Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sell Someone Their First Piece of Art

Selling art is never easy. Even people who already collect art are reluctant to make first purchases from artists who they know little or nothing about. Selling to people who don’t collect art and know little or nothing about you is more difficult yet. But once someone decides to buy their first piece of art from you, selling them additional pieces is ever so much easier.

Reasons why people who like art don’t buy it often have to do with how much they know about art, how confident they are about understanding what they’re looking at, how unsure they are about their tastes in art, or how concerned they are about the opinions of others. Many worry that other people will make fun of their tastes or that their friends or associates won’t approve of what they buy. To complicate matters, even though they might like certain works of art, they’re not sure how well done they are, whether they’re worth the asking prices, or whether the artists are established enough in their careers to warrant those prices. Your job is to make people who admire your art feel comfortable both with you as an artist as well as someone who understands their concerns, and in so doing, to alleviate as many of their “fears” about owning your art as possible. The following tips will help you to accomplish those goals and to sell art.

  •  Do what you have to do to convince people that buying your art is OK. Talk about other collectors who own it, about what kinds of people these collectors are, about how long they’ve been buying your art, and how regularly they buy or (how regularly you sell). Potential buyers tend to look for signs that an artist is a going concern, that they’re creating and selling art on a regular basis.
  • Talk about how you sell your art and under what circumstances people buy it. Tell stories about how different collectors bought their first pieces from you, what they like about your art, what attracted them to it. Talk about the piece you sold most recently, for example, and how much you sold it for.
  • Point out what makes your art unique or different or special. Distinguishing yourself or your art from that of other artists is an important part of the process. Potential buyers like to feel they’re getting something special, something they won’t be able to find anywhere else.
  • Talk about how you price your art, what subject matters, mediums or compositions collectors like the most, and how many sales you’ve made in various price ranges during the past few months
  •  Explain your price structure in terms that ordinary everyday “non-art” people can understand. Talk about how long your art takes to make, or how much time or effort or skill is involved in perfecting certain details. Point out any labor-intensive aspects of your art that may not be immediately evident or easily understood such as layers, glazes, special techniques or effects, and so on. These days especially, people like to see value in what they buy.
  • Suggest that you have art for sale in a variety of price ranges.
  • Have a resume on hand or talk about shows that you’ve had, venues that have exhibited your art, any awards you’ve won, and other honors or distinctions you’ve received during your career. People like to hear names or references that they recognize, respect, and understand. Even if your exhibition experience is limited to non-art venues like restaurants, coffee shops, open studios and the like, people still appreciate hearing that you exhibit your art on a regular basis.
  •  Show photographs or digital images of how different collectors display your art in their living or working environments, or if you don’t have lots of collectors, display and photograph your art in various enviroments on your own. People who don’t own art often have difficulty imagining how they would display it if they bought it, where they’d put it, or how it might improve the appearance of their homes or offices.
  •  Make yourself available to deliver your art to collectors and help them hang or otherwise display it.
  •  Offer to take a selection of your art, say half a dozen pieces or so, to someone’s home or office so that they can see how it looks in their own environments. Make clear that they’re under no obligation to buy.
  •  Offer to let people keep a piece or two of your art for trial periods of a week or two in order to see how they like it. Make sure that you get some form of deposit, credit card number, approval agreement, or some other form of security, of course, but make sure that anyone who wants to can have the opportunity to live with your art.
  •  Ask people why they like certain pieces and don’t like others. Try to get ideas of what they think would happen or who would say what if they bought and displayed particular pieces of your art. Minimize any concerns they might have by giving examples of people who now own your art, but expressed similar concerns before they made their first purchases.
  •  Ask people what they want in their art, what art means to them, what they expect to get out of it, and why they want to own it. At all times, let them lead, and follow up with easy-to-understand answers or anecdotes taken from your own career experiences.
  • Don’t get into elevated art discussions that people can’t understand, or try to describe your art with detailed explanations that they don’t ask for or might find confusing. Don’t overload them with information that’s difficult to digest. Talk on their level. You never want to intimidate someone who’s already in unfamiliar territory regarding your art.

The more experienced you get at making people feel at ease around your art and good about owning it, the more you’re going to sell. A surprising number of people who don’t currently own art would really love to buy some, but need a little gentle encouragement in advance. Convincing individuals to make their first art purchases is no different than convincing them to do anything else for the first time in their lives. The moment they feel comfortable and confident, the go ahead and do it.

Art and Museums in NYC

‘JAPANESE BAMBOO ART: THE ABBEY COLLECTION’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through Feb. 4). This fabulous show celebrates Diane and Arthur Abbey’s gift of some 70 bamboo baskets and sculptures, which nearly doubles the Met’s already outstanding holdings in this genre and brings them into the 20th and 21st centuries. The curator has embedded this trove within what is essentially a second exhibition that traces bamboo’s presence through folding screens, ink paintings, porcelain, netsuke, kimonos and more. (Roberta Smith)

‘ETTORE SOTTSASS: DESIGN RADICAL’ at the Met Breuer (through Oct. 8). No surprise here: The first big New York survey of this many-styled Italian design guru’s 60-year career has a combative air. You may argue your way through the show, and also take issue with some of its contextual artworks — the exhibition is nearly half non-Sottsass — but it is an invigorating, illuminating experience. (Smith)
212-731-1675, metmuseum.orge

‘EUGEN GABRITSCHEVSKY: THEATER OF THE IMPERCEPTIBLE’ at the American Folk Art Museum (closes on Aug. 20). Eugen Gabritschevsky was well on his way to a successful career as a geneticist when a series of nervous breakdowns left him, in his late 30s, institutionalized. Unable to continue his research, he turned to his other childhood passion — drawing. The quality of the more than 3,000 gouaches he produced over the next five decades is mixed, but at its best, Gabritschevsky’s work presents a series of mesmerizing dispatches from some archetypal dream world. (Will Heinrich)

‘THE JAZZ AGE: AMERICAN STYLE IN THE 1920s’ at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (closes on Aug. 20). While handsomely and mostly filled with Art Deco, this exhibition has banished those words — Art Deco, that is — in an attempt to show how American design was shaped by numerous European influences and to acknowledge the importance of jazz, the African-American invention that was this country’s first original modernism. Still, for better and for worse, it can’t evade the happy-few obliviousness of Deco’s relentless high-end glamour. (Smith)


It’s a big city and there’s lots to do. See picks chosen by Times editors and critics for theater, pop & rock music, classical music, comedy, dance, movies, art and events for children

‘MAKING SPACE: WOMEN ARTISTS AND POSTWAR ABSTRACTION’ at the Museum of Modern Art (closes on Aug. 13). The work in this show, dating from the end of World War II to the beginning of second-wave feminism, is all abstract and all by women. And although the exhibition starts in what feels like honorable-mention mode — Lee Krasner is here, for instance, but not in the museum’s permanent galleries of Abstract Expressionism — it doesn’t stay there. Instead, it goes for difference and stays with it, introducing us to artists of diverse geographic and ethnic backgrounds whom we may not know, or have an institutional context for. Among them are such luminaries, present and past, as Etel Adnan, Ruth Asawa, Lina Bo Bardi, Bela Kolarova, Anne Ryan and Lenore Tawney. (Holland Cotter)

Museums Can Make Art a Tough Give

In 1988, William Jordan saw a portrait in a catalog from a London auction house. The work was attributed to Justus Sustermans, a Flemish painter in the Medici court in Florence. But as an art historian, Mr. Jordan was sure it was actually a work by the 17th-century master Diego Velázquez.

He bought the painting for 1,000 pounds — much less than a Velázquez would have cost — and had it shipped to his home in Dallas, where it was cleaned and reframed. And there it hung for nearly 30 years.

Last year, his hunch was validated. The Prado Museum in Madrid, which owns a third of all of Velázquez’s works, said Mr. Jordan’s painting was the real thing.

Mr. Jordan then did something many art collectors dream of doing: He donated the work, worth an estimated $6 million, to the Prado, where it was quickly put into a show of Velázquez’s work. In addition to the exhibition, which runs through the fall, Mr. Jordan received a catalog filled with scholarly essays on the work and accompanying photos. And to top it off, he will be eligible for a tax deduction because the donation was made not to a foreign museum but to the American Friends of the Prado Museum, a United States-based charity.

If this seems like the way collectors typically sail through donations of art, think again. Mr. Jordan’s tale sounds like some supercharged episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” but most collectors struggle to donate their art, even valuable art, to museums.

Or as Evan Beard, national art services executive for U.S. Trust, put it: “If you have a Picasso worth $6 million or $7 million, every museum in the country will say thank you, thank you, thank you.” For other works, particularly collections of mixed quality, there is likely to be a negotiation.

It’s a lot easier to donate art when the museum asks for it first. “My clients who have donated to museums have had really long-term relationships with the museums,” said Nilani Trent, an art adviser in Manhattan. “They’ve been part of the museum for many, many years. Usually, the museum has approached them and said, ‘This is a weak part of our collection.’”

Stephanie Ingrassia, who is a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which named a contemporary art gallery after her and her husband, Tim, made her first donation to the museum in 2007. It was a work by a well-known feminist artist, Ana Mendieta, called “Untitled (Guanaroca [First Woman]).”

The process was fairly painless because the museum did not have a piece of art by such a significant artist, Ms. Ingrassia said.

“It’s a piece that I loved, but my family didn’t really understand,” she said of the work, which is a photo of a vagina carved in sand. “It was very well received. It’s often on view.”

Since then, Ms. Ingrassia, 52, has donated about 10 works, and contributed money with other trustees toward additional pieces. But she said her interest — contemporary art — dovetailed with an area where the museum was expanding.

Other donations have a more difficult time getting approval. “We’re being very careful with what comes into the collection,” Ms. Ingrassia said. “We used to be a place where Grandma’s furniture ended up.”

Being turned down is a reality, though, for any collector. Ms. Trent has been trying to help a client donate his art to museums so that he can change the nature of his collection. His offers have been rejected.

“It’s not that they’re bad,” she said. “It’s that they don’t fill a hole.”

If a museum is on the fence about a donation or collection, it might ask for additional money in the form of an endowment to accept the art.

“The first thing people are surprised with is when the museum comes back and says, ‘I’ll take your painting if you give us an added endowment to care for the work of art,’” Mr. Beard said. “Usually, a museum will want one or two specific items in your collection to fill gaps, and they look at everything else as cost because they’re going to have to store it.”

Being asked for money after offering works of art may sound ungrateful. But museums are bound to maintain — and not sell off — their collections, and storing all the pieces they cannot show can cost thousands of dollars a year.

Yet Mr. Beard said the request for a significant sum could also be a signal to collectors that they should look elsewhere. “Is it better to go for a midsize regional museum where your works will be a focus,” he asked, “or an encyclopedic museum where your works will see the light of day every five years?”

Of course, museums are not the only place to donate art. Collectors can donate to charities where the art may be displayed or sold to finance projects. Jane Wilton, general counsel of the New York Community Trust, said the organization was given hundreds of works by Joaquín Torres-García in 1992.

The collector who donated the art wanted it to be used to pay for research into AIDS and H.I.V. And it did, though it took the community trust nearly 15 years to sell it all.

Institutions may push back on gifts for another reason: fear of provenance or authenticity. Antiquities are particularly fraught, given patrimony laws that protect artifacts.

“You may have some great Egyptian artifacts and you’d love to have them in the museum when you die, because who else is going to take them?” Mr. Schindler said. “But if you don’t have good proof that they came out of the ground before 1970, good luck.”

And there is the risk that cherished works of art are not real. Ms. Wilton said one such piece hangs in her office as a reminder to be diligent in evaluating bequests. “It’s supposed to be by Winslow Homer,” she said. “It turned out to be a Homer Simpson.”

One big benefit is whether the institution provides a tax deduction. If the work goes to a museum, the donor gets the full deduction. If it goes to a nonprofit where art is not central to the mission, the donor is eligible only for the value of the piece when it was purchased.

In 2014, a group of Spanish-art enthusiasts set up the American Friends of the Prado Museum, which promotes the museum in the United States. But it has the added benefit of ensuring that donors get a tax deduction for their gift, which they are technically donating to an American nonprofit organization that in turn lends it to the Prado. (The Louvre and the Vatican Library have similar 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations in the United States.)

Mr. Jordan, who was the deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth when he bought the Velázquez, is not, by his own admission, a wealthy man. But he said he had known every director of the Prado since the 1970s and wanted the museum have the piece.

“The museum has had a long relationship with Bill Jordan,” said Miguel Falomir, director of the Prado. “He’s not just a collector. He’s a scholar. He’s collaborated with us. He’s created exhibitions. He’s an old friend of the museum.”

Stolen de Kooning Resurfaces

They knew it was a cool painting. But Buck Burns and David Van Auker hadn’t thought it a masterpiece until visitors to their New Mexico furniture and antiques shop began asking about the work that they had bought as part of an estate.

It turned out it was indeed an important work, a painting by Willem de Kooning stolen 31 years ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Artand lost until Mr. Van Auker positioned it in a public place — lying on the floor of their shop in Silver City.

“Woman-Ochre”— one of a number of Abstract Expressionist paintings that Mr. de Kooning did of women in the 1950s — was stolen on the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. There was no surveillance video, but investigators pieced together a rough narrative of the theft that began with a man and a woman following a staff member into the museum around 9 a.m.

The woman distracted the staff member, while the man cut the painting from its frame with sharp blade. In less than 15 minutes, the two departed with the painting.

 Mr. Burns said that when he first saw it, he just thought it was “cool and unique.” Then visitors began asking if it was a de Kooning, and they looked online, found an article about the still-missing work, and compared photos to the painting in their shop.
 From left, Buck Burns, Rick Johnson and David Van Auker, the owners of the New Mexico furniture and antiques shop where Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” had been on display.CreditChrist Chavez for The New York Times

They immediately decided they had to return it, Mr. Burns said. “For us, it was the equivalent of finding a lost wallet and returning it. It was a no-brainer.” On Aug. 3, Mr. Van Auker phoned the museum. Later, he called the F.B.I.

“It snowballed very quickly from there,” the museum’s interim director, Meg Hagyard said. “I was expecting a marathon, but instead it was a sprint.” She said the museum is very confident, based on its analysis, that this work is the original painting.

“The best way I can think to describe it is that it’s sort of like Cinderella’s glass slipper,” Ms. Hagyard said. “We had the original frame and remnants, and we were able to match the painting with that. It fits like a glove with the canvas.” There was also evidence of previous conservation work that had been done.