How not to sell art

I don’t know how many years I have been buying art, but recently I have had some terrible experiences and I wanted to share in a post how sellers are deterring buyers.

My first poor experience of the year was with a US gallery.. I was after a piece by a US based ceramicist so I wrote to her asking where I could purchase her work. She directed me to 3 galleries that were stocking her art and I reached out to them. One did not answer because I later learned they were closed through January - though no mention of that anywhere. The second didnt have any work and the third didn’t ship internationally. Undeterred, I returned to the artist and asked again and now she had some new stockists lined up.

So I started a correspondence with the gallery but as they had not received the work from the artist they were unable to tell me what was available. However, I was told that if i wanted to pre purchase work before they received it that would be possible.

Me “so does that mean you will send me a list and I can pick anything off it, and I get first dibs on the pieces you will be stocking?’

Gallery “Yes if you pay now, you can choose the pieces you want from the list we will send over”

Me ‘How much will shipping cost and when will you be able to send it?”

Gallery “we dont know how much shipping will cost, we can charge you for that once the work is ready for shipping, and we will send the work after the exhibition is over some time late June, early July. Is that ok?”

Me “No, I am not happy with an open invoice for shipping and a time frame that is essentially ‘one day’. There is nothing in this scenario in my favour, and everything in yours including having the money from the sale well ahead of the exhibition”

So they thought about it, returned to the artist, got the list of works, sent it over, i chose the work and had them ship it to a friend in NYC before a set date in May, so my friend could bring it to London for me.

It was all an unnecessary drama and to be honest dealing with the gallery directors was a joke. The sales person on the other hand was much easier to deal with.

I am very happy with the art work but it really got me thinking that they thought it would be fine to basically have me pay for something with no details on costs and timing. I mean try your luck but you are just pissing people off from returning or referring.



Poor show number two was CSM show. I’m not a regular buyer of art at grad shows but there was some stand out work so the wallet came out. Oh the drama.

First you have to take a photo of the work you want to purchase, then go out of the show, through the security gate to the one admin desk. The show was huge, they could have had more buying points.

The staff fill out long forms one for each purchase then it’s back through the bag check security gate, to the the other end of the building where the one card payment machine lives in the student bar. They want to take one payment for each purchase ‘because it is easier for us’ WHAT ABOUT MAKING IT EASY FOR ME???

Next I am required to return for collection two weeks later on one of 3 allocated collection days. And on doing this, I see the art is packed but not portable. Somehow it wasn’t considered to put it in a bag to make it transportable.

Art schools famously overlook the teaching of the business of art, but clearly this poor practice is how they carry on themselves. They could have sold a lot more work, with graduating students using their final shows to earn and pay back some of those hefty teaching fees if the infrastructure of actually selling was improved. And that would not have taken much. There is plenty of inventory software out there that could have been used which integrates with payment portals to avoid the schlepping up and down. It’s a disservice to the students in my opinion. For an institution that is all about looking to the future, running things this way is a throwback to the 80s.

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This one is a couple of recent grads who thought “hey let’s sell some art, our friends X and Y make cool stuff we should have a show and sell that. We can get funding from Dad / business loan / sales / startup funds and get a gallery, that would be cool'“

So they hire a well known rental space and have a show. It looks great. There are some red dots next to the smaller works. None of the art works have labels, next to them.

They print info sheets, price lists featuring only large work but not everything in the exhibition, and park themselves behind a large white table and a Macbook air..
I visited on the last day of the short exhibition, and was interested in some of the smaller studies so I went to the desk and asked if they had more details of the work as it wasn’t on the paper price list. The guy looked on gormlessly and the girl explained the backing material.

Me “so do you have a list of them I can see” [ok so this might be code, but it is basically me saying give me more information because I am likely to buy]

Her, from behind the desk “you can see them on the walls”


What is wrong with this scenario?

  1. Possibly I did not look like an art buyer so they didn’t care enough to give more info. Lesson - pay attention to everyone.

  2. Was I supposed to take the art work off the wall and bring it to the desk as if I was buying a sweater?

  3. But the worst thing in my opinion was staying seated at the desk and not getting up and walking round to the art works with me, giving more detail, telling me why it would be a great purchase, more about the artist, and talking to me. Basically selling, or the lack of.

  4. If you have paid rental to have a show the people that attend should be the most important people during that period. Anything on the computer - image editing, adding names to mailchimp, all that can wait.

I used to have an assistant at the gallery who would sit behind the computer much of the day and not get up when customers came in. He sold very little.

I meanwhile, who got up each time someone came in, said hi, asked what they were interested in, told them the work was available framed and unframed, talked about how the work was made, some of the story of the artist, sold LOADS.

For this gallery which shall remain nameless for now, it is no wonder even their artists did not name check them on social media. As if their union was knowingly going to be short lived. Yes they will be pleased to have made some sales, but they will remain ignorant of quite how many sales they missed.

So there are many lessons here, take what you will. I’ll take comments on Insta if you want to talk about it!