How to Sell Queer Art Through Instagram, Art Fairs, and More.
“Given that queer artists have found success through pretty much the entire arc of art history, I'm not quite sure that the narrative of them being "underrepresented" would be something that we could cover.”
That was the response of a journalist from a major national publication, when our Superfine! Art Fair communications team reached out to discuss our upcoming Magick all-LGBTQ+ artist fair in New York City next year. The writer didn’t seem to think a queer art fair was needed in the contemporary art market. Surely if Leonardo da Vinci and Keith Haring are such household names, there must not be an equality gap on the commercial end of queer art.
Is the art market already saturated with queer artists? Are gay, lesbian, and trans artists - along with all queer artists - really getting the fair shake they deserve, when it comes down to brass tacks and actual art sales in the contemporary art market? We think not, and we’d like to illustrate some of the challenges queer and gay artists are facing, how they’re overcoming them, and give you an in-depth guide on how to sell queer art.
To help us get to the bottom of this, we first talked to Alex Guerra, the owner of The Gaythering Hotel in Miami Beach and the founder/curator of Art Gaysel - the tongue-in-cheek gay step-cousin of Art Basel Miami Beach. For four years going on five, Alex has painstakingly curated the best queer and gay artists from around the world, providing an amazing opportunity to show and sell their art during one of the most important art weeks of the year. He also brought the Art Gaysel experience to New York in 2017 at the first annual Superfine! Art Fair in Chelsea.
We asked Alex what he thought about the in-person art sales experience at a queer art fair and how that influences buyer behavior:
“It's very rare that you get to meet the artists at any fair. There’s always a middle man so you are surrounded by personified creativity where you engage one on one with the work and with a marketing driven response of a few sentences written by the gallerists. At Art Gaysel we strive to have as many artists present as possible. While the old saying "the work should speak for itself" is great and all, nothing beats probing the artists directly. This format creates an emotional connection between artist and buyer. The mutual engagement can seal the deal on the sale more than any social media engagement. Don't get me wrong, I feel that social media like Instagram is crucial to emerging artists and such an amazing avenue to reach new followers which lead to potential collectors. After all, 90% of our artists are discovered on Instagram.”
The conclusion? One way to sell queer art is to get your work where the queer art collectors are, and fairs like Alex’s Art Gaysel do just that.
But what about Instagram?
We’ve all heard about success selling art on Instagram, and chances are you might have bought a piece of queer art yourself right off the ‘gram. The most visual of social media platforms, queer art on Instagram seems like a natural fit. Can queer and gay artists make a living selling direct to their audience? We talked to artist Adam Chuck, a mainstay of Art Gaysel and special project artist at Superfine! NYC 2019, about his take on Instagram as a sales tool for queer artists:
“Instagram has been my main way of expanding my audience and market. I’ve found most of my opportunities to show my work through the platform as well as to sell it. It has been a fantastic way to engage with those who enjoy my work as well as meet contemporaries.”
However, he’s recently faced some difficulties on the platform:
“It’s been hard as of recently to work through Instagram due to their algorithm, which has gotten tighter and stricter over time. I’ve never been one to care much about the numbers, but it’s been clear that engagement is less and from my colleagues it’s clear across the board that (especially) queer artists are being censored and it is making it harder to get our work out there.“
Censorship is a very real issue and a major challenge for queer artists showing and selling their work through Instagram. Some of the other challenges artists like Adam are facing are how to raise prices when selling art on Instagram, and how to sell queer art to an audience when the algorithm that decides what posts will be shown doesn’t necessarily work in your favor, or under your control. The ‘gram is great for wide exposure, but defining and refining your audience is of the utmost importance.
Regarding physical exhibitions and queer art fairs, Adam Chuck goes on:
“It definitely helps to be shown to increase your popularity and worth, but everyone should value their time and hard work in making (their art) regardless of the platform. Definitely when you are seen more and more “desired” it (physical exhibition) is worthy to raise the value of your work.”
The conclusion? Use Instagram as a tool to build a collector audience, create a visual story for your work, and as a major component of an overall art sales strategy that includes physical exhibitions and fairs as well. What it’s not is a be-all-end-all to a full queer art sales strategy.
Read about Adam Chuck’s “Call Me By Your Preferred Pronoun” installation at Superfine! 2019 on Newsweek!
So what do I do?
With all of this in mind, if you’re a queer artist reading this you probably still want to know exactly how to sell queer art, quit your day job, and make a living by creating and selling your art full-time. We’re right there with you, and we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to sell queer art below. Have a read, ask us a question, and let us know what you think in the comments!
Step 1: Define Your Audience
Okay, okay...we’re talking about queer art so this should be easy, right? Wrong. Defining an audience is more than just finding a group of people that enjoys your work and shows up at your exhibitions. You want to make a living selling queer art so you need to find a group of people that not only support your art emotionally, but support it with their dollars. Questions to ask at this stage include: who does my art most resonate with? How much are members of that audience willing to spend on queer art? You can help identify this group by releasing what marketers define as a minimum viable product (MVP). See below for more on that!
Step 2: Create Your MVP (not a sports metaphor!)
We may not want to think of art as a product, but in order to understand the buyer relationship we have to think like a marketer and that means bringing in marketing terms. An MVP -- or minimum viable product -- is the smallest, least complex iteration of something that other people (your audience!) would pay for -- and will pay a price that allows you to scale (sell more!) and thrive. Let’s say for instance that you’re an artist who makes large scale oil paintings that take you dozens of hours each. Of course you want to get thousands of dollars for each in order to compensate you for your time in creating them, but if you haven’t yet sold in a quantity that supports you financially, you need to find your MVP first and then build up to selling your other work at the prices you want.
An MVP in this case could be sketches that embody all of the characteristics of your larger, more complex works, but in a smaller package that allows you to produce them with less labor hours. It could also be a queer art print. Once you’ve got this figured out, move on to Step 3 and...
Step 3: Set Your Starting Price
One of the things we constantly hear from both queer artists and non-queer artists in our client interviews is that while Instagram and their current methods of selling (often peer-to-peer or at small craft-type shows) are bringing an audience of interested buyers, the prices garnered are just too low to make selling their art their main revenue source — or even a major one. We’re here to help! Earlier we talked about creating an MVP. An MVP’s pricing should be just at the point where a significant number of people are willing to pay it without creating price friction. I would say that if you can get five people to pay the price you want for your MVP, you’ve got a winner and can start growing your audience. A $40 print is probably too low, but if you’re talking about original art and prints, you should probably be garnering somewhere in the $100-$750 range for your MVP.
Step 4: Create a Sales Strategy
Now that you’ve defined your audience and created a minimum viable product, it’s time to start selling your queer art to your audience. Some of the ways to do that have already been covered on this post -- joining queer art fairs like Art Gaysel and Superfine! Art Fair’s Magick edition in NYC and leveraging your Instagram presence. There are many ways to take control of this step but it has to come from you and your own planning, even if you work with others to help enact your strategy. We always recommend curating a booth that includes both your MVP (the prints, smaller works, sketches) and your larger “master works”. This way, buyers buying at the lower end of the spectrum can latch on to your work, and their understanding of your pricing is anchored by the higher priced, more complex pieces that you’re also showing.
Both Instagram and queer art fairs, in tandem, represent a great way to release your MVP and build a buying audience.
Step 5: Capture Your Audience Data
At this point, you should have achieved a buying audience. Even if that’s just 4-5 queer art collectors, you know who they are and you can grow from here. Make sure to save all relevant data on a spreadsheet. Taking notes and collecting emails in person works (we recommend an iPad or smartphone rather than paper so there are less errors!) but you want to spend some time after the sales process logging all of the info in one, central location. Specially you want any demographic data (even observational data works!) that helps you identify exactly who your audience is, their email addresses, and prices paid along with any discounts you offered them. All of this data helps you better understand the market price for your work and how to sell queer art to this audience over and over again as it grows.
Step 6: Grow Your Audience
At art fairs and online, artists often feel bad that they haven’t achieved a particular goal - made back their booth fee, garnered a significant number of collectors, and so on. However, if you’ve achieved any collectors at all, you’re doing great! It’s time to grow your audience. Now that you’ve got data, you can focus on steering your work towards what we call a lookalike audience. That is, buyers who share similar traits and characteristics to those who’ve already purchased your art. As time goes on, you may even find that the content of your work is more and more geared towards this audience. There are several proactive ways to quickly grow your audience as well. One is simply asking those who’ve already demonstrated commitment to your work by buying it to share one friend’s email address who might be interested in coming to your next show, viewing your digital catalog, or simply connecting. In this way, your audience becomes your ambassadors and you build a structure to expanding it.
Bonus Step: RAISE YOUR PRICES!
Any queer artist reading a blog post on how to sell queer art of course wants to know about this part. Even as Superfine! Is an affordable art fair, we fully believe artists should responsibly raise their prices as time goes on and their work continues to find more homes with a growing audience. All of this applies to queer artists as well.
Probably the most important factor to getting your prices up is spreading out your sales methods. This is where Instagram and online sales come up against a limitation. The higher the price of something, the more that potential buyers want to experience it in person. For this reason, fairs and pop-up exhibitions give you the chance to meet your buyers face to face and let them experience your work, and most importantly meet you. 70%+ of our Superfine! visitors and collectors say that meeting the artist is their favorite part and helps them move to a conversion more quickly.
Also, we’ve defined your MVP: it’s important to remember that people who are investing in your queer art at a significant level ($100-$750 — your MVP’s price point — is a pretty significant spend for most people) ultimately represent the highest chance of converting into a buyer at a higher price range in the future. You have to raise your prices gradually as demand for your work increases, and this audience is the first one you should always target. Never should your prices double or triple for the same size work in a short time. A better increase, once a collection has nearly sold out, is around the 10-15% range. Then, when you’ve nearly sold out that collection, another 10-15% price raise for the next one until you’ve reached the point where your existing audience starts to push back. At that point you can either stay at that range and be happy with it, or you can begin to experiment with other styles and media that typically garner higher prices (e.g. oil paintings versus charcoal sketches) to see if your audience is willing to bear a price increase for that.
So is there a market for queer art?
Let’s turn back to Alex Guerra from Art Gaysel again for that one:
“As long as gay/queer men have disposable income, queer art will literally have a home.”
So there you have it, queer artists, there’s a market out there for your art and you’ve now got some of the tools at the ready to go out and slay!
Superfine! Magick will take place from May 6-10, 2020 in NYC’s Lower Manhattan.
*** Artist applications considered on a rolling basis. ***
A guiding force in the curatorial style and marketing strategy of all Superfine! fairs, Alex is also a major collector of contemporary art, a (partially) recovering social media addict, freelance writer, and constant content creator. Based in New York's DUMBO neighborhood, Alex, James, and the team have built Superfine! Art Fair from a scrappy Miami satellite fair into the largest and most widespread artist-driven fair in the country, with editions in NYC, DC, LA, SF, Seattle, and Chicago, plus 1-2 new markets per year.