ArtMan: To Google or to Gallery?

Art consultant to the Royals, Kevin Wilson asks: Do you buy direct from foreign galleries and artists or let London galleries do it for you?

Google is the gallery’s enemy.

Before the arrival of search engines you actually had to go to an art gallery, have your stomach corroded by a glass of vinegar wine and smile. All before getting “hyped” into buying something that would look best in the attic.

So hurray! for Google and independence… kind of.

The way we all now function as one networked family of ants is great. It’s great for the art collectors; they get to see more international artists and can buy art with one hand on their iPhone and another waving a glow stick at a Take That concert.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, By the Window, 2003–2004, ink-wash on paper, 151 x 198 cm, The Michael Storåkers Collection. Photograph Björn Larsson POA at the Parasol Unit bringing Sweden to London.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, By the Window, 2003–2004. Ink-wash on paper, 151 x 198 cm, The Michael Storåkers Collection. Photograph Björn Larsson POA at the Parasol Unit bringing Sweden to London.

But when you see a great new sculpture on a new artist’s website somewhere in Arizona and you’re about to press the BUY BUY BUY button do you ever think… hold on, is it such a good deal when there’s still shipping and tax to pay?

It’s so easy to part with your money on the advertised price, and much less easy to justify the extra costs involved. 

And it’s common place for customs in the UK to dob you in on entry, tax your purchase and send you a bill. This bill should be a standard five per cent but there’s many a quibble over the definition of artworks: whether they qualify as “made by hand” which they need must in order to be eligible for the reduced five per cent VAT.

It is also common place for shipping companies to charge a fortune. Yet it does happen that things get mashed in transit and insurance fights you all the way to a partial settlement.  

Not always, but often.  

So, yes, a small hurray for Google as it takes you to unchartered territory to find new artists but, before you click on the button to buy that artwork, do your sums.

Six out of 10 of the last artworks I bought from overseas recently had problems. They were either damaged in transit or issued with an over hefty import duty. In fact one is still missing in action, and has become the centre of a nice fight with my insurance company soon to reach round three.

That said, when buying abroad, if you do so from large galleries or very established artists, things have a better chance of running smoothly. If you like lesser known artists, or buy from smaller galleries, however, then take care.

Ok, so now it’s HURRAY for the smaller art fairs and galleries in London who pay the shipping, tax and deal with the hassle of getting lesser known international artists to London. 

Artworks, especially delicate sculptures, have to be packaged incredibly carefully – the aim being to ensure they survive the knocks, bumps and kicks on their journey. The packer at the country of origin needs to understand the science of a fragile sculpture travelling upside down for three days while being thrown six inches in the air every 15 minutes. 

Packing is a misunderstood art in itself.

London is now populated by galleries with works by foreign artists. Every corner of the globe is represented in London. There are country specific galleries who specialise in handpicking the zeitgeist from their home country and peacocking it for our pleasure on London’s streets.  

Sure, if you were to google the artist you liked, fly to their country and wine and dine them, you may get the artwork at cost but you would still have to get it home again. So let them do it for you.

And then there’s the great barrier of language which means that it’s much harder to self-organise artwork from China to come into the UK than from America.

Galleries specialising in contemporary Chinese art have been tiptoeing into London quieter than a Chinese whisper through a duvet, and like Chinese mushrooms they are growing in numbers. The gallery scene for Chinese, and Asian art is big business.

One wonderful mushroom is the Hai Gallery in Marble Arch that quietly popped up in 2007. Joy has a great eye for selecting and discovering quirky Chinese artists that soon rocket the pocket, and they’re just down the road from Selfridges.

Wang Zihjie, No 4 Oil on Canvas 2010 at the Hai Gallery. Look out for an exciting solo show in 2012

Wang Zihjie, No 4 Oil on Canvas 2010 at the Hai Gallery. Look out for an exciting solo show in 2012

Then there’s Moniker: an international and alternative art fair tucked away in a Shoreditch Victorian warehouse. It’s the cooler baby cousin of art fair monster Frieze, and pops its head up annually in October. It’s where you can pick up something special before it happens.  

Moniker used to be an ‘in the know’ affair but now boasts 10,000 collectors passing through its doors. At Moniker you actually get to speak to the front of people’s heads while at Frieze it’s usually the back.  

‘Holy Greneade’ Polyresin Sculpture, Ceramic Finish, edition of 3 £2500 Part of the intricate futuristic world of German artist Mark Gmehling, who showed at Moniker

‘Holy Greneade’ Polyresin Sculpture, Ceramic Finish, edition of 3 £2500 Part of the intricate futuristic world of German artist Mark Gmehling, who showed at Moniker

So if you see a great work on an artist website or in a small gallery in Rio, think twice about sorting it out yourself unless you really, really want it. And if you do, then make sure you’re insured, have paid for the artist to go on a night course in packing, have half a day spare to argue with customs, taken a course in Portuguese and, just to be on the safe side, have a six pack of super glue handy.

Kevin Wilson is an international arts consultant, curator and collector. He advises on collections, investments and projects. His clients range from the historical royal palaces, international corporations, to private individuals and collections worldwide. 

www.kwart.co.uk

 

Readers' comments (2)

  • Shoomon Perry

    Hi Kevin,

    Great article on the perils of buying direct from overseas. (And love the Holy Grenade...definitely would put that on my coffee table!).

    What do you think of curated online galleries that are based here in the UK? Don't most of the issues with buying online disappear if they do a solid job of packaging and shipping the work (and promise to refund you if it doesn't look right on your wall)?

    Regards,

    Shoomon Perry
    Founder/MD
    Coloursoup Art Gallery
    www.coloursoup.com

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  • Thanks for the comments Shooomon

    Most UK galleries are pretty good at packaging and delivery and a few will refund if it doesn't look right in situ.

    What is lacking is that trust and care from some online merchants. They miss the point, online gallery sales should be symbiotic with customer care. Most collectors I know go back to online galleries if they have had a great experience and feel they can trust them.

    Some online galleries operate like bad used car salesmen and that is never going to get repeat custom.

    We have a black list of 4 online UK galleries where customer service has been terrible.

    The customer should expect the same treatment they would get from a new car showroom !

    Customer care should rule over the stable of artists as a recipe for success

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