Regular gallery visitors will know that a red dot next to an artwork means the work is sold. This is an American gallery tradition, which has now become common practice around the world.

Variations on the red dot: All is not as simple as it seems, as a couple of variations have subsequently evolved:

-    A red half dot, while less commonly used, may signal that an art work has been reserved with a deposit, but is not fully paid. This means the work may become available for sale again if the prospective buyer fails to complete the purchase (yes, it does happen!) A half red dot on a limited edition work (such as a bronze sculpture) may also be used to indicate that, while the displayed work is sold, another is available in that same edition.

-    Other coloured dots (eg; green, yellow or black) may signify that an art work is on hold for a limited time (eg; overnight), while a prospective buyer decides whether or not to proceed with the purchase. Some galleries will put works on hold while others will not. If you love a work, but are not quite sure whether or not you should buy it, ask the gallerist whether she is willing to put the work on hold for you for an agreed, short time.

What if the work I love has a dot? If you fall in love with a work that has a dot beside it, go ahead and make an inquiry about the work anyway. The prospective purchase may fall through, or the hold may be lifted, meaning the work will become available to you. A similar work by the same artist may be available, or the artist may be willing to accept a commission to complete a similar piece for you. For works that are part of an “edition”, other works in that series may still be available.


Seeing red: While all is not lost when you see a red dot, it can be frustrating to discover the pieces you love are already sold. So, why do galleries keep art works on display that have already sold?


- Most commonly, sold works remain on display to maintain the integrity of an exhibition, in which works have been carefully selected and spaced so as to display well together. The integrity of the exhibition as a whole might be compromised by prematurely removing some of the works from show.

- More importantly, keeping a sold work on display gives other gallery visitors opportunity to enjoy the work. Works bought by private collectors may never again surface for public viewing, so it benefits both the public and the artist to keep works displayed long enough for others to see and appreciate the artist’s skill.

- For the conspiracy theorists: there may be other less honourable reasons why works with red dots are on display. Galleries have been known to place red dots on works in an attempt to encourage sales – people will think that the artist’s work is selling, and may be prompted to buy one too. Works that an artist wishes to retain in his or her personal collection may also be marked with a red dot, implying that the work has sold, when it was never available to purchase. (Such works should instead be clearly marked as NFS or Not For Sale, rather than displayed with a red dot).
- A more mundane reason for sold works remaining on display is that a buyer may not want to take the piece immediately, preferring to collect the piece at a later time. The gallery may keep the sold work on display until such time as the buyer is ready to take possession.

For further information contact ZIMMERMAN - www.zimmerman.co.nz / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.