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

Recently, Xanadu Gallery’s communication’s director, Chelsea, initiated two awesome sales. 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.

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

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.

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17 Comments

  1. I think the psychology of hotspots is fascinating. My best guess is going to be that the combination of space and art replicates something familiar to the viewer. We like home.

    Lighting, the fact of it being a corner like rooms in your home, proximity to the exit are all things I can think of that will trigger emotions of comfort to someone who is looking for a little spark for their living space -and there’s an interesting juxtaposition, too. What are they looking for? Comfort or edge? The location should enhance whatever is emanating from the art. Try changing the light bulbs from fluorescent to incandescent to LED, if you have time and inclination.

  2. I believe that some hot spots work for certain artists better than others, as in your article’s example. I believe this has to do with scale, intimacy, composition & design that complement the space, etc…. Best wishes. I am a new subscriber and enjoy your posts.

  3. We had an expert come talk to us about this very topic. He said that the people always walk through the first past of the gallery and go to the second section. Also, they always go to the right side. I have noticed that in our gallery when I gallery sit. Very interesting.

  4. In my studio space I have three walls on which I hang my current work. The wall with the best lighting and is the smallest seems to have more sales. Perhaps in a more intimate setting (smaller wall) the buyer can focus more on fewer pieces of work. Don’t know.

  5. I have heard other gallery dealers talk about hot spots over the years that I have been an artist, and they too are not sure of the physiology behind it all. I think that if a piece is hanging on a prominent wall, so that it looks important, visitors will assume that it IS important.
    What I have found interesting in my studio, which is located within a gallery, is that visitors will walk in and past several finished paintings hanging on the walls, to see what Is on my easel … what I am working on.

  6. You mentioned that some hotspots have been out of the way areas around a corner or in the back quadrant of the gallery. I think one factor might be that the customer might like the idea of discovering a “find”. I’ve noticed at some of my shows where I don’t have enough room to show everything when I prop a piece up behind another piece, almost hidden, that piece tends to sell. It creates a little mystery and invites people to look on their own.

  7. Interesting discussion. Have you read Paco Underhill’s work? He studies retail environments and the psychology of shopping in stores. He’s written a couple of good books like “Why We Buy”. There’s another author like Paco who friends recommend to me as even better and more useful – but I can’t recall his name.

    Most intrigued by the out of the way places. Certainly when I’m in a gallery I like a certain kind of privacy to view things. When I read what you wrote I pondered whether privacy for the browser might be the key to those. It might even be that different types of shoppers respond to those areas while other shoppers respond to the “hero” spaces.

  8. I always love your wisdom and advice, Jason, given so freely. Thank-you so much. One of your gems concerns moving one’s art from place to place or wall to wall to create a different perspective. You had mentioned that in a previous post as well and it has stuck with me. Yesterday that advice came home to roost.

    Some background. Four years ago, my husband and I retired and moved to an idyllic log home on the Bow River in the resort town of Canmore, Alberta, Canada (12 minutes from Banff National Park). It just so happens that there is a public walking path between our house and the river which welcomes visitors from all over the world. Now along with painting, I also adore flower gardening. And since I have a plethora of (oil) paintings that hadn’t yet found a home, I decided to attempt to combine my two passions and create an outdoor fair-weather pop-up garden art gallery in our back yard. A ready-made market in the summer months, so to speak, was my dream. BTW, the weather in the mountains is so unpredictable, hence, fair weather.

    After jumping through the various municipal hoops, I was able to open my garden gallery on July 1. Over the summer on fair days, hundreds of visitors came in and were totally surprised, and I think, delighted. The accolades were rewarding as were the sales of numerous ‘suitcase size’ paintings.

    Now to the point. My latest and favourite 5 x 7 inch painting was of a teepee, into which I had inserted our 3 Sisters Mountains as the background. I displayed it for several days, positioned along with some other paintings (all sitting on genuine log stumps – wish you could see the photos). It didn’t sell. I remembered your advice, Jason, so I moved it to a small wooden table in front of the 3-seater swing. Just by itself. It sold within 2 hours. I was shocked and a bit sad to see it go. Coincidence? Maybe.

    So that little table will be my new ‘go to’ hotspot magic wall. Such fun! And again, thank-you for sharing your experience and knowledge.

    Cheers,

    Verna

  9. Exhibit in Festival using 10 by 10 booths, the front is open so only three sides have paintings, although the bottom one is not used entirely as an opening is left for movements , usually the person in charge seat behind the booth coming forward to meet visitors. In this set up 80% of sales have been made with works exhibited at the bottom one , always. Have exhibited one piece several times at a side one but was sold as soon as it was place at the bottom.
    (keep in mind that at the bottom there is the opening that take part of the space ) Any idea?

  10. I don’t know! It seems a daunting task to collect data on traffic patterns, stopping times and places, etc. But that is what seems to drive so much of the psychological work on crowds and marketing. The notorious “Shelf Wars” in supermarkets seem to point this up. Only there, it is the intent to create traffic patterns and hotspots.
    All I know is that I am unaware of my traffic patterns or where I spend my time in galleries and museums and I’m guessing I’m not alone.
    All I know, Jason, is that because you are thinking about it, you will keep turning it over until you have something that will probably work for you short of a “shaman” on staff. Or__

  11. Any idea? Yep. When they’re walking toward the booth, they see the picture smaller (where all of them look better) graduating to right up close. The side ones, they only see up close. The memory that sticks is how good the back one looks as you’re approaching it.

  12. I recently purchased an oil painting 16×20. The painting was in a chicken coop turned gallery/studio. It was located in front of me and resting on the wall and sitting on the floor. Although there were a number of attractive paintings on 2 side walls, I found that I was most interested in the front wall rather than side walls. Personally I also think the color of the frame does a fair share of the work. A white frame on a white wall says “boring” to me and I’m quite likely to skip it.

  13. First, may I suggest you verify and compare what the various reflective lighting is. That is, the lamp’s white color in degrees Kelvin. Then, you might measure the lumens at the wall, i. e. light intensity, and further, verify if the white is bluish or warmer, a yellow/redddish tint. I remember when they first opened the Meyer designed Atlanta High museum of art. It was very bright white, inside and out – a chilling environment. Sort of like the blinding light scene in the Elizabeth Taylor movie “- suddenly last summer”.
    Then, good art likes agreeable company and should not give a ‘lonely’ feedback. You probably compose displays correctly by intuition. On the subject of intuition – do females most often make the buying decisions? That is, do males drop their rational curtains first, before making an emotional connection? (Oh, please, don’t make this a sexist issue!)
    I also think we need to get primed to connect. Give some time and have the senses tuned. There is even a tune-out point, when I have sensory overload. I had to close books half-way through to ‘recover’, like recently with a Klimt coffee table book and an accounting of Alexander McQueen’s life work.
    Jason, you may want to compose a questionnaire and afterwards separate out the buyer and non-buyer’s responses. The results may make a nice e-book you could publish.
    Lastly, could you enhance the buying mood by playing the olfactory environment a bit? Like with a hidden lavender sachet (artsy catnip!?) or the smell of freshly baked bread? May be a sommelier or a professional food taster or perfume composer could give suggestions.

  14. Purchasing a work of art is about intimacy. It’s incredibly personal and kind of like falling in love. It’s not for public consumption so an area that affords a degree of privacy is important. The purchase decision requires solitude and focus even if is shared by a couple trying to come to agreement. Maybe even mores? Too many choices nearby can become distractions. A room of your own to sit/stand and view a piece without noise, traffic and interruptions is imperative. This can be something as simple as a pair of panels forming a corner with one of the panels announcing, SEE FOR YOURSELF – Let us hang an artwork you enjoy here so you can imagine it in your own setting. This suggests you believe the patron has the intelligence and sophistication to understand the creative process while affording a degree of privacy. It also moves them deeper into the purchase process. Finally, don’t offer other works unless they ask. If you give a mouse a second cookie of a different flavor you are likely to lose the sale because you just presented them with an entirely different decision they have to make before they can settle down to buying. They will often walk away confused. Reminder: Buying art is falling in love … dress for the occasion.

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