How to Behave in an Art Collector's Home

How to Behave in an Art Collector’s Home

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a sculpture to clients’ home. The couple had seen the piece in the gallery and wanted to have us bring it out to their home so they could see if it looked good in their space and then could decide whether or not to purchase the piece. My gallery director, Elaine, had worked with the clients when they were in the gallery, so I hadn’t yet met them. My father, John, was kind enough to come along to provide some muscle to help move the somewhat heavy and awkward sculpture into the home.

As we pulled up to the large, Taos style home in North Scottsdale (one of the ritziest areas of town), it seemed pretty clear that these were qualified buyers. We already knew that they liked the piece. All we had to do was not screw anything up and it seemed pretty obvious we would make the sale.

I will admit that even after having been in the business for over twenty years, this scenario can still get my adrenaline pumping. I feel in complete control when interacting with collectors in the gallery, but it is a different ballgame when I’m in a potential buyer’s home. Suddenly the buyer has home court advantage!

I knocked on the front door, only to hear our client call from the garage and beckon us over. After introductions he told us he thought it would be easier to access the home through the garage. We unloaded the sculpture from our van and walked it through the garage and kitchen to the dining room, where there was a long, low ledge that looked like it had been designed for the piece. We placed the sculpture and stepped back to see how it looked . . . and it looked awesome! The client had us try it at a couple of different angles before returning it to sit straight on the ledge.

As the husband and wife looked at the piece there ensued a bit of an awkward silence. I don’t mind silence, but I realized that my whole situation felt a bit awkward because I had no relationship with these potential customers – not a situation that puts me in a good position to close the sale.

So I began asking the couple some questions about themselves to break the ice.

“You have a beautiful home,” I said, “how long have you lived here?”

They said they had been in the home for several years.

“Do you live here year-round?” I asked in follow-up. It turned out that the couple is from Iowa, but has this beautiful home in Scottsdale, where they spend the winters. The wife is a recently retired attorney and the husband an active attorney. They explained a bit about how much time they are able to spend in Arizona each winter.

IMG_20150130_105009Then my father hit on the perfect subject. “Those are beautiful Ed Mell pieces,” he said, referring to a sculpture outside the window and a piece above the fireplace.

The clients suddenly blossomed. They began showing us around their home, proudly pointing us to a number of pieces they had acquired at auction or through galleries. The collection included a number of famous artists – Thomas Hart Benton, Joseph Henry Sharp, Gerard Curtis Delano, and others. They were excited to show of their collection to an audience (us) that could appreciate it.

After taking an informal tour of their home, we returned to the dining room where the piece we had brought was waiting.

We talked a little about the lighting (I suggested they could add a fisheye fixture to one of their existing recessed lights to provide some direct light to the sculpture).

I then asked them, “Has the piece found a home?”

They looked at each other and I saw a brief nod pass between them. There was a brief negotiation on the price (that would be a subject for another post) and the husband went to write a check for the purchase.

We left their home congratulating them on their new piece, and they thanked us and asked us to let them know when the artist would be in town for a show.

Not a bad day’s work.

If you’ve had the opportunity to sell directly to art buyers, either through your studio, gallery, or a show, you’ve probably found yourself in a similar scenario. Selling to a client in her home can be a challenge, but getting the art into the client’s home in the first place is more than half the battle. I have several suggestions that might help you the next time you find yourself with your art in a client’s home.

  1. Scout out the space before you take the art into the home. I actually didn’t do that in this case because the client was already in the garage and had pre-scouted the best route for us. In most cases, however, it’s a good idea to try and get the lay of the land and find any obstacles before you take artwork through the door.
  2. Take extra care to make sure your shoes are clean and free of debris so you aren’t tracking mud across your client’s floor. I’m not afraid to take of my shoes, if necessary, to avoid making a mess. Which leads me to:
  3. Make sure your socks don’t have any holes in them! I know this sounds silly, but muddy shoes aren’t the only reason you might be taking your shoes off during an art installation. I have had to climb on couches and beds, mantles and tables to install artwork over the years. It’s often easier to take your shoes off than it is to move heavy furniture. It’s a good idea to pick your best pair of socks when you are getting dressed on the morning of a delivery. So how’s that for some practical advice!?
  4. Compliment the clients’ home. It’s a small thing, but art collectors have often put a lot of effort into creating a beautiful home. Trust me, they will never tire of being complimented on their efforts. You can make your compliment even more sincere by commenting on a particular detail you like. “Gorgeous stonework,” or “What a view!”
  5. Ask questions. Without being too intense, you can ask “getting to know you” questions of your potential buyers. Questions are a great way to break the ice and get a conversation started. “How long have you lived here?””Where are you from originally?””What drew you to this house when you first discovered it?” All good questions to get started.
  6. Notice and comment on the client’s art collection. As I mentioned above, this really started a great conversation in our delivery. People love to show off their collection, and as an artist or gallerist, you are in a position to truly appreciate the art. You should be sincere – if you don’t like the art, you can skip this suggestion altogether. Better to say nothing at all than to be insincere.
  7. If you make a mess, clean it up. I always make sure that we have cleaned up the area where we have installed the art. If you’ve had to drill, make sure you clean up the drywall dust.
  8. Ask permission to take a photo of the piece. Photos of your art in a collector’s home are worth their weight in gold. If you can find a way to do it naturally, you might also try to get a photo of yourself and the collector with the art.
  9. Don’t linger too long. After the installation is done or the sale closed, wrap things up. Congratulate your buyer and thank them for their business, and then hit the road. You don’t want to overstay your welcome.

Have you had any great (or miserable) experiences delivering art to a client’s home when they are deciding whether or not to buy the art? What have you learned? Do you have any questions about the process that weren’t addressed here? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments below.