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Protocol you should follow when purchasing art

If you would like to purchase an art work in a gallery, ask if the gallery is indeed (still) representing the artist or if it is “only” selling an artwork which is has once bought – which means that it is acting as a secondary market dealer. It is more advantageous if you purchase artworks from a gallery that also represents the artist. That way you can, by and by, establish relations with the gallery, an association that will have a positive impact on your future acquisitions of works of this or any other artist which is represented by that gallery.

It is worth trying to ask for a price reduction, however galleries often grant reduced prices (roughly 10-20%) only to their regular customers and to museums. A reduced price is never offered if the artist is much sought after and his/her paintings can be sold at full price without any problems – often times with a waiting list.

As new client you can hope to get a discount if the gallerist feels that you possess a deep interest in the work and that the sale could potentially lead to a longer relationship. You should be careful if you are, very quickly, offered a discount of 20% or even more. This is abnormal for serious galleries that diligently foster an artist’s career. In such a case – from a value-stability point of view, you have potentially paid too much, even with the discount. The cost for transportation and insurance of an artwork is usually paid by the purchaser.

Artists, especially the young ones, don’t always have a sense for adequate prices. You should keep this in the back of you mind if you purchase directly from the artist’s studio. So, it can happen that an artist which is not gallery-represented is nevertheless pricing at gallery level (without having expenses for rent, exhibitions, marketing) or deliberately setting the price higher as a means to increase their “significance.” In that case, it pays off to have a look at the artist’s resume and make some comparisons with other artists to, that way, get a sense for prices.

If you intend to sell an artwork again, it is absolutely legitimate, yes even appropriate, to firstly ask at the gallery which is representing the artist, whether it would take back the artwork (maybe in exchange for another artwork). Often the gallery can help to convey your interest to another buyer. That way you save the exhaustive search for a purchaser, and the gallery avoids that works by the gallery’s artists circulate on the market out of control, and potentially appear with appropriate prices on the Internet.

With regard to the selection of concrete works and with regard to a potential reselling, one should, as much as possible, avoid extremely small or large formats. The exception would be for very small works, only if from a series where one purchased several works at once, or when the artist is known to have decided to work in a certain, small format (e.g. the painter Tomma Abts).

Pay attention not to purchase artworks with perishable or delicate materials (this can already be the case for some types of collages). You should leave this to professional collectors, which have access to the necessary conservative support.

Don’t let yourself be tempted into purchasing several artworks by an artist that is entirely new to you – even if the opportunity is very alluring. It is better if you purchase works by and by, and follow the development of the artist. The exception being works which clearly belong together.

If a print or photo is offered without a signature or information about the print run, ask the gallery to provide you with an appropriate certificate of authenticity.

What you should better not do at the beginning

If you are a novice and don’t have an expert consultant or the right contacts, purchase only art to which you have a cultural connection, otherwise the “assessment” of the artwork’s quality becomes too difficult for you. (E.g. don’t purchase Chinese art only because it is en vogue at the moment or if you don’t have the required background. Without the respective education or consulting, you will hardly be able to evaluate whether you’re purchasing art, or a simple handcraft, or copies which are offered in a comparable form 1000-fold).

In principle, there is nothing wrong with making a spontaneous purchase; often fast decisions are even necessary because a sought-after work might otherwise be sold to the next interested customer. On the other hand, newcomers should refrain from spontaneous purchases, because as newcomers you simply need, and should allow yourself, more time to evaluate and classify an artwork. If you fear that another interested party might snatch away your work if you don’t snap it up, ask the gallery to put it on reserve for you, so that you get some time to think a little about it. In such case though, please be fair enough to inform the gallery as soon as you decide against the purchase.

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Mikhail Levin, Untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 35x55cm.
Mike Prinz, Türkise Formen, 2009, oil on canvas, 100x80cm. Property of the Artist.
Mike Prinz, Blaue Stämme auf oranger Hügellandschaft, 2009, oil on canvas, 120x80cm. Property of the Artist.