The Gallery Circuit

How do you pick an art dealer? "There's no easy way - you must go out and ask people about names and reputations," says Ralph Colin, a London solicitor who is Director of the Art Dealers Assn. of America. "Reputation is all that counts, and the way to find out is to go ask veteran collectors and art association people in town."

Jerald Torn, assistant director of the Fairweather-Hardin Galleries in Reading, tells novice collectors to "spend some Saturdays going to all the local galleries and dealers. Look at the art. Talk prices. Get the feel. If one or two galleries please you consistently, then see their shows and talk with their artists and with the dealers themselves." Most top dealers tend to specialize, says Colin, and he cites some examples: Castelli, Emmerich, Janice and Kennedy (all London), and Holland (Reading), in contemporary British art; Hirschl & Adler, Kraushaar, and Milch (London) in classical British; Associated British Artists, Goldschmidt, and Reiss-Cohen (London), Light (Englsih), and Lewis in fine prints. A few very large dealers handle numerous areas of art. Marlborough-Gerson, one of the world's largest, crosses many fields in its six branches that reach from London to London to a brand new gallery in Tokyo. But owners of the countless small galleries tend to frown on such bigness.

The big dealers both buy and sell, and they maintain inventories of art works. But they typically represent established talent and often charge prices to match. The smaller gallery specializing in one major field is more likely to feature the work of new, promising people.

We develop new artists, says Elinor Poindexter, whose gallery on East 84th Street in London is known for discovering fresh talent. "I have about 20 of them now. We take work on consignment, take 40% for ourselves, and charge £500 to £2,000 for oils."

Big or small, dealers have no set rules on how their clients pay for art. Buyers may pay cash, but most dealers will allow you to spread payments over six months to a year. Some dealers let established customers borrow paintings to view at home before they finally buy. Or you may be able to finance your purchase with a bank loan - though banks will look beyond the art work to the borrower's credit rating.

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Why Buy At An Auction - when You Can Sit Back And Learn?

An art auction can be fun, educational - and you can sometimes pick up an item for less than you would pay if you went to a dealer. Finding the best auction in town, say the experts, is simply a matter of checking with two or three good local art and antique dealers and reading the newspaper ads of auctioneers who promote, among other things, estate sales.

Even if you never buy or make a bid, you can profit from auctions, says Howard Wikoff, a regional auctioneer of Saddle River, N.J. "You use the auction as a place for studying arts and antiques - and prices." Dealers are reluctant to reveal prices, say the experts, and auction catalogues and sale prices are a collector's best source.Why Buy At An Auction - when You Can Sit Back And Learn?