Taxes, and Shipping:
The prices that galleries quote are often for the
artwork only. If the work will stay within the EU, then VAT may apply. If the
work is to be shipped outside of the EU, then there may be import duties
imposed by the country of destination, and the gallery’s director or registrar
should be able to help with this, as well as an estimated shipping cost.
Shipping is normally an additional cost, but it may be negotiated. Sometimes if
a gallery is not willing to discount the price of an artwork, they will be
amenable to complimentary shipping.
Galleries will often agree to hold an artwork for you
if you need additional time to make a decision. On opening day, holds may
already be in place, so your name will be added to the gallery’s queue. Holds
can be as short as an hour and as long as a day, so be sure to clarify with the
gallery when your hold begins and when it ends. Also, don’t forget to write
down the name and phone number of the gallery’s director so you have a direct
contact. If you have a work on hold and decide not to purchase it, out of
courtesy, call the director to let him or her know you are passing so that they
may offer it to the next collector in the queue.
Exploring Your Options:
Remind yourself that the booth is showcasing a
limited representation of what is more readily available elsewhere. Look at the
current selection as a way to get a sense of what the works feel like in person
so that when you next see the artist’s work online or elsewhere, you will have
a reference for surface texture, scale, etc.
Ask for a discount. Ten percent discounts are
standard practice, but don’t be afraid to ask for more. Take the gallery
director aside, perhaps to a quieter area of the booth, and share your best
price for a work in an effort to negotiate the price that works best for you
and the gallery.
Your Cheat Sheet/Etiquette for Speaking with a
Despite the commercial context of art fairs, it
is not uncommon to see wall labels without pricing information or checklists
not readily available within the gallery’s booth. Do not fret. This is an
opportunity to engage the representatives at the gallery and to share your
enthusiasm for the work.
How to engage the gallerist:
Inquire about the work itself but not the price
specifically: “May I ask you to tell me a bit more about this artist/work?”
This opens the field generally for the gallerist to begin where they would
like—whether it be with the artist’s process, the collections the artist
belongs to, the upcoming shows the artist is included in, why this is a
particularly good example within the artist’s oeuvre, etc. It gets them talking
and yields various cues for you to pick up for further engagement. This is a
prime opportunity for a conversation between the two of you to ensue.
If the work is by an artist you are unfamiliar
with or cannot pronounce:
Describe it by a point of your finger and limited
descriptive words: “the sculpture in the corner,” or “the large, colorful
How to ask about the price:
If the price of the work is not readily
available, or the gallerist has neglected to mention it, do not hesitate to
directly ask “...and is this available?” and if yes, “What are you asking?” or
simply “How much?” Remember that it is not considered vulgar to ask prices,
especially at art fairs, but asking too soon or without tact may leave you
without a prayer.
If you are already familiar with the artist and
current market, you may inquire by directly referencing the work, “Has this
work by X been placed?” or by nodding or pointing to the work: “What is the
price of something like this?”
How to negotiate:
There are no hard and fast rules of negotiation
here. The artwork is worth however much someone wants to pay for it. If you are
inclined to dicker, assume they’ve anticipated this in the ticket price by
adding not “Is there..” but rather “What is the room on this?” Alternatively,
start with a figure that you know is low, by saying “I’d like to make an offer
of X amount, will you consider?”
If the work is already sold:
If the gallerist indicates the work is sold, ask
if there is another that they can show you (it could be just around the corner
in the closet or a click on their iPad away). That being said, the artworks at
fairs move quickly and if you are serious about buying, do not wait. Strike a
deal, if not a firm hold.
You can often tell if a piece has been sold by
the red dots placed next to it. Red dots vary in function. Psychologically,
they may be used to increase interest; if the work is sold, you may be more
inclined to look at a work by the same artist nearby without the red signifier.
They also prove useful when looking at photographs or prints by indicating how
many prints in the edition have sold.
Photograph by Linda Nylind courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze