How Does Art Flipping Work?

Galleries in Focus

January 19, 2018

According to its "official" definition, art flipping refers to the rapid and financially advantageous resale of an under-priced artwork. Hardly an exclusive tactic reserved for the art world, flipping is a commonly found tactic that's widely practiced in nearly all markets.

Several notable art dealers have recently started claiming that the number of people flipping works of art has never been higher, which makes a lot of sense - the art market is an ideal setting for flipping an item. It's much easier to purchase art and nab a quick profit from a drastically higher selling price than to do the same with, say, a car.

Examples of art reselling can be found at every level of the market, be it artworks sold on eBay or at major auction houses. Yet, it is clear that high profile circles of the gallery world are up in arms over art flipping.

We take a closer look at how art flipping impacts the market as a whole, as well as how this strategy of cutting a profit sits with different roles of the art realm.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Warrior, 1982
Jean-Michel Basquiat - Warrior, 1982, via

First Things First - Some Examples of Customers Who Bought and Than Flipped an Item

One of the most often examples of art flipping you'll find is the much-repeated story of Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Warrior[1], a painting that was auctioned three times between 2005 and 2012. During that time, the price soared by an incredible 450 percent!

An Alex Israel sky painting that recently sold for more than $1 million is another good example as that price tag was over 10 times what similar works from the same series were estimated to be worth at the time of their creation in 2012.

Of course, these cases are pulled from the very top of the art flipping game - there are countless more examples of re-selling artworks on a smaller scale where the "flipper" buys a piece for, let's say, 30 bucks and then sell it for over $100.

Alex Israel - Sky Backdrop Work
Alex Israel - Sky Backdrop, via

Art Flipping Is Nothing New to the Industry

Although the recent raise in "art flipping awareness" might indicate differently, the truth of the matter is that this practice is hardly a novelty in any sense of the word. What is new, however, is the increase in interest focused towards flipping works of living artists.

The notable rise of flipping young artists' works can definitely be attributed to a few current trends that became vital parts of the art market in recent times. The main up-and-coming trend is certainly the rise of the online art market as Internet's auction sites, social media and other online factors opened a lot of doors that were previously sealed shut.

Furthermore, nowadays it's possible to effortlessly find entire websites devoted to art flipping, or blogs exclusively dedicated to such subjects. Amazon books or even professional assistance can also be found, so contemporary times definitely expanded the rules of the art flipping practice that was around for a long time.

Oscar Murillo - Colombian Roots & Cultural Evaluation Work
Oscar Murillo - Colombian Roots & Cultural Evaluation, via

Who's Impacted by Such a Practice?

The list of people impacted by art flipping - whether positively or negatively - is remarkably long. Dealers, art collectors and artists are all strongly affected by the reselling strategy that some buyers employ.

Many of these "victims" claim that the practice has made the market for art unstable - this theory states that art flipping can seriously hamper the pricing structure of the art world.

Supposedly, the increased value spurred by art flipping is viewed as unnatural and lacking long-term stability, a statement that easily raises an eyebrow or two when it's coming from a place like the art market that lacks so much transparency in general.

It should also be noted that young artists are often warned not to fall victims to someone hoping to flip their artworks. They are being scared with stories of how such scenarios were actually capable of killing careers of up-and-coming artists in years passed.

However, many younger artists who were subjects of art flipping (like Eddie Peake, Jacob Kassay, Oscar Murillo and Lucien Smith), never felt the negative effects of this purchasing strategy at any point of their highly successful careers.

Jacob Kassay at Fitzpatrick-Leland House, artist who sell the best of their work deserve some help, and you can be doing that artist a favor if you subscribe
Jacob Kassay at Fitzpatrick-Leland House, via

The Main Problem With Art Flipping

All the critics of the art flipping tactic seem to agree over what the main issue this notorious practice is. They fear that the "unnatural" price changing will be impossible to sustain long term, and that it will trigger market confusion which may force some galleries to close.

The other consequence of the potential instability is that the works of the "flipped artists" may be devalued after buyers start feeling "burned" by an art flipper. This argument is the main reason why the top of the art scene demands that art reselling be deemed unethical, although this might not be as true as they portray it to be.[2]

Eddie Peake - Where You Belong, Subscribe if you want to doing more than just read
Eddie Peake - Where You Belong, via

A Viable Strategy or an Unethical Manipulation?

So, should art reselling be considered unethical? Should it be put in the same sentence as something like bidding on your own artists?

There are cases to be made where this practice really does seem to be a legitimate problem - at the end of the day though, no matter how you construct the way you explain it, art reselling is not breaking any of the rules set by the art market[3].

In fact, it's a tactic taken straight form the art market's top dogs' playbook as this is the way many leading galleries and dealers make the most of their money.

Many mega-collectors, such as Charles Saatchi[4] himself, have frequently been linked to flipping art stories, so if the world's crème de la crème can do it, why should the common man be constrained from making a profit? If an average collector or a gallery owner invests enough of his time and effort into developing the skill of identifying opportunities before the top players get to them, why should they be stopped from cashing in on their finds?

The bottom line is, just like with anything else in life, moderation is the key. As long as the person re-selling the artworks does not enter the over-manipulation ground, the art market as a whole will not change for worse any time soon - at least not as a consequence of the art flipping scene.

Editors’ Tip: The Art of Flipping Art: Buying & Selling Art For Huge Profits


This book will allow you to discover how to profit by buying and selling art part-time, with no formal training and no art buying background. Throughout this book, the author shares his art buying and selling stories, focusing on both good and bad practices - this means that you will be able to learn both what to do and, maybe even more importantly, what not to do.


  1. Manly, L., Pogrebin, R., August 17, 2014, Barbarians at the Art Auction Gates? Not to Worry, NY Times [Jan 10, 2018]
  2. Kazakina, K., February 14, 2014, Art-Flip Speculators Boost the Young Artist Market, Bloomberg [Jan 10, 2018]
  3. Winkleman, E., 2013, Applying the Rules of all Markets to Art, Edward Winkleman [Jan 10, 2018]
  4. Anonymous, December 2, 2011, Charles Saatchi: the hideousness of the art world, The Guardian [Jan 10, 2018]

Featured images: Selling Artworks on the Street, via; Lucien Smith - Nature is my Church, via All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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