Complex-to-install art: is it easy to sell?

Blog | Events | Exhibiting | Gallerist Life
16 March 2023
by BSAA Team

LR Pascale Marthine Tayou, Summer Surprise, 2017, courtyard installation at 1-54 London 2017. Courtesy Galleria Continua and 1-54 ©Katrina Sorrentino

Have you considered that the ease – or difficulty, with which you make your art to install could impact a gallery’s willingness to show it? And further, such a factor might influence an art dealer’s willingness to work with you at all?

A few years ago when staging a group show I came across an artist whose every last piece took a long time to hang. 

Whereas installing works by other exhibitors was largely a matter of measuring and hanging as with most wall-based art, these pieces had many individual parts and their layout was dictated to a fraction of an inch.

No template was provided, meaning that many measurements had to be taken. Overall, they took 4 times as long to installl pieces as the other artists’ pieces.

Susan J Mumford is not afraid to install.

This is not to say that all works included in selling shows must be simple to display. An artist at a recent exhibition had a show-stopper piece that was arguably more complicated to get into position on the wall. Yet, dealing with this one difficult piece was reasonable.

The spectacular work was mixed media on paper mounted onto a bespoke wooden structure, crafted by the artist. Its outstanding presentation made the entire series on display stand out. And while only a serious and brave collector would dare buy the work (as it was also archivally precarious), the artist’s other pieces were not only easy to hang, they were accessible to a broad audience of collectors.

An attention-grabbing piece might have the only function of producing buzz or encouraging an approach, even when more commercial works do set up the tone of the show and bring the transactions to positive numbers.

Would you like to know another reason to exhibit art that is straightforward to install? It will be shown more often. 

Consider Christmas and Summer shows that are frequently a varied mix of art. 

LR Pascale Marthine Tayou, Summer Surprise, 2017, courtyard installation at 1-54 London 2017. Courtesy Galleria Continua and 1-54 ©Katrina Sorrentino

When installing a lot of work, galleries don’t have the luxury of time to deal with installation complexity. 

The same idea applies to art fairs as dealers have an allotted – and often all too short, timeframe to get their stand ready.

But how can you encourage a gallery to show a show-stopper piece you have made?

The best way is to personally help with installation. 

If you’re not able to assist in person, provide instructions, templates and other helpful materials – such as photographs and hanging guides.

While you shouldn’t hold yourself back from creating works purely because they might be problematic to install, consider how best to frame or present them to be as easy as possible for a gallery to handle. 

Be upfront with the dealer, in communicating that you appreciate they’re not straightforward to display – and are willing to assist as much as you can.

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