The Unfolded Story Behind Red Dots in Art Galleries and Art Fairs

Art Fair Art Galleries Art Market Art Sales Business Art Collectors Galleries Red Dot

The Red and Round Stickers…

We find them besides an artwork at an art gallery or an art fair and they symbolize that the piece has been sold. Still, galleries leave the sold pieces hung during the rest of the collectors’ event or the art fair for people to know it’s not available. 

Their history has been hard to track; some say red stars were used in this matter way back since the mid-1800’s at the Royal Academy in London. Others allege that the red dot tradition is American, and that it started sometime around the 1950’s. 

However, it is well-known that red dots indicate a purchased artwork, and some people may know that a half dot indicates that the piece is on hold. This has been quite a “thing” in America since the 70’s.

Original Painting ‘’The Lovers No.2’’ by VIII. *Sold* 
Limited Edition (Hand Embellished) Archival Prints Available Per Request- via Contact Page

Following the discussion of history, let's move on to the present and the controversy!

Many galleries and art fairs still use red dots, and it gives an artist a great sense of achievement and satisfaction to place one next to one of their artworks. Nevertheless, using red dots has started to be seen as something quite tacky to do in the art scene for some people in the past decade. But, why!?

The red dot may be absent from prestigious galleries in recent years. But if you attend a small art fair, I can assure you that you have seen red dots. 

Now, red dots are being challenged as something of poor taste or vulgar, especially for art fairs and fine art galleries. For example, if you attend Art Basel, which is the biggest art fair in the world, you will not see a red dot anywhere even though many pieces have been sold. Still, they keep the pieces on exhibition so that gallery attendees can engage conversation with art collectors and enthusiasts that may be interested to dialogue or ask for other works by the same artist during the remaining days of the fair. 

Sarah Thornton wrote in her bestselling book, Seven Days in the Art World, about Art Basel in Switzerland;

“There are no prices or red dots on the wall. Such an overt gesture at commerce is considered tacky.”

Still, in young galleries and small art fairs, placing red dots creates a sense of urgency in visitors to fall in love with a piece of original artwork and take it home the same day.

‘’No matter how prestigious or how small a gallery or an art fair is, I think using red dots is a personal decision gallery Directors make based on their preferences and past experience on closing sales.’’- Blogger- Artist AKM 

It’s interesting understanding the human response to Red Dots…

In many galleries, one piece of art with a red dot beside it has probably prompted visitors to purchase one of the other pieces on display. It’s simple marketing and basic knowledge on human behavior! We feel tempted to buy something we know is original and EXCLUSIVE.

Still, many galleries have used the red dot unethically and at the same time, strategically to generate sales. Many gallerists have abused the use of red dots by sticking them next to an artwork that hasn’t even been sold. 

If you think this is wrong, this is also a strategy that high-profile collectors just won´t appreciate! Since red dots have been used dishonorably in way too many occasions…

This is exactly why using red dots has slowly been less common. Attempting to encourage sales by placing them to catch the buyer’s attention, is not something sought after for American collectors, gallerists and art fair professionals. Even so, red dots are not seen as something tacky or vulgar in Europe, they are actually extremely common and high-profile art collectors don’t mind them. 

‘’The scene feels nasty when everyone is just focused on sales. There’s no doubt about that! However, to curate a space for a welcoming and engaging time is a pleasure and a job, and a piece shouldn’t be excluded from a show just because it’s been sold.

To me, people should be able to tell if a piece has been sold or not… It’s all about the art but this is a business too. I'm not someone that could be offended by seeing red dots to be honest. At the end of the day, to me, it’s all about the art…. ’’- VIII.

It All Comes Down to a Very Simple Question, ‘‘a Do or Don’t’’

With the enormous sale potential at art fairs we only question…

Why put up a red sticker that costs less than a penny on a sold piece, when you can put another six-figure painting up for sale instead?  

Hmm, food for thought. Still, using red dots, or replacing the sold piece for another one, is a sale-related decision, turned into strategy, to be taken by gallery directors…and they normally know their crowd.

What is your take on red dots? Is it a better strategy to use them, or do you think is best to just discard their use for good?


This art blog was brought to you by VIII Art Co.  
To preview original artwork by VIII
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Author: Ana Karen Morales Q.

Editor: Valeria Mtz- Llamosa, aka VIII.


The Art League. Why do galleries use red dots?. February 4, 2015.,the%20remainder%20of%20an%20exhibit.&text=The%20red%20dot%20has%20a%20bit%20of%20a%20history.

L, Cassey. Why the Art Market’s Simplest Form of Transparency Fell out of Favor. January 15, 2018.


Ref 1: The Art League. Why do galleries use red dots?. February 4, 2015.,the%20remainder%20of%20an%20exhibit.&text=The%20red%20dot%20has%20a%20bit%20of%20a%20history.

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