Guest blogger Mckenna Hallett shares an incredible story of selling fine art to a customer who thought it was out of her reach. It goes to prove that you cannot be the judge of what is “affordable.”
When I walked into work that day and saw this immensely beautiful Miro diptych on the main wall of the gallery, my heart started racing. I was frozen in place. This was a sugar-lift aquatint from that early and hard-to-find period of very clean lines and few colors. These were also large pieces, each about 2 feet wide by about 3 feet tall making the presentation 3 feet by more than 4 feet wide.
They were so very rare and so highly sought after by Miro collectors and surrealist and contemporary collectors. Did I mention that they were gorgeous and quintessentially, perhaps arguably, Miro at his best? I was stunned and wishing I could afford them myself. Miro was always one of my most favorites. And then my collectors list began to churn in my brain. I had to get to the phones. Other consultants surely were already working their lists.
To be clear, this was a very upscale San Francisco gallery and generally not for the casual art purchaser. The pricing started in the many thousands. An 1876 original pencil sketch, by someone whose name was unpronounceable and biography was a mystery to all but the very dedicated art aficionados, might have a price of $5000. That’s 1980’s dollars.
While we had an occasional “walk-in” sale, the more serious clients were not walking around town and browsing our walls. They were in their penthouse offices in various cities around the world and rarely available for a “sales call.” I worked with a lot of executive secretaries mostly, and if I had a good rapport, they might let their boss know of an opportunity.
No emails existed. No computers on their desks. No cell phones. This was a different world. When something of great collectability became available to my collectors, I had to be quick and persuasive if I was going to get to actually talk with those busy executives and share the newest gallery acquisition with my collectors.
I sat at my desk, read the details of the Miro, learned the “provenance,” memorized the price, grabbed my list and with my hand on the phone, I began creating my script for the calls.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her walk in the door. I couldn’t remember her name, but she was a regular visitor on her lunch break and she and I shared a love for Miro. So it was no surprise that she had an identical reaction when her eyes made contact: Frozen. Stunned. Expressionless. I ran to her side, giddy and playful and excited to share the moment.
She almost seemed oblivious to my arrival, remaining motionless except for a soulful deep inhalation followed by a small puff of exhaled air.
“What is up with this?” I thought. Trying to break the spell, I nudged her and said something like, “Nice, huh?”
Silence. Inhalation. Puff.
What the heck? I knew she loved Miro, but I also knew that she was a secretary (not even an executive secretary) for an accounting firm nearby. She had her bag lunch in her oversize purse. She had NO way of buying anything in our gallery. I looked over and saw the tear forming.
Once again, I tried to lighten up the moment. “I guess you need to know the price, right?” She nodded, sighed and remained laser focused on the piece. “It’s $15,000, and of course it’s a diptych, so that is for both and they cannot be sold separately.”
The tear began to move down her face. I began to panic. For all I knew at that moment, the piece was already sold by someone in a back room. For all I knew, I was missing my own opportunity to sell this piece.
“What is happening here?” I thought as I watched her continued obsession grow by the minute. And then it hit me. She needed to own this piece. She deserved to own this piece; not some “collector” who would put it in the master bathroom of their beachfront home in Italy or worse, in a boardroom somewhere.
What to do, what to do….
And then my racing brain came to a full stop and I moved in front of her, breaking her view, looked into her eyes and said, “Do you have anything of value that you can sell?”
Her eyes glazed with tears. She nodded slowly, then more rapidly and hugged me. She pushed back and said through her tears, “My mother died six months ago and left me a car. All I do is move it to keep from getting tickets. She would love for me to sell this car. She would want me to have this art.”
It took two credit cards to get the 10% deposit and a bit of negotiating with my gallery director who usually wanted payment in full, but we did it.
It turned out that the car was worth more than the art. It was a classic Mercedes from the 50’s and she sold in it for cash in less than a week. She had been collecting notes of offers from strangers for weeks. She had been so worried that something bad would happen to it and couldn’t afford to store it. Talk about a win/win.
Had I assumed that she could not afford this piece, I would not have lifted that glass of champagne to her at the unveiling in her living room. I would not have seen those tears of joy. I would not have this deep connection to this very enriching and emotionally charged story. I would have been on the phone in a race to find a “buyer” instead of finding the perfect home for this amazing art and bringing a lifetime of joy to this deserving woman.