Galleries: An Artist’s Perspective

Anne Belov, “Nothing Overlooked,” oil on linen, 36″ x 48″

I am proud to present Guest Blog writer, Anne Belov, who has some interesting things to say about the relationship between artists and galleries. Read on and see how “times-are-a-changing”.

Galleries: Is Keeping All Our Eggs in One Basket a Good Idea?

Way back in the day, 40 years ago when I was in art school, what most painting students wanted was to be represented by a gallery, one with lots of lights and bling and fancy openings…fashionable people gliding around dressed in black, with asymmetrical haircuts. We would have done anything to achieve this glittering Mecca of artistic representation, nay, the fulfillment of our wildest fantasies.

I should say that I’m hardly a revolutionary. I believe in galleries. I do not want the responsibility of having to sell all my work out of the trunk of my car. For the last 25 years I have supported myself primarily with the sale of my paintings. But through this current period of economic dysfunction, I have had to do some hard thinking, and the conclusion I have come to is this: change will happen whether you are ready for it or not, and change is absolutely afoot.

The gallery model that we have lived with since I started school, (over 40 years ago) is that for the privilege of representation, you will plight your troth to your gallery, being faithful only unto them, allowing them to control your exposure to the world. This works great when they sell everything that you bring them, but not so great when either the economy tanks, or your work is not of the current trend, and sits in the backroom, like a bride left at the alter.

The reason a gallery can ask for their percentage is that they work for it. (And if they don’t work for it, why are you there?) Think of it this way: your gallery pays rent, a fairly hefty electric bill, insurance, and provides full time knowledgeable staffing to show your art to discriminating buyers, handles delivery, credit card transactions, and stages openings, and collector events. And you get to stay in your studio and work, owing them nothing until they sell something. They have their faithful collectors – people to whom you wouldn’t have access without them.

Today there are so many ways to get your work in front of an appreciative audience, and all of them have both good points and bad. There is the internet, there are “pop-up” art exhibitions and art fairs. I think that what is needed is a composite of approaches, a synthesis of all of these venues, benefiting from the best of each. While a pop-up show may be great for a quick infusion of cash, it does nothing to build a long-term relationship with a collector, which is something a gallery can do well. The internet, while accessible to almost everyone, and not a bad way to sell things under a few hundred dollars, is not going to be a viable venue for selling paintings priced at thousands of dollars, unless people already know your work from (you guessed it), a bricks and mortar gallery.

I believe a shift in attitude is needed, particularly from the galleries who demand exclusive representation. Because exclusivity, without a firm commitment and track record of sales of your work, is a dead end for artists. As artists in a changing world and uncertain economy, we need to be able to take advantage of opportunities that come our way outside of our galleries. At the same time we need to be fair to those galleries that are expending time and money to promote our work. This increases the need for an ethical business model between galleries and artists, and we all need to step up to the plate.

Here are my guidelines for both sides of the equation:

Fran Beallor Exhibtion: Guild Art Gallery (Bill studying a painting)

For Artists:

  1. It’s time to give up the image of ourselves as bohemians that cannot be held to businesslike practices. Yes, you can deliver work on time, and with appropriate documentation and presentation to your gallery.
  2. Work should be priced consistently whether you are selling it from your studio or through the gallery, on the internet, or at an art fair. (This is not to say you can’t offer collector discounts of 5-10%. After all, your gallery does that as well. But it should only be for true collectors of your work, not just because someone asked.)
  3. Thou shall not “appropriate” gallery collectors to buy directly from your studio. By the same token, people who you have brought to the gallery (friends and family) can buy work directly from you, as long as you are not “cherry-picking” a scheduled exhibition. When I have a show scheduled and have designated work for it, I allow friends and family to have “first dibs”, but require that they buy it through the gallery.
  4. Keep lines of communication open, and have regular conversations with your gallery about future plans for your work. This includes letting your gallery know when work has sold elsewhere, so they have accurate information about what is available.
  5. You do not take work out of the gallery when your clients express interest. If the piece is currently in the gallery, you should send the collector to them and let it be their sale.

Helene Mukhtar Exhibition at 440 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

 

For Galleries:

  1. It’s time to give up the notion of exclusivity. If you are selling so much work that an artist can depend on consistent sales, you already have de-facto “exclusivity”, without having to limit an artists additional opportunities for sales.
  2. Communication needs to go both ways, and if you have concerns about sales or anything else regarding one of your artists, there should be discussion, and not just a letter out of the blue, saying thanks for the memories, but so-long.
  3. Galleries need to have a system for an end of the year inventory so that the artist knows what is in the gallery.
  4. Galleries should not keep work longer than a reasonable time period. If they are not hanging it, or showing it regularly, it’s time to send it back to the artist. (And then the artist has the opportunity to sell it to her own collectors at that point.)
  5. Artists should be notified immediately when a sale is final, so that they know when to expect payment, which should come promptly, as scheduled in your gallery/artist contract.
  6. On leaving the gallery’s representation, a list of sold paintings and collectors should be supplied.

These conditions require a certain amount of trust and good faith on everyone’s part, but if I can’t trust someone, I don’t want to do business with them. Additional exposure (not to mention sales) to an artist’s work is good for everyone, even if the gallery doesn’t get a piece of every sale, or if an artist sends one of their own collectors to the gallery. I firmly believe and desire that galleries are a vital piece of a sustainable future for artists, but restricting one’s artistic identity is no longer viable in this brave new world, with such wondrous things in it.

Anne Belov has been drawing and painting since she could hold a crayon.  After achieving a BFA from The Philadelphia College of Art, she moved west and went to art school yet again, receiving an MFA in painting from the University of Washington. Now living on Whidbey Island, the artist has more than one side to her creative activities.  She completed two successful Kickstarter projects in 2012, funding both fine art and panda satire projects.  She shows at The Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank WA and Scott Milo Gallery in Anacortes. You can see more of her work at http://nothingoverlooked.wordpress.com  Her main regret in life is that there is no MacArthur Genius grant awarded in the field of Panda Satire.

Featured Image (top): Anne Belov, “Nothing Overlooked,” oil on linen, 36″ x 48″
Gallery images compliments of:
Fran Beallor at Guild Art Gallery, New York, NY (middle image with art fan, Bill Hampton)
Helene Mukhtar at 440 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (bottom image)

4 thoughts on “Galleries: An Artist’s Perspective

  1. This is a VERY timely article and one that answered some questions for me, a relative newcomer to this art world. Even not being formally trained, the lure of a fabulous gallery show still seems to be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. In fact, a solo show is one of my career goals for 2014. This exclusivity thing is very scary for a new artist who doesn’t yet have collectors of their own work. As stated, it DOES get their work before people who obviously appreciate art. But it closes so many other doors.

    I think the recommendations put forth by Anne Belov are very valid and amazingly equitable. Yes, it does call for a certain amount of trust and commitment to ethical practices on both sides. Is that achievable? I have to believe that it is. Of course, there will be a few out there (again – on both sides) who have no moral compass and will attempt to work the system only to their advantage. But that is going to happen no matter WHAT system is in place.

    My question is: Given that many of us agree that something has to change to keep up with the world in which we live…how do we go about opening a valuable dialog with the other side? If this can be accomplished and commitments are made on both sides, I for one would be MUCH more likely to approach a gallery who agrees with this model when the time comes to present my solo show.

    I will be following this discussion with great interest! Thanks, Gloria for broaching the subject in this forum and passing on the wonderful article by Anne.

  2. Having put “all my eggs in one basket” before and having it fail on me, I certainly agree that diversity is very important especially today when the economy is tenuous.
    The galleries had always been my goal, but having several close on me, I have turned to marketing more of my own work. I now sell more myself than the galleries do. I have been able to sell on the internet, but that has very seldom been the big ticket paintings.

    Your list for gallery owners and artists is very fair. The one that there always seems to be problem with is getting that contact name from the gallery, even after they close. I have also asked for the contact from galleries at national shows. I have never received the contact even though I don’t show at the gallery beyond the show.

    You have stated it all very well.

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