Price ambiguity as a buyer sorting mechanism

by on October 10, 2013 at 2:47 pm in Economics, The Arts | Permalink

This is from Peter Aspden’s FT ten point guide to mastering the contemporary art market:

So you quite like the look of something, and you ask how much it costs. “Two,” may be the reply. The air of vagueness is a test. You will know, from your studies of the artist in question, whether that means £2 (no), £200 (unlikely), £200,000, or £2m. But if the gallerist’s assistant is American, she (almost always a she) may be talking dollars. Don’t ask. Make a rough calculation in your head that covers all possible options. Any physical reaction is ill-advised, other than the barely perceptible raising of an eyebrow. Finally, ask if she will accept roubles. You’re on the front foot now.

Keep in mind that art sellers very often have preferences over the quality of buyers they sell to.  Higher quality buyers lead to referrals, perceived gallery quality, and also do more to boost the artist’s reputation, which in turn helps the value of the gallery’s inventory.

1 Donald A. Coffin October 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I remember asking, at Art Chicago back in the late 1980s, the price of a large painting by Yves Klein, on offer by a Swiss gallery. The gallery person said “2…….(long pause…….million.” To which I responded, without pause, “Is that Swiss francs or dollars?” “Dollars.”

Needless to say, I couldn’t have bought it even if it had been Swiss francs…

2 Marie October 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Like this?

Bet you had a laugh that day.

3 Foobarista October 11, 2013 at 12:40 am

On a recent trip, we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (ie, the Rocky museum). It has an very nice collection of Old Masters and early-modern artists (including lots of Picassos), where we spent hours. In the late-modern art areas, all the paintings had about as much impact as barcodes or iphone scan squares; we spent about fifteen minutes cruising through these.

You see more artistry in most restaurant menus.

However, some of the late-modern sculptures were interesting, as you could at least figure out where they were trying to go with their artistic statement.

4 Andreas Baumann October 11, 2013 at 2:38 am

Not on view?! Sic transit gloria mundi (or rather, gloria musei).

5 Yancey Ward October 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I rate that article a……..4.

6 Ray Lopez October 11, 2013 at 2:18 am

Keep in mind that art sellers very often have preferences over the quality of buyers they sell to. – See more at:

So logically they should offer discounts to celebrity buyers? Does a rich dentist get a better price than a rich drug lord with a suitcase of cash they want to launder?

7 Rahul October 11, 2013 at 7:11 am

Wonder how they react if you ask if they accept cash.

8 Mark Thorson October 11, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Or Bitcoin.

9 Douglas Knight October 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Tyler, look how you mangled Ray’s comment.

Don’t be a jerk.

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