Thursday, May 26, 2005

Another Q&A: Talking with collectors

Here is another Q&A from that I found to be useful for emerging artists.

Dear Mark,
I am about to have my first show in a serious gallery. Can you give me some advice on how to talk to collectors at my opening? Do collectors of famous artists expect a different discourse than collectors of emerging artists? I'm concerned about saying the right things.
Artist on the Verge

Dear AOTV,
Whether a collector is talking with an emerging or famous artist, he or she basically wants to feel good about him- or herself, the artist and the art they're considering buying. While I was an emerging artist, I was not consciously concerned about "saying the right things" to collectors. I was more focused on selling myself to dealers and assumed that they would take care of the collectors, which is pretty much what happened.

I just used common sense during the relatively few times that I met my collectors. I tried to be nice and appreciative. In retrospect I can see how it would have been even better to think the way you're thinking now -- to consider every possible angle to help sell the work, which I now do. Even though I became extra famous (or maybe notorious) for jokingly insulting my collectors in the media, I am now an expert (relative to most artists) in dealing with collectors. I feel I can sell my work to anyone, if not in five minutes, then six. Even though my attitude might seem manipulative, the most important thing is to be 100 percent sincere. I really believe in my work and in no way think I'm taking advantage of anyone. I feel generous when selling my art.

The important thing is to have tremendous confidence while being simultaneously pleasant and flexible. Collectors are usually thrilled to have a five-minute conversation with an artist they admire. One of my standard, sincere lines is "What's your favorite painting in the show?" followed up by "Why?" This usually leads to interesting, mutually beneficial conversation. Every picture has a story, and if you can tell a short, memorable one about a painting, it usually helps sell the work.

I often ask, "Where are you from?" and after they've agreed to buy a painting I'll usually ask, "Where will this painting be hung?" and "What other artists do you collect?" I often ask the collector(s) (they often come as a couple) if they'd like me to write a dedication to them on the back of the painting. Usually they're thrilled and say yes and I'll unpocket my China marker and write on the back of the canvas, "For Mario and Teresa, Mark Kostabi," and add the date and name of city where the show is. Often someone has a camera nearby and I always agree to pose with the clients for a photo, either holding or standing near their acquisition.

The most important thing is simply to be nice and appreciative and at the same time give them the hint that you're a winner so they believe they've made a good investment. It's simple common sense but you wouldn't believe the amount of artists that botch everything and ruin sales by saying all the wrong things to potential clients. The worst thing you can do is to have an arrogant, know-it-all attitude or say things with the demeanor of "I don't need to explain my work -- it speaks for itself." Best is to share your enthusiasm with the collector's enthusiasm for the work, and discover things together.


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