I recently made the unpleasant decision to end my relationship with a gallery I was with for the past few years. They started out with a bang, but in the last few months both sales and communication had stopped – when I finally heard from them, they reluctantly admitted they were considering closing their doors. This situation, along with a few other bad gallery experiences in the past, made me start thinking about what every working artists should expect from each gallery that represents – and profits from - their work.
I remember how exciting it was to be in my first gallery. I made the decision early on in my art career to seek gallery representation rather than participate in street festivals or sell work on my own. I knew that a gallery would offer a broader and more legitimate exposure for my work as well as provided a greater potential for future price escalation. After many years of experience working with both good and bad galleries, I have identified what I feel every artist should expect from their gallery:
1. The gallery should operate from a proper brick-and-mortar storefront with an interior that is appropriately designed and lighted for displaying fine art. The gallery location should have good visual exposure on a commercial street within a critical mass of shops to attract a high degree of foot traffic. Working artists should not consider placing their art in stores whose primary business is selling gifts, food, framing or furniture - they are not legitimate art galleries and will not represent your art adequately.
2. The gallery should maintain reasonable hours and days of operation. It should also be staffed with the owner and enough knowledgeable sales associates to handle the amount of visitor traffic it regularly receives.
3. All major credit cards should be accepted.
4. The gallery should be set up/equipped to ship artwork anywhere in the world.
5. The gallery needs to be functionally equipped with computers/printers, high speed internet access, telephone and e-mail.
6. The gallery should have an appropriate, tasteful and easy to navigate web site that is frequently updated. It should include the gallery’s address/contact information, upcoming events, artist roster and hi-res images of its entire art inventory with available/sold status.
7. The gallery should have a presence in social media outlets (Facebook, etc.) that are frequently updated with gallery news, current shows, new work, artist news, etc.
8. The gallery should limit their roster of artists to a reasonable number based on the amount of wall space they have to display the art in a professional and proper manner.
9. The artist’s consigned work (with the exception of one or two backup pieces) should be on display, lighted and properly hung on a gallery wall. An artist should never allow their work to be displayed on the floor, concealed on a sliding rack or in a storage room.
10. An artist should expect good and timely communication from the gallery – when paintings are sold, when the gallery needs more of your work, etc. Expect the gallery to have a live person answer the phone during their regular business hours and expect them to return your messages within 24 hours.
11. Expect the gallery to operate as a serious, formal and profitable business and not as a capricious hobby.
12. Expect the gallery to advertise and promote itself and its events in appropriate media outlets, especially print media focused on the art buying public. Expect that they participate in national art organizations (AIS, OPA etc.) and in their local gallery organization events (first Fridays, gallery walks, art festivals, etc.)
13. Expect the gallery to advertise and promote YOU! This is why you pay them a 50% commission for selling your work. It is your job to provide the artwork for the gallery to sell, but it is their job to promote, market, advertise and sell the art you give them. It is not uncommon for galleries to request an artist share in some of the cost of marketing, especially when it primarily highlights the particular artist or their solo show.
14. Expect the gallery to organize several events and focused shows each year (group shows, solo shows, subject specific shows, holiday salons, etc.).
15. Demand a consignment contract with the gallery that, at a minimum, clearly outlines the following:
· Gallery commission
· Terms of payment to artist
· Who pays the cost for shipping/packing paintings to gallery and returning paintings to the artist
· Duration of consignment
· Responsibility for loss or damage of artwork while in the gallery/insurance
· Discount policy
16. Limit the number of pieces each gallery has to 4 - 6 pieces until you have had a chance to observe how they operate and how quickly they sell your work. The obvious exception would be if a gallery gives you a solo show that requires much more work. It is fine to “switch out” older work for newer ones if the gallery requests.
17. Never make one gallery the sole representative for the sales of ALL your work. Working artists typically have their work in multiple galleries (provided the markets do not overlap) and submit to national juried art shows and other art festivals.
A few other things:
Occasionally, a gallery will require a commission on any work YOU sell at juried competitions, private commissions, and internet sales directly from your own web site. Here’s the deal: unless that gallery is directly paying your rent, utilities and food bills, they have no right to demand a commission for sales they didn’t make. I once had a gallery tell me that I had to get their permission to enter all juried shows. I terminated my association with them and picked up my paintings the next day.
Keep in mind that an art gallery operates much differently than a standard retail store. A retail store MUST FIRST PURCHASE THEIR MERCHANDISE (at wholesale cost) – when it is sold the store makes a profit on the mark-up. A typical art gallery operates on a consignment basis – that means THEY ARE GIVEN THEIR MERCHANDISE FOR FREE by all the artists they show. When an artwork is sold, the gallery immediately gets a commission (in most cases 50%) and then the artist gets paid the remaining 50%. Visit any art gallery, look at the multitude of artwork on display, and understand that the gallery did not have to pay for any of it. This explains why most galleries love to ask an artist for as many paintings as an artist is willing to give them – it costs the gallery nothing. In most cases, galleries don’t even pay your cost for shipping the art to them.
The bottom line:
· Only deal with legitimate art galleries that operate in a proper business manner.
· Don’t tie up too much of your artwork in one gallery and never make one gallery your exclusive representative.
· Expect a gallery to promote you and your art in return for the money they make off your work.