When to let them fly away

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Joe Radovich of Surrey, B.C. wrote, “Together with two other painters I’m having a two-day show in our art clubhouse this weekend. My question is, when someone buys, should we give it to them right away, or should we keep it hanging for the duration of the show?” Thanks, Joe. I prefer shows to stay up until the last minute. I like the idea of maintaining integrity and showing the whole range of what I chose. Also, I don’t like to see above-average paintings diminishing my remaining efforts by prematurely flying out the door. Whether as a group in a church basement or as a solo in a prestigious gallery, it’s a retrospective and it deserves to be seen. In my experience, collectors prefer a show to stay together and are quite willing to return again at show’s end to pick up their booty. In the case of dealers, they often prefer this system as well — it gets the customer back into the gallery. But these days, for commercial considerations, we sometimes find ourselves being overruled. The oft-heard remark “I’d have bought that if it wasn’t sold,” drives art dealers prematurely into rest-homes. Many dealers think when work is removed, even lesser remaining work looks rarer and more desirable. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a risky practice. I once had a show where the dealer slapped brown paper around everything as it was purchased and encouraged bewildered folks to put down their wine glasses and move on. Toward the end of the show people were coming in, seeing only three miserable little paintings still hanging, looking at me as if I was a dysfunctional loser, and remarking, “Not painting much, eh?” A better system is to have the “opening” on the last day of the show. Customers stand around juggling cheeses and waiting for the great dispensation. This way, work stays together so people can schmooze and take lots of time to decide. Dot-wielding sales staff have the luxury of further interaction. In your case, Joe, I would encourage your customers to leave the happily red-dotted stuff up until the end — unless they happen to be momentarily catching a flight to Samoa. Best regards, Robert PS: “It’s not our art, but our heart that’s on display.” (Gary Holland) Esoterica: Shows can be stressful. They range from indiscriminate rummage sales to snobby events where everyone says nothing in fear of appearing stupid. Artists have the most to lose. “To have all your life’s work and to have them along the wall,” said Andrew Wyeth, it’s like walking in with no clothes on. It’s terrible.” Many artists these days think shows are demeaning, artificial and unnecessary ballyhoo. In 1807 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres said he thought shows should be abolished. I’m afraid shows are with us for a while yet. Best to make the best of them. Let people get to know you through your stuff.   ‘Wall of Fame’ by Diane Arenberg, Mequon, WI, /Santa Fe, NM, USA  

“Summer Stripes”
pastel painting
by Diane Arenberg

When I owned a gallery, we requested artists bring extras to replace sold work. When a piece sold, it was removed from the wall and the sticker with the red dot went on the “Wall of Fame”. That way, when a person came into the gallery, they couldn’t say, “I would have bought that one if it weren’t already sold.” If someone commented on the lack of sales, we would happily point to the Wall of Fame where the tags of red dots indicated otherwise. The exception to the rule was the image that was on the show card. That one needed to remain in the gallery until the close of the show. We just didn’t see the point of taking up precious wall space for work that was already sold. There are 4 comments for ‘Wall of Fame’ by Diane Arenberg
From: Mike Barr — Jul 09, 2012

I did this to great effect during a 3-day Art Expo in Melbourne a few years ago. New paintings replaced the sold ones and a red sticker went on the pictorial list of sold paintings. The red dots in a group looked impressive.

From: Diane Overmyer — Jul 10, 2012

Great idea! When my work is in formal settings, I like the exhibit to remain in tact if at all possible. Art fairs are a different animal altogether however. Folks generally want the work when they purchase it and I can’t afford to leave empty spaces on my booth walls, but I would like to be able to let people know, when the work is selling well. Having a list available of all the paintings I bring, might also entice someone to ask to look at our stock that is in boxes.

From: Jim Oberst — Jul 10, 2012

These are both great ideas which I’ll try to implement at my next show. Thanks!

From: Michael McDevitt — Jul 10, 2012

I like the often ‘gritty’ quality of the skies in your paintings. It might be an artifact of your substrate or materials, but so many pieces show it on your site, that I assume it is intentional. Very nice.

  Artists’ and collectors’ differing taste by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA  

“Prince Edward Island”
watercolour painting
by Jim Oberst

I’ve done this “take it or leave it” thing both ways, although when someone buys a painting, I find that I’m anxious for them to have it right away. On the other hand, I’ve been in two-person shows where the other artist retained sold paintings in the exhibit, and I heard people remark that he’d “had a successful exhibit.” In the future, I believe I’ll ask the collector if he/she can wait, or whether they need to take it with them now. I’m “lucky” enough to not sell a large number of my paintings at my shows, so replacing a few that have been sold is not a big problem. And I’ve learned that what I consider an “above-average painting” bears little relationship to what collectors prefer, so replacing a painting is by no means guaranteed to diminish the quality of the show. I’ll have to think more about your idea of having a reception at the end of the show — quite a different approach, and worth considering. There is 1 comment for Artists’ and collectors’ differing taste by Jim Oberst
From: Martyn Fox — Jul 11, 2012

I went to an exhibition last year, I couldn’t make the opening so I went to the gallery the next day…to find there was nothing on the walls! The artist had chosen to have an auction and gave the pieces out as the auctioneer moved around the room. Great way to sell work, but bad PR for the gallery. They should have done the auction on the last day.

  Shows at a tourist destination by Cello Bennett, Cape Coral, FL, USA  

original painting
by Gale Bennett

At my husband Gale Bennett’s (d. 2008) shows, paintings at the Musee Baudy in Giverny, France, I experienced over and over the frustration of would-be buyers saying, “I’d have bought that one if it hadn’t already been sold.” We chose a third path: with the exception of a few very large paintings or a painting which had appeared on that year’s exhibition poster, we let the new owner take the work and replaced it with another one. This involved a bit of extra effort in editing and re-printing the exhibition list. All paintings which had been sold were mentioned at the bottom of the list and marked with tiny red dots. Using this method we increased exhibition sales by 10-15%.     Keep the flags flying by Serious art dealer   Serious art dealers representing serious and important artists need to leave the work hanging for the advertised duration of shows, whether group or solo. There is a sanctity in an artist’s opus that is representative of the progression of that artist often right until minutes before the opening. This statement of dated unity is what brings in the critics and gives them something to talk about. Win or lose, this is our way. Some shows are complete duds where no sales are made but they are nevertheless steppingstones in an artist’s total career. It is also well known that non-selling shows often create the most buzz for the gallery and do a lot of good will. This is one of the hazards and beauties of managing a serious gallery. While bottom lines are important, an artist’s integrity of development is more so.   What to do with Zen-like compulsion by Steve Moore, Boca Raton, FL, USA  

“Valve Mechanism”
original drawing
by Steve Moore

I tried for years to practice painting what I felt would be considered the proper progression of still-life, landscapes, and the human figure. I was an unhappy camper. I finally accepted my non-art fate a few years ago and started drawing what I enjoyed. My first career many years ago was as a draftsman (when it was done by hand with a pencil), I now find myself drawn (sorry) to mechanical subjects for their symmetry and orderliness. I know this is not art, it is barely illustration, but I find it a form of meditation (which I thought I had solely discovered until finding The Zen of Seeing by Dr. Frederick Franck.

pen and watercolour painting
by Steve Moore

My conundrum: I would like to show my pictures, not to earn an income but just to connect with other human beings through my art. Do you know of a directory of funky off-beat stores or galleries that might consider showing what I do? (RG note) Thanks, Steve. It seems to me that your excellent work is going to find little acceptance within the commercial gallery system, however funky. You need to develop a ‘cult following’ online through a network of equally compulsive aficionados. You might empower your guruship by linking up with other mechanical draftsmen who find solace in the activity. Who knows, you might start a movement where Zen-like practitioners sit cross-legged on high stools drawing excellent wrenches and faucets. The world needs more orderliness. There are 11 comments for What to do with Zen-like compulsion by Steve Moore
From: L. Anne McClelland — Jul 09, 2012

I’m sure that your work would hit home with lots of people out there…. and you might start by finding a high end auto showroom or similar venues and asking if you could display your work. Put contact information with the images and see what happens. I’ve been to cafes that have technical drawings as their display – changed out regularly to keep it fresh. It’s a niche market – but I’m sure it’s out there. You might have to make a portfolio and pound some pavement.

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Jul 09, 2012

I don’t know by what definition this isn’t art. I think it’s beautiful. It’s at once disciplined and clearly offering fine draughtsmanship, and it’s what you love to draw. It comes from your own passion for these images. It’s certainly art to me, and very good art at that.

From: edie pfeifer — Jul 09, 2012

If it’s human connection you need, you should give the outdoor art fairs a try.

From: Sheila Minifie — Jul 10, 2012

I agree with the above 3 comments.

From: Nan Fiegl — Jul 10, 2012

I agree with Bobbo. This looks like ART to me!

From: Ronda Fulkerson, Ogden, IL — Jul 10, 2012

Looks like art to me, too!!

From: B J Adams — Jul 10, 2012

I have three colored pencil drawings of connecting pipes on my blog and consider my drawings art. However, most prefer actual paintings.

From: Diane Overmyer — Jul 10, 2012

I agree with the above comments. Art fairs are definitely the way to connect with people and also have proven to be great for sales with my career. Also I do plein air painting, which basically is just painting landscapes on location. If you could go to car shows and draw cars, or components of them, I am sure you would have an instant connection and a lot of interested collectors!! Robert is right about hooking up with people who are passionate about what you care about! I love nature and gardens…when I participate in any event related to one of those two areas, it always leads to sales.

From: Ginny from Wisconsin — Jul 10, 2012
From: andre satie — Jul 10, 2012

You seem to have connected with a sizeable group of people just here and now. I love your drawings. If I were a gallery owner, I’d give you a show. Start a web site, price your work, market it. Why not?

From: Sarah — Jul 10, 2012

Just want to add “ditto” to all of the above!

  Problems with the changing scene by Kathy Clarke, Salisbury, VT, USA   I recently spent time by a pond in Pennsylvania on a sunny morning under a maple. Two boats snuggled on the shore among tall iris leaves — two oars, upright, leaned against the canoe. The sunlight and dappled shadows on the dull gray metal surface put me in a frenzy of mixing and painting — THEN-POOF — those luscious shadows — gone. Prepared for this fleeting moment, I had laid down those exciting passages first. I stopped and returned the next day. Though it was the same time and similar weather, nothing was the same. This points to my question: I see many landscape paintings devoid of “life” — thud and sputter. It’s easy to detect ones painted from photos. Or by painters who have a formula and slap it down. It’s as if the painter’s level of engagement and intent comes through the brush for all the world to see. How do you sustain engagement throughout a whole painting while the world keeps spinning around? (RG note) Thanks, Kathy. I’ve spent my whole life in the knowledge and fear that those boats will be moved in the morning. The best solution for earthlings living today is to take a digital photo. For most of us, the challenge, as you say, is to make your painting so it doesn’t look like a photo. It’s an acquired skill that you can teach yourself. There are 2 comments for Problems with the changing scene by Kathy Clarke
From: Ginny from Wisconsin — Jul 10, 2012

AND for many of us who en plein air a lot…we try to paint in the shadows and outlines of objects we know we need to keep (as well as the photo) first before we do anything else!

From: Michael McDevitt — Jul 10, 2012
  Machinations of an art dealer by Victoria Silverstein, Brooklyn, NY, USA  

“Essence of Natural Forms”
acrylic painting
by Victoria Silverstein

I attended an art show at a gallery where a friend was displaying 4 or 5 paintings along with other artists. The gallery owner had requested that the artists bring many more paintings than the amount each artist was allowed to display. Over the weeks of the show, if people needed to cash and carry a painting, the director would put up another one of that artist’s work, and the walls always remained full of paintings. This gallery owner had high hopes of selling the artists’ works a week after the opening, which looked like only friends of the artists just having a good time drinking, eating and talking, and not too many who appeared to be art collectors. It had a slightly “spring break” atmosphere with mostly young professionals there to support their friends in body and socialize. It got really packed and noisy and uncomfortable at which point we left. This wise gallery owner on the following week also had a “buyers opening,” where she had invited interior designers, clients she knows would be interested in particular types of work, and others who buy art. And then she had a closing event on the last day. So it looked like she covered all the bases. And her formula seems to sell paintings, although she asks the artists to limit pricing and she takes a small commission. One of her intentions is to make art accessible to the local community, and she invites emerging artists as well as others. The paintings were varied in styles but all of professional quality for this group show… I think leaving the work up on the wall during the duration of the show is preferable, since they are hopefully arranged to complement each other. And sold paintings with red dots show the people at the show that not only are the paintings looking good but also that sales are happening and that artist’s work is currently desirable.   ‘Momentarily’ catching a flight to Samoa by Lionel Woodcock, Wimborne, East Dorset, England   I love the differences in language across the pond. My friends in Canada and US use “momentarily” to mean this will happen very shortly. We in England mean that it lasts only for a few moments, even seconds. The chaotic scene of buyers with recently purchased paintings under their arms, having an impossibly short time to get on board, everything falling around their ears, wrestling for overhead locker space, is worthy of that marvelous Marx Bros film.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for When to let them fly away

From: Debbie Greene Noland — Jul 05, 2012

Unless there are special circumstances… You should wait till show is over so everyone can see your work… Unfair to not let those fans see all your works!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 05, 2012

I’m both an artist and an exhibit installer. Normaly- if I install a gallery space I’d expect the work to hang till the show is over. But there’s a gray area here… This is a 3-person but only a 2-day weekend event. If all 3 artists have replacement work- or just more work than needed to fill the space- and someone doesn’t want to come back the next day- then there may be people who may see someone carrying something out that they in fact wanted… And letting it walk out the door may work to everyone’s benefit.

From: cassandra — Jul 05, 2012

Seems pretty simple to me. Just indicate that all work is expected to hang till the whole show comes down. Most will understand but if the buyer has an urgent need to take it now they will so indicate. If you can afford to lose a sale or you hate the buyer then refuse to let it go now, if you can’t afford to lose a sale make the show one work smaller take the money and smile. Remember the k.i.s.s. principle and keep it simple, seller.

From: John Ferrie — Jul 05, 2012

Dear Robert, When an artist or artists, show a collection, they need to show a cohesive show where everything flows. There is nothing worse than taking time out of your day to go see a show only to discover that this piece has not only sold, it is GONE! Like reading a book or seeing a play where crucial pieces are missing, it just doesn’t make any sense. The artist is also missing out on their chance to shine, with RED DOTS! This shows the collection is selling and this will motivate others to buy, either their favourite piece, or the next best thing. There is also something wonderful that an artist can do and that is what I call “the last 10%”. This is where an artist can have the piece ready for pick up, wrapped and ready to hang. Artists can even take the piece over to a client and help them hang it. God is in the details. When a client is buying directly from an artist, as opposed to a gallery, they want to be as professional as they possibly can. This give them the chance to shine. But, if it’s a deal breaker and the client is leaving forever to some far off forgein land or space station, that is courierless and mail free, by all means, take the dough and let them have their piece. Just quickly adjust the pieces so nobody will know. John Ferrie

From: Faith — Jul 05, 2012

That sounds like good sense, John. This has little to do with the topic, but it reminds me of an exhibition of Miro work I visited a few years ago. There was was quite a nice selection of works there, but there were also huge gaps, filled with photographs of the works the museum presumably hadn’t been able to borrow. I found that really annoying. So in a nutshell it’s probably good to have NO GAPS, and expedient to have a few works in reserve to hang in an emergency. If the artist works on commission, there would also be the choice of offering to repeat whatever has been sold. At least it would be an original painting rather than a giclée or a poster!

From: Cello Bennett — Jul 06, 2012

At shows of my husband Gale Bennett’s (d. 2004) paintings at the Musee Baudy in Giverny, France, I experienced over and over the frustration of would-be buyers saying, “I’d have bought that one if it hadn’t already been sold.” We chose a third path: with the exception of a few very large paintings or a painting which had appeared on that year’s exhibition poster, we let the new owner take the work and replaced it with another one. This involved a bit of extra effort in editing and re-printing the exhibition list. All paintings which had been sold were mentioned at the bottom of the list and marked with tiny red dots. Using this method we increased exhibition sales by 10-15%.

From: ReneW — Jul 06, 2012

Simple. Put a sold sign on the work and leave the painting up for the duration of the show or exhibition.

From: Gallery owner — Jul 06, 2012

As a dealer I am very discriminating in what I take down and let go from the gallery before the show is over. I try not to let the best work go, but some others. When a work goes we can generally replace it with something from the back room that has the effect of refreshing the show and creating more interest. Patrons who return always appreciate surprises.

From: Art dealer anon. — Jul 06, 2012

We have opted to maintain the integrity of all shows and not let anything go out prematurely. Patrons become a better class when you do this and they appreciate that art shows are a serious thing and more than just a commercial event.

From: Dwight — Jul 06, 2012

The “leave it up” crowd may be talking about a formal gallery exhibit. However, at an outdoor festival and other less formal settings I go with the “let it go” crowd. I agree with those who have seen the public want the one already sold if it’s still hanging in view. J. Ferry talks about a series and keeping it together. Not all of us do things in any type of series and replacement work can be just as good as the one sold. Life is on the edge enough in the art business. My motto might be “never turn down money” take it while the sale is hot and move on.

From: Sandra Wilson — Jul 06, 2012

My preference is to mark “SOLD” boldly on the display i.d. and keep it in place for the duration of the exhibit. Patrons see that work is selling and artists can take pride in that their work has sold. For gallery purposes, an exhibit should stay intact until the show is finished.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 06, 2012

I had an opening in 2010 where most of the stuff was packed up and gone by mid-day. We scrambled into the vault and dug out the patiently awaiting “older” works. They all went like hotcakes. So I vote for let go and have backups to hang. I wish all the openings were like that. Perhaps in Samoa.

From: Debbie Greene Noland — Jul 06, 2012

Unless there is special circumstances… You should wait till show is over so everyone can see your work… Unfair to not let those fans see all your works!

From: Kathleen Mattox — Jul 06, 2012

Unless you have some pieces in reserve, one of which could take the place of the one that sold, then people could see another painting that was still for sale.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 09, 2012

Some have commented on the frustration of hearing “I’d have bought that if it hadn’t already been sold”. So what? Just try to determine what is so good about that particular one and try to repeat that another time – though I’m not saying paint a copy! I strongly believe in leaving sold artworks on view till the end of the show – it’s simple sales psychology; the more red dots there are, the more buyers will think they’re onto a good thing: “this artist must be highly thought of”, so the more likely they are to join the discerning.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 09, 2012

Just thought of something else: if someone says they’d have bought that sold painting, have the reserves handy, and offer to show them something similar.

From: Anita — Jul 09, 2012

I have had a gallery for decades and so here is my analysis of whether or not to keep sold pieces on the wall: NOT. All the works are on line and so I am more than happy to show someone the works that have sold if they want to see the full range. I have found, over and over, that the ones that sell first are usually the best of the the show and, even if they aren’t, so many new collectors are afraid they must have missed the best ones. I leave all pieces on the wall until after the opening reception. Then, they are dispersed. If I had a museum, I understand completely as I could charge admission. What would be the point of a closing reception? What would be the incentive for collectors to come to it? A mystery idea to me. Thanks for all the knowledge you give to all of us. Even when I don’t agree, I appreciate the questions.

From: Laura — Jul 09, 2012

I was recently in a group show at a church. Over eighty artists participated with a Gala “first look” and the the “Artist’s Opening.” I had six new paintings in the show and invited friends, family and patrons to the Artist’s Opening. It was so disappointing to find that four of my six pieces were gone on the night of the opening. I’m not complaining that they sold – only that it seems unfair to both artist, invited guests and the public at large to not be able to see all the artwork – at least on opening night!

From: Pam Craig — Jul 09, 2012

my question would be…are you in the exhibition to just show how beautiful your work is…or are you in the exhibition to sell your work? If client wants it now….then let him take it. I like the idea of replacing work to sell more work. I don’t have any room left to “store” paintings that should have been sold.

From: Cindy Laird-Smith — Jul 09, 2012

Many years ago, while living in England, my husband and I were holidaying in my home town on Vancouver Island. We chanced upon a delightful art gallery in nearby Chemainus. It was my birthday, a fact forgotten by my husband. A good thing as it turned out! A small measure of guilt and the excitement of visiting a gallery with a new show about to open left me the proud owner of a red-stickered painting. It hasn’t been mentioned thus far, but from the buyer’s perspective, and perhaps because we were young and unused to buying what we considered significant art, that red sticker on ‘my’ painting was something I have never forgotten. I was so proud to collect the piece at the end of the show, knowing how much it had been enjoyed by others and perhaps a little envied! I returned years later to find the gallery gone. So sad. The nicest proprietor one could imagine. I hope he has moved on and prospered. He certainly deserved to do so. It was a wonderful show. The artist? None other than Robert Genn. The picture? It has graced walls in England and is now back in Canada. Thank you Mr. Genn!

From: Karen — Jul 10, 2012

I too would turn down this commission. It blurs the lines of originality and it buys into what some art pirates are doing. I have actually been solicited by some Chinese entrepreneurs to copy 100 copies of my paintings for a price! We artists need to hold onto our integrity.

From: Jinny Slyfield — Jul 10, 2012

Re: Commission for copying a painting. It is against the copyright laws. There may be a way around it if the painting is identified as a copy and the artists signs his name and adds “homage to (the original painter)” but I agree with the comment “What’s the point?”

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 10, 2012

Whether to remove paintings before the end of a show would depend on whether it is more of a ‘show’ than a ‘sale’, or vice versa. If the emphasis is more on the show part, then by all means, keep the show intact until the end, however it it’s a 2-day sale, with more emphasis on sale than show, then let them go and make the most of your 2 days.

From: Liron Sissman — Jul 10, 2012
From: John — Jul 10, 2012

When people say, “I would have bought that if it wasn’t already sold,” they’re often just meaning that they really like it– not that they would literally buy it, necessarily.

From: Knut Hansen — Jul 11, 2012

This is so valuable to me. Thank you everybody.

From: Nina Maguire — Jul 13, 2012
    Featured Workshop: Jerry Markham
071012_robert-genn Jerry Markham workshops Held at the spectacular Lake O’Hara, Bow Lake and Moraine Lake (July 13-16 or July 16-19)   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Spring in Arizona

acrylic painting, 8 x 10 inches by Gloria Ainsworth Mout, White Rock, BC, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Gils Martin of Paris, France, who wrote, “Commercial shows should be miniature Public Gallery shows with the added personal friendship of a knowledgeable advocateur.” And also Bal Bizet who wrote, “Moving paintings around in a show for me right now is like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Better to jump.”    

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