Get Some Gallery Love: Part 1

22 Mar 2011
When Tina Tammaro brings a new painting like "Geraniums"
(oil, 9 x 12 in.) to one of her galleries, she always comes prepared to
update her inventory list as well.

Why do so many artists seem to have a love-hate relationship with art galleries? On the one hand, galleries are still one of the most prestigious and effective means of selling art, but on the other, artists often trash talk many aspects of the gallery system.

Thanks to my recent work in a great gallery in Cincinnati as well as my own gallery representation over the years, I've come up with some important foundations for healthy gallery-artist relationships.There's no way to guarantee a great relationship with every gallery--and you have to find a gallery that is right for you--but you can build in some safeguards that will make these connections work for you. It all starts with maintaining reasonable expectations.

Expect to get what you pay for. In the gallery system, you get some portion of each sale and the gallery keeps the rest. The amount of money the gallery keeps is often a reflection of how much the gallery owners are investing in the location of the gallery and the promotion of its inventory. So a 70/30 split may sound good, but you may not sell much there because the gallery might be in a bad location and may not be promoted well. A 50/50 split may seem like a rip-off, but if the gallery gets a lot of traffic due to a great location and heavy promotions, you might ending up earning and selling more there. So, before you agree to be represented--whatever the split--ask the gallery owner how the gallery's location affects sales and what kinds of promotions are being pursued.

Horse by Frederic Bonin Pissarro
By delivering consistently good work at fair
prices, such as "Horse" (oil, 36 x 24 in.),
Frederic Bonin Pissarro has become one of
the stars of his gallery over the years.

Expect to get the gallery's policies in writing. Don't leave your work at a gallery unless you get a written contract that documents the gallery's payment policy (when they'll pay you for your sales), insurance provisions, shipping payment policy, discount offers, etc. An addendum to the contract should contain a detailed inventory of the pieces you have on consignment there. This list should be updated each time you rotate work in or out of the gallery, but be prepared to take care of these updates yourself.

Expect to be treated like one of the gang. This may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but the truth is, only the top couple of sellers in each gallery get individualized treatment. Gallery reps obviously want--even need--to maximize the sales potential of their most popular artists, so they'll often hold solo shows, take out special ads, and work toward gaining added exposure for those top earners. Unfortunately, no gallery can afford the time and money it takes to give every artist that kind of treatment. In fact, many gallery reps will often act like they don't have time for you--just expect it so it doesn't feel personal. Until you're a top earner, you may get lumped in with the rest of the gallery artists, but look on the bright side of this: Every gallery ad, every article about the gallery in the paper, every opening, every postcard, and every website hit is still exposure for your work, bringing you closer to frequent sales.

Before raising his prices, Greg Packard
consulted with a few of his gallery reps, who
all agreed he could command higher prices.
Expect to get valuable market feedback from experienced gallery owners. If your gallery's owners have been in the business a long time, they know the art market in their area inside and out. Specifically, they know what subjects, styles, and even what colors sell well in their gallery, which is feedback you can use in determining which of your works you are going to place there. This applies to pricing and framing, too. You may not agree, but they are the experts and your sales are their sales!

In the end, you may choose to forego the gallery relationship altogether, but if you do pursue the gallery system as one of your main sales venues, make it the best experience it can be. In my mind, having reasonable expectations of what your gallery can and should do for you is the first step toward building a happy and productive relationship. Soon, we'll look at some actions you can take to make these relationships even stronger. Til then, let me know what you think of these ideas.


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on 18 May 2011 1:02 PM

Thank you, Jennifer, for this thorough and realistic information. Now I want to read more...Susan/RedBarnArt

Lindy101 wrote
on 29 Jul 2011 8:30 AM

Thank you, Jennifer, for the ''heads up and get a grip on reality" article. I am a fiber artist and just got 4 pieces accepted into my first juried show.  I was gulping over the 25% that will be taken if anything sells. After having read your info, I am thrilled with 25%! It is just a 3 day showing, but it is a start. I look forward to further articles from you!

Henus wrote
on 16 Jun 2012 9:12 AM

Dear Jennifer, this article is 're helpful to all artist

who operate through the galleries. But, hoever I

must say that some gallery owners, are too proud

and egoistic of themselves. And this kind of attitude

Can discourage the up coming artist. First impression

matters a lot!

Joevega wrote
on 16 Jun 2012 5:57 PM

Oh my God very excelentes "muestras" thankyou very much!!!!