Magic Walls | How Some Spaces in My Gallery Sell More Art Than Others

High Noon Trail Blazer by Michael Swearngin - sold out of a hotspot this weekend
High Noon Trail Blazer by Michael Swearngin – sold out of a hotspot this weekend

Sales out of our Scottsdale Gallery slow significantly during the summer months, and understandably so. With daily highs ranging from 102 – 119 (and lows that only get down to the upper 90s) Scottsdale is not a place you want to spend much time during the summer. Still, this last Saturday, Xanadu Gallery’s communication’s director, Chelsea, initiated two awesome sales with some of the only human beings we’ve seen in the gallery in the last few days.

Getting ready to rehang this perennially well-performing wall after the sale.
Getting ready to rehang this perennially well-performing wall after the sale.

These sales both occurred in what I consider to be hotspots in the gallery. What do I mean by “hotspots”? These are areas of the gallery that tend to generate more sales activity than other areas. Some of you may have experienced this in your galleries before, or at art festivals or open studio tour events – there seem to be certain areas that generate more interest and activity, no matter what is showing there.

What I find particularly interesting about the hotspots in my gallery is that they aren’t necessarily in the areas where you might logically expect to find them. Yes, there are some major walls near the entrance that get a lot of attention, but there are also hotspots around corners and in the back quadrant of the gallery. My gallery, at 2300 square feet, isn’t huge, but I’ve tried to break up the space in a way that invites visitors to explore and allows me to show a good amount of art in an optimal way.

Emergence by Guilloume - another sale this weekend
Emergence by Guilloume – another sale this weekend

Some hotspots are artist dependent. For example, I had one wall off of which I was selling an artist’s work like hotcakes for several months. I started to worry that the gallery would get boring if I kept her work there forever, so I moved her to what I felt was a more prominent wall and gave her more space. Sales promptly dropped off. Interestingly, the work I put on the wall to replace the first artist’s work also didn’t sell. Guess what’s back on that wall?

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to come up with a satisfying hypothesis about why a particular area will attract more attention. I suspect that some of it has to do with lighting, some with the scale or prominence of a wall, but, as I mentioned above, some hotspots seem to be in corners and well off the beaten path. I can only conclude that to some degree, there are some deep, underlying crowd psychological factors driving buyers to certain walls and pedestals.

Since I can’t come up with a scientific explanation for the hotspots, my reaction to these sale-generating spaces feels a lot like superstition. I try not to think of our hotspots in a supernatural way, and I try to work to optimize every space to generate sales from every cubic inch of the gallery.

Here are some ideas I’ve had about reacting to these hotspots, and ideas that might help you better deal with them in your space.

  1. Know your hot(and cold)spots. They say that knowing is half the battle, and that’s certainly the case here. If you know an area tends to generate more activity, you can optimize your display to generate more revenue. Which leads to number 2:
  2. It makes sense to place your most impressive and most expensive work in the spaces most likely to generate sales.
  3. Rotate your inventory. This is especially important in a gallery where you want to generate sales for all of your artists, but it’s also a good idea in your studio or booth space. Rotating inventory frequently keeps things fresh and will help you gauge where your hotspots are more objectively. It can also help prevent hotspots from going cold, which can happen if your inventory is stagnant.
  4. This wall by our entry was underperforming, so we put a video monitor up and these climbers by Ancizar Marin. Now the wall is doing great!
    This wall by our entry was underperforming, so we put a video monitor up and these climbers by Ancizar Marin. Now the wall is doing great!

    Find ways to warm up cold spots. If we have an area that doesn’t seem to generate as many sales, I’ll try to liven the area up. I’ll give the area more light, place an artist there whose work is more colorful or energetic to draw attention to the space.

I should be clear that what I’m talking about in the post are trends. Hotspots don’t guarantee sales, and we’ve certainly sold art from every wall, nook and cranny in the gallery during the 8 years we’ve been in our current location. Still, I’ve found it helpful to pay attention to the flow of sales in each area of the gallery.

What do you Think?

Have you experienced sales when your work has been displayed in a certain area of a gallery or booth? How have you reacted to hotspots? Share your thoughts, questions and experiences in the comments below.

This isn't even a wall - this large cabinet conceals our kitchen/catering area. It sits in the back corner of the gallery . . . and is a great wall for selling work by John and Eli Milan.
This isn’t even a wall – this large cabinet conceals our kitchen/catering area. It sits in the back corner of the gallery . . . and is a great wall for selling work by John and Eli Milan.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

29 Comments

  1. Jason, could it be that some walls may feel more secluded or “protected” so shoppers feel comfortable spending more time in front of them, whereas others seem to draw them along to the next area? This could also help explain why some artists do better in one area than another, if their work engages the viewers in a different way, perhaps inviting them to contemplate it more extensively before being drawn away or distracted by other pieces.

  2. Jason, do a quick lesson on feng shui. No kidding! I can’t remember the specifics but the bridal area of our jewely store was extremely profitable and I realized the feng shui position was perfect!

  3. I find the white cube gallery spaces highly unsatisfying unless very large pieces are on display or I am at a national museum and I expect to be in a grand architectural space. Connecting with art is generally an intimate and psychologically private experience. Perhaps there is some reticence in sharing this experience with others in open areas, a self-consciousness about engaging deeply.

    Urban planning might afford some clues. Returning to the concepts of the European village, large open mixed use spaces of the 1960s era are fast being replaced by promenades, meandering pathways, clustered pockets of lighting, small boutique shops and eateries. They are full of color, music, places to chat or hide away in a private nook, all of which provides a comfortable closeness to others without being invasive and encourages our instinct to explore the way we like to.

    So it doesn’t surprise me that hotspots occur in these magically off the beaten path areas of your gallery. And if you have moveable walls, the internal configurations can be endless, giving your clients and potential clients something new to look forward to every time they visit!

  4. This post made me chuckle, Jason! I haven’t been selling very long but I have had a theory about artwork selling from an unusual place… The floor! It always seems that when we were changing out artwork and one or two pieces were coming in to be hung, those that were placed on the floor were the ones that caught patrons’ attention. It even happened to me recently. I had a small piece of artwork that I took to a studio and randomly placed it leaning up against the wall on the floor. Another artist noticed it, asked whose it was, and then asked if they could buy it! For me, I guess my hotspot is the floor! Lol!

    1. Lol! Same for me. My painting was on the floor close to the back, waiting to get hung. It sold the next day. Great article Jason. There’s something to that, could be the supernatural, the gods, the karma, and lighting, customer mood, ambiance of the area. Who knows! Never thought about a gallery this way, thanks Jason.

  5. I agree… I find that I spend more time looking at each piece when I have to wind my way around a gallery. If I can see everything in the gallery in one glance I tend to dip in and out again, especially when my spouse is tapping his foot outside. I think it has to do not only with the intimacy of the viewing space but also with the sense of discovery.

  6. I can tell you what drives me nuts about some galleries; space always seems to be an issue but crowded work detracts from all adjacent pieces. None can be given their due and none are shown to their full advantage. Better three well presented pieces than five crowded. It’s distracting as a cluttered house.
    Traffic flow is critical … it must ebb and flow to study the work up close but more so from a respectable distance. Do you bump into a pedestal or another wall? Does the position of the work invite you to linger?
    I have an aversion to partitions verses walls. I understand the need for a versatile arrangement for events but a free standing wall gives more gravitas to the work than a less substantial wall.
    Lighting is a given, but equally, color. We all know white reflects light and will enliven a dark room. It tends to work better for contemporary art but if white takes away from the artwork, color compliment the art work better. If you’ve ever walked into a museum or gallery with brick red walls, a soft green, or a medium gray, and seen how that color enriches the paintings … it’s amazing. I have yet to see any work that wasn’t enhanced by these colors. White can dominate … you want the art to shine. I’ve been in galleries with complimentary colors and the work was hung accordingly.
    https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/oct/21/colour-gallery-walls-musee-d-orsay
    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3058592/how-a-color-designer-creates-the-perfect-backdrop-for-famous-art
    I’m almost surprised at the nooks that sold well. “Front and center” is the norm for featured pieces but that is interesting.
    And last, and this may just be a generational preference, I have been in few commercial galleries that have chairs. I exhibited in one show and positioned a chair in front of a piece I wanted to sell. An older gentleman came through and eyed that chair. His wife wasn’t done yet but he was. I offered him the chair and water and we had a nice conversation. Eventually we talked about the painting. He was rested enough then to be interested and bought the painting. Had the chair not been there he wouldn’t have slowed down long enough to study the painting.
    Not “magic walls” …. just aesthetics.

    1. I had a vintage clothing store. Women often brought their not so happy men along on shopping trips so I installed a comfy sofa & interesting magazines & books. The men sat comfortably & I made sales.

  7. I just participated in The Chicago Botanic Garden Art Festival and my tent was located 2nd from a corner. As people turned the corner and walked toward my booth, the first painting they saw was at the front of the wall they faced. Curious if this position made any difference as far as being more popular than other work, I started asking people which piece was their favorite. It turned out that the firefly piece, “Navigators through the Darkness”, that hung in that spot was favorited by 80% of people entering my booth. I have another Chicago Art Festival in a couple of weeks and plan on putting a different piece in that spot just to see what happens.

  8. Jason, I appreciated the info you shared with us. I have a couple questions. How do you track sales vs. walls? and – What other off the wall (no pun intended) factor have you tracked that you later found to be helpful? I love you blogs.

  9. Yes, this is a phenomenon that I have observed often over the years – and without ever really being able to conclusively find a reason for the lopsided sales. Several years ago, I did hear of a study in which statistics showed that works on the right side of a gallery or exhibit room were more likely to be sold. But at a recent exhibit of my paintings, it was the far wall that was a hotspot. I had actually worried about that wall because there was a thermostat square in the middle (!). I had to position paintings around it, but sold every one on that wall. In the end, I imagine that it is a combination of colors and architecture that support the mood of the artworks and make the magic work . . . .but, still, the right person has to be present and see it.

  10. I hold a monthly open studio as part of our city’s monthly Arts Walk. My studio is very small, with not as much wall space as I’d like. I used to stress about not getting enough original work framed and on the wall, but what I’m finding is that I sell more of my originals directly off my tables, unframed — often unfinished! – than off the walls. It could be that the unframed work is simply less costly. But I think there’s something about the intimacy of being able to pick the unframed piece right up off the table and hold it and look closely at it that causes people to become attached and feel they “have to have it”, more so than gazing at it on my studio wall. Now I make sure to have lots of unframed and even unfinished work on my tables at all times!

  11. I have a hypothesis about the hot spots, but not sure how to prove it, except perhaps having the buyer fill out a questionnaire after the sale. Here it is: when people are considering buying art, they need time and space to think, perhaps weigh budget concerns, and some other personal thoughts. Maybe the hot spots are places that allow a person a little more uninterrupted time with their private considerations, such as an out of the way hall, or corner. They get to complete the whole pre-sale thought process before having to move along….

  12. I used to pay attention to how people circulated in a gallery where I was showing & worked every Sat. People did enter viewing the right side wall, circulated to the back, then returned down the opposite wall ( rectangular gallery space). How far they went along tge left wall before leaving depended on their attention span. Hence pieces on the front left wall were least likely to sell.

    1. Yup. But, as a former teacher of professional Feng Shui consultants, I don’t think anybody’s book is going to help you… I think you’d need an actual consultant if you wanted to either nail this down or perhaps make the most of it. I say this because of the ‘floating’ nature of the sales, that one artists work sold well there while another’s did not. Electromagnetic energies beneath the earth make a difference in what happens in the spaces over them… and they’re not static.

  13. You might find the books by Paco Underhill interesting, he has spent the last few decades studying shoppers and has turned their patterns almost into a science…now his books are all about retail shopping patterns but I would be very interested to hear from you after your reading his books if you found them enlightening for an art gallery…would his theories apply? I am not sure …. for retailers he is something of an oracle…. as for my own personal opinion on why some spots could be hotspots in a gallery? I am guessing that perhaps it would depend on first and foremost the lighting in a particular area, then can the viewer visualize it in their own home, how is it staged?/merchandised…for instance is there a couch/ or table beneath the painting? How much empty space is allowed? …. for instance 1 gallery the exhibits my work always tends to crowd the pieces in order to get in as much as possible, [and I think she sells very little as a result] while another place I exhibit in, is actually in a interior decorator’s design center where I am featured over a white couch and the whole look is very beachy…my work in that location sells well it suits my subject matter …. While this design center is not a gallery the art is definitely complimented by the furniture on display and vice-a-versa …. What colours are the walls, is the entire gallery the same colour? Does the colour compliment the paintings being shown? Are some of your nooks in other colours or do you change the wall colour of those nooks to compliment or to enhance the paintings that will be on it? Do these nooks perhaps a seat where they can just sit back, relax and enjoy the art in front of them…to contemplate it? So much to think about !

  14. I have a friend who likes unique. She likes to find the piece that no one else has yet noticed. She always heads to the back corners to discover something before anyone else. I invite people I meet to come to my studio sometime. They often find something that is not finished, still drying on my easel and want it. Does this relate to your “hot spot” idea?

  15. Every year on our County wide studio tour I exhibit in my home/studio. Every year I try something different and that includes trying to note if one wall sells better than another. This year people gravitated to the larger pieces leaning on the wall but sitting on the floor, where in previous years those spots were ignored. It is challenging trying to figure all of this out.

  16. How would an artist effectively micromanage the placement of their work in a gallery? Most of these comments are about art shows and private studio spaces, and I agree that mixing it up and meditating on arrangements is both a fun and effective process for art work in your private space, but attempting to control your presence in a gallery is not often welcomed by management. How should an artist react to disappointing placement without jeopardizing their gallery relationship?

  17. I was in a cooperative gallery. We noticed that when people came in the front door they invariably walked to the wall on the right. The door also opened from the right.

  18. In our studio, we see two main “hot spots.” One is on the wall right next to the entry/exit door, and the other is in an awkward recessed niche area of the building. This second, odd shaped area (part of a historic building) is not even a good space for traditional hanging of works, so we use it as a more informal resting place for large works on sturdy wood panel, or works in progress. It seems, people spend more time in this awkward space viewing the work. Not sure why? Unless, maybe the lack of formality somehow beckons them to linger longer?

  19. When I have an Open Studio, I put a painting on the wall that can only be seen when the bathroom door is closed. Perhaps it is the privacy and the opportunity to see a work close up but that space creates sales.

  20. When doing outdoor shows, I always put my most impressive paintings on the back walls and on the front side panels. What this does is capture the viewers attention and draw them into my booth. Those some spots are where I make the most sales.

  21. My own best spot in our (long, rectangular) co-op gallery was on the left, toward the middle directly opposite the sales desk area (right middle). But I also think that there is sometimes an element of surprise that draws a client toward a particular piece — turning a corner and finding the unexpected. A week or so ago, a visitor to our gallery turned around the corner of a central display and spotted a piece that had been put there only an hour before. The sight grabbed her eye and she purchased it instantaneously.

  22. Hi Jason,
    The ‘magic walls’ phenomenon that you write about falls within the art of architecture/interior design. A sensitive architect or interior designer is alive to the effect of spacial design and particularly the influence of a sequence of interior spaces on people. The sensations and feelings experienced by a person moving through is vitally important to the success of any important space. As a retired architect formerly involved in the design of many large retail establishments and retail spaces such as supermarkets, ordinary shops and boutiques I am can vouch for the benefit of the advice of this type of expert. A good designer must consider all the human senses and not just the effect of spaces . Hot and cold. comfort and discomfort, good and bad aromas, light and dark, rough and smooth and other contrasts all play a role.
    So much for pontificating. In my experiences of exhibiting and selling my art – the worst was when the owner of the gallery hung my paintings in a gloomy passage leading to the toilet facilities. To top it off he had extremely loud heavy metal ‘music’ piped into a nearby room. Needless to say nothing was sold (or even noticed by potential buyers) at that venue.
    Warm regards,
    Henry Jensen

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