1. Act rich. For all their democratic brio, people who sell art are only really interested in people who can afford to buy it. The average price of an artwork at Frieze is £20,000, which is more than an Alfa Romeo. But acting rich is not as easy as it used to be. Pressed jeans and Tod’s loafers are a uniform of the past. Assume a casual, studied air. When confronted by a work designed to make you laugh, don’t laugh. Haughty disdain goes a long way, although if you can match that of the gallerist, you are made of ice. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the price of anything but never, ever, mention any currency denomination (see point two).
2. So you quite like the look of something, and you ask how much it costs. “Two,” may be the reply. The air of vagueness is a test. You will know, from your studies of the artist in question, whether that means £2 (no), £200 (unlikely), £200,000, or £2m. But if the gallerist’s assistant is American, she (almost always a she) may be talking dollars. Don’t ask. Make a rough calculation in your head that covers all possible options. Any physical reaction is ill-advised, other than the barely perceptible raising of an eyebrow. Finally, ask if she will accept roubles. You’re on the front foot now.
Personally, I had almost bought a late Willem de Kooning painting which was in the range of 7 to 9 (million dollars I guess), but unfortunately it was already sold. Concerning ethnographic art, Donald Ellis, Galerie Meyer and Entwistle were present at Frieze Masters, but most of the material on view had already been exposed during Parcours des Mondes – nevertheless a fun fair to visit.