How to Navigate Buyer Waiting Lists at Galleries Without Being Dissed or Tricked

How can art dealers use intense demand to their advantage?

In his latest Wall Street Journal contribution, Daniel Grant tackles the thorny subject of buyer waiting lists at galleries—created when demand for a particularly hot artist outstrips supply and dealers are forced to make strategic decisions about which clients will be able to make the coveted purchase.

Though ostensibly meant to create a fair playing field by establishing a first come first served order for buyers—these lists can wind up serving other purposes that appear to be advantageous to the dealers who create them. This includes helping a dealer amass background information on a person or  give them the upper hand in negotiating—such as making the buyer purchase two works or a work by a different artist in order to get the one they really want.

artnet News’ Brian Boucher explored this phenomenon in a story this past summer: “How Powerful Dealers Manipulate Collectors to Buy Artwork and Other Market Secrets.”

Not surprisingly, museums often top waiting lists since there is hardly any better stamp of approval available than institutional support when it comes to boosting an artist’s reputation and market.

Grant points out: “For someone new to collecting, being put on a waiting list can help them build a relationship with a gallery or dealer. But, in turn, they can expect lots of questions for the privilege. Waiting lists contain pages of notes about buyers, identifying not just who they are, but what they buy and what they are looking for.”

Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice in the story is Pace Gallery president Marc Glimcher’s warning to collectors “not to buy something you don’t like.” He continues, “It doesn’t do anything for the buyer or the buyer’s relationship with the gallery, and it doesn’t help the artist.”

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