10 Tips for Pricing an Artwork

Source: ArtNet News

The sands of the art market are always shifting. An artist’s work could be selling for record highs at auction one year and below estimates the next. For a dealer, figuring out where the value of your artists’s work falls on the spectrum—whether it’s a massive installation by a blue-chip artist, a painting by an emerging talent, or editioned prints—can be a daunting proposition.

To help us break it all down, artnet News spoke to Cristin Tierney of Cristin Tierney Gallery about the major considerations she takes into account when determining the price of each and every work that passes through her establishment.

“From the outside looking in, it’s kind of byzantine,” she told artnet News. “We all do this all the time and we think about it all the time, but articulating it is tricky.”

Even though it’s not an exact science, figuring out how to appropriately price a work of art is actually fairly straightforward process.

Wild Flower Meadows

Errol McKinson

Oil on Panel 18x24

1. When in doubt, look to past results.

“One of the first things we think about is price history,” said Cristin Tierney. How an artist has sold in the past is an excellent yardstick by which to predict future performance.

2. Compare, compare, compare.

When you’re working with a younger artist who might not have much of an existing track record, look to sales of comparable work by artists at a similar point in their career. “The single-most important thing to remember is that it’s very much about comparison,” Tierney explained. “You’re always thinking in terms of comparison. You do that because your clients will do that too.”

3. Consider both the primary and secondary market for an artist.

The longer an artist has been around, the more likely it is that their work will turn up at auction. “Often the primary market and even the private secondary market is very different than auction pricing,” said Tierney. Sometimes, there’s a big difference in what a work sells for in the various realms.

But that doesn’t just mean that an artist who has grown in renown will suddenly start hammering down at high price points: “It can go both ways,” Tierney explained, noting that for some artists, their best work often winds up in the hands of friends, dedicated collectors, or museums who rarely part with it, leaving lesser works to make up the bulk of their auction history. “There are some artists that can really pop at auction and then other artists that do better selling privately,” she added. “There’s all kind of reasons on the secondary market why things don’t add up.”

4. You don’t want to be an outlier.

“There’s nothing worse than everyone having a slightly different price,” noted Tierney. “Not only is it not cool if you’re the person looking to buy the work, but you pretty much look like an idiot if you do that.” For the art market to function, “everybody has to be on the same page.”

“You know that if you price something ridiculously high, it’s just not going to sell,” Tierney added. “There’s a threshold for clients.” (Over-priced artwork also angers collectors.)

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