Art Swap


Well, we did it. We had a successful art swap. People came – and they brought art. They swapped, they haggled, they considered their options, and they made decisions. They also ate and got their knives sharpened. Here’s how it broke down – what worked and didn’t, and what we would do to improve the swapping.

As background, I had read about an art swap and loved the concept. Similar to a clothing swap (Naked Lady Party, as some call it), you invite guests and tell them to bring art to exchange. The theory is this: by a certain age, many people have art they’ve outgrown, art received from family members that’s not quite right, or regular old mistake purchases sitting around cluttering the house/garage/attic. Most people would like to get rid of these items, but how? Donate them? Try to sell them on Craigslist? Well, why not see if you can pawn them off on friends – and receive something in return. If it works, everybody wins.

If it works – this is the phrase that caused me some stress. How the heck do you pull this off? While it’s an incredible concept, unfortunately the concept was all I had – no specifics. Endless questions ensued. For example, if Jess wants to swap with Mark, but Mark doesn’t like what Jess brought, what happens? We thought of two possible outcomes. First, we encouraged people to work out three – and four-way swaps. (I believe there were some three-ways going on – which sounds kinda kinky, but wasn’t.) Second, there was also cash exchanging hands in cases where a swap was impossible. I swapped one of my items with a friend in a direct exchange, but I also sold a couple of items to a gal who brought nothing to swap and was looking to furnish her new office with art. The cash I received from her went straight to others to buy myself a couple of pieces. Nice.

Regarding the numbers – about 20 people came, and most brought a couple of pieces of art, though some brought several. We spread the art around my (very small) living room, and started checking stuff out. I believe that the more the better for this occasion, as you get a larger selection, but quality is also key here. Not necessarily good quality, but similar quality – and similar taste. If you can invite people who have admired the art of others in the group, it seems there will be more swapping.



To that end, we did set a few value categories and other parameters. We didn’t want some people bringing art worth $7,000 to swap with those offering post-college purchases. Our categories were as follows:

1. Art worth $100 to $300 dollars, including framing

2. Art worth $300 to $500 dollars, including framing

3. “Make me an offer”

4. Art was not limited to paintings; posters, glass, pottery, sculpture, and more were all available to be swapped

I originally thought people should be limited to bringing two pieces of art per person, but I was nervous we wouldn’t have enough stuff, and changed it to “bring all you can fit in your car.” We had a good selection. And guess what – people had a blast. The concept was definitely a hit, with a lot of visiting and comparing and discussion of worth, style, media. Of course, we had great food and plenty of drink, which definitely loosens people up. As a(nother) carrot to entice people to attend, I also had a mobile knife sharpener at the house. The van was parked in the driveway, and people dropped off knives as they came in, then swapped and sipped the afternoon away.

Now, here’s what we would do to improve the experience:

1. Once a successful swap or purchase occurs, remove the art from the room or indicate that it is no longer available.

2. Have guests fill out a tag for each piece they bring with the following info: what they paid for the art, what they consider the swap value to be (it could have increased or decreased in value), provenance (one guest had info for each artist she brought), bottom line sale price if they don’t want to cart the piece home.

3. Circulate pictures of items you know will be up for swap ahead of time as an example. I could have easily taken pictures of my items and circulated them, and I wish I had. Giving people something to use as a guide is a good idea.

4. Consider setting up a Facebook page for the event. This would allow people to post pics of items they plan to bring, and serve as a great guide for the type of art being swapped.  

This was such a blast that I’m going to have another art swap. And I had personal swapping success! I’ve already rearranged and hung my new art, plus I have a present for my mom. Next time, my friends and I will be more experienced – we’ll know what we brought last time and use that as a guide. In the interim, I seriously hope we’ll all be walking through our houses evaluating the walls. Should I swap that? Or do I really want to keep it? Those are the real questions.

Let’s swap!