The Art of Art Dealing

'Like I said earlier, I'm surprised I'm not richer.' —Joel Mesler, art dealer

hands2Part One: Getting Started

1. Do you want to know how to sell art?

2. Do you have one foot in the past?

3. Do you have your other foot in the future?

4. Do you consider yourself someone with a point of view and something to say?

If you answered yes to these questions, then this article is for you.

First, surround yourself with like-minded people. Think of them as more intelligent than you.  Keep them interested.

Write down the reasons you like the art you like. Make these ideas clear to yourself so that you can make them clear to others. No one wants to buy art from someone who can’t tell you why he likes the art he likes. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself why you are a great art dealer. Make sure to tell everyone around you why you’re a great art dealer; they will like you more and, eventually, they will buy more art from you. Develop a personality. Having a personality is one of three ways in which you will one day have your very own gallery. The other two are:

1. Inheritance.

2. An artist you represent whose work you can sell.

Part Two: Understanding Why People Buy Art (Shifting the Drift)

“The secret to staying skinny is to pay your taxes.” –Homeless Man

Find a group of artists you like and whose art you want to own.  This is a good starting point. Things are going well for you. Now, ask yourself: Whom do you work for and who are your clients? Sometime around the late 90s the art world started considering the buyer (the collector) the client. This is wrong, so here’s your chance to shift the drift. Your artists are your clients and those who buy from you (your collectors) are just friends.

Having more friends around you will mean more money for you and your clients. When a friend purchases an artwork from you, be sure to remind him that you have done him a favor. This purchase has made your friend look good, feel smart and, most importantly, it has made him money. This is why your friends spend their hard- or not so hard-earned money with you and not someone else.

Understanding why a person buys a work of art is very important to your future as an art dealer.  Consider:

1. Is your friend buying for pleasure?

2. Is he buying for sport?

3. Is he buying for inspiration?

4. Is he buying for prestige?

Every one of your friends will have their particular set of reasons for buying art. Some friends buy what they like, some buy what makes them feel good, but most buy for money. They’re addicted; they can’t stop. These are the funnest friends to have.

In rare cases, a friend will want to buy an artwork because of a strong emotional connection or aesthetic response to that artwork. Seldom does one make such friends in today’s art world, but they still exist.

Here are some art dealer words for you to use when you are selling an artwork:

Medium, Press, CV, Museum Support, Reviews, Insider Trading, Francois Pinault, Style, Art School, Auction Results, European Representation, Integrity.

Part Three: Rapport (Attracting and Keeping Friends)

“Concentration is the secret, but there are others.” – Corporate Gallery Director

As a sales person, the objective is not just to sell to an individual but to continue selling to the same set of individuals. These individuals become your truest friends, your inner circle. If you are good at your job, this inner circle could be with you forever. It is important when trust-building that you do not judge a friend’s intentions too early. Your best friend might turn out to be an art dealer.

Art Dealing 102_Illustration 2 Part Four: You Can’t Afford Not To (Ways of Connecting Your Friends to Art)

“Gone are the days when you could make a sale and the next day forget who you sold it to.” –Art Adviser

There are different schools of thought about offering your opinions to your friends. Some current theories say not to express your opinion until it has been asked for. This may be the more dignified route, and a better long-term strategy with your friends, but others argue that there is no longer a long-term strategy in today’s art market.

Below is a potentially winning strategy:

1. Tell your friends what you think of art. Tell them what you like, as well as what you don’t like.

2. Create confidence with your friends. Make sure they’re always just as aware of your doubts as they are of your convictions. Remember, this is business and strategy building, not a social platform.

3. Ask questions and be a good listener.

In the meantime, others might give your mutual friend their own opinions, so it is important for you to have given them yours. Below are some useful questions:

1. Where do you see this hanging? (*use only if you know the piece will be accruing value in an on-display situation, rather than immediately going into storage)

2. What do you see it next to?

3. What type of furniture do you see it with?

4. Do you need me to sell what’s in its place now?

5. Who else will be seeing this hang? (Hint: more friends for you.)

If the friend is purchasing the work with an adviser or home decorator, you may discard several of these questions. It is always best for you when a friend buys directly from you.

Part Five: The ABC’s (Always Be Closing)

“We can’t offer you a discount, but we can offer free shipping!” –Gallery Director

Affection: Care about the art you are selling.

Be: likable, but not too likable. When your friends become comfortable with you, they will become more comfortable with your ideas, so always be communicating your ideas. Put out a lot of ideas. Learn to be comfortable being wrong. Keep their attention.

Close: How much money did you make last year?

Always Be Closing: You must always be selling art. And to always be selling art, you must never be selling art.  When you’re winning, all of your friends are winning too.

Winning examples:

1. Friend: “Wow that’s expensive.”

You: “That’s right. And it’s worth it.”

2. Friend: “Wow that painting is large.”

You: “Just cut it in half.”

3. Friend: “I love that painting.”

You: “I can’t sell it to you, but you should buy it.”

Dress for Success: Friends will always respond to a dealer who dresses well. Unless you sell pictures for $10,000.00. Then you can look like shit. It might actually help you to look like shit. But if you are selling works above the $10,000.00 level, it’s best to buy Margiela. You’ll be glad you did.

Art Dealing 102_Illustration 4Part Six: Listening Power (Selling Is a Question and Answer Process)

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your troubles, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Questions are the soul of the buying and selling process.

1. Do you love it?

2. Do you want it?

3. Could you live without it?

4. Are you really living if you don’t have it?

5. Are these works guaranteed to outlive you and your storage unit?

Listen to the questions your friends are asking to help yourself discover what they are after. Every friend is different. One friend might want to be told what he should buy. In that case, you need to be prepared with your set of opinions.  Let him know what you think and feel. Say things like: “I love that. I love it all and want it all”. For this type of friend, use words like Best, Great, Discover, Guarantee, Trust, Safe, Proven, Value.

Another friend might know exactly what he wants to buy and is just looking for your input and validation. Use that to your advantage. This type of friend will tell you anything, so be sure to ask many questions. They will be very proud to let you know their direction. For this type of friend, use words like: Yes, True, Right, Absolutely, Easy, Money, New, Own Genius, Fresh, Young, Value.

Ask your friend what he already owns. When he tells you (they always do), ask him if he would like you to find him other works that will complement his existing collection.  If you’re doing your art dealing job correctly, you can always find the new and original art of today for this type of friend.

The types of friends described above like it when you say more rather than less. Here are some things you can say to these types of friends:

1. This artist’s work has just been discovered.

2. When you buy this piece, you’ve just made money.

3. Yes, I just discovered something new.

4. This is not proven. You would own this discovery.

5. You will be successful.

6. You will make a lot of money.

JMPart Seven: The Secondary Market (Growing Up is Hard To Do)

“Too many texts, too little time.” –Gallery Owner

Sometimes an art dealer like yourself will have to work on re-selling artworks. This practice is called the secondary market. It’s a fairly simple idea: once an artwork is bought by a friend and the value of that artwork has increased significantly, often a friend will be willing to part with this artwork for money, profit and fame. It usually makes this type of friend feel really good when they can resell an artwork for more money than they originally spent on it. If you are at the right place at the right time, you can profit from your friend’s joy. This happens quite often in a speculative art market where some friends think there will be recurring financial rewards.

When there is more demand than supply, friends with money will shop on the secondary market. Keep in mind that when working in this market, deals will often fall apart, so always try to get as close as you can to the buyer and the seller. The closer you are, the better the odds that you will have a smooth deal and, more importantly, that you will make more money. If a deal falls through, try not to get too frustrated. Ask yourself: What happened? What did you do to not close the deal? Study the situation and the people involved. The greater understanding you have and the more knowledge you retain of where artworks are located within a large group of friends, the greater chance you have of succeeding in this market and buying a summer house.

Part Eight: Tips and Advice

“If you don’t have a wall the right size, you can’t afford it.” —Collector

Are you getting comfortable navigating the art world? The art world attracts the best and the worst people. Which are you? When starting out, it’s best to surround yourself with people who have money and lots of it. Jews are great and gays are great. A gay Jew with a lot of money is best. Find that person, hold on to him and don’t let go. You’ll be selling art in no time. Remember, money makes money and it always has. As you rise in the ranks of perception, make sure to be nice to everyone.

The speed at which the art world is moving at the moment is fast enough that if you are not leading a movement, that movement will pass you by. An art dealer can have many faces, and those faces are always shifting. Some art dealers are corporations. It’s about numbers at the corporate level and the speed has removed what was once an integral part of the art world: self-reflection.

Never get too comfortable in any position in the art world, because one day you’ll look out your window and find that the art world has spun right by you. And then what?

There’s always Phillips.

Joel Mesler is the co-proprietor of Untitled Gallery in New York. The Art of Art Dealing