gielbert | Gallery Orange, New Orleans

Once a collector has fallen in love with the painting, the sizzle — the information about the artist will help sell the work for sure — will seal the deal. However, if the collector is not in love with the painting first, the story about the artist alone will not sell the painting. When they are buying a piece, they are buying a part of the artist’s energy.

Perhaps they are buying a souvenir of their experience at the gallery, maybe the nice interaction they had or because they are on vacation. It may be to take a piece of their experience; having an artist that is local is helpful in that instance. Or it can be having a connection, like if they are from Florida and the artist is from there also — mentioning that can assist in the sale. However, the first thing is they have fallen in love with the piece.