Pondering The Artist Life

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Finding the Right Gallery


So, you want to start making some money with your art, eh?
There are lots of ways to reach collectors in today's art markets... outdoor shows, Ebay, web site, etc. However, many of my artist friends who have done very well at outdoor shows in recent years want to show in galleries, and although most galleries take a 50% commission, they like the affirmation that goes along with having someone else sell their work.

Not all galleries are created equal. Ideally, a gallery that sells a lot of work has the following points:

The gallery is located where there is foot traffic, expensive restaurants, and usually, no where to park. Old Town in Scottsdale comes to mind. In other words, in a classy arts and shops district. These places are usually located in resort towns. Some galleries can be out of the way, but they usually spend quite a bit of money on advertising in art collector magazines in order to interest and attract good clientele.

Now don’t fall for a gallery that boasts about car traffic on a busy street because folks who do end up visiting galleries generally need an alternate reason to be in the area. .. such as many shops and galleries, atmosphere and restaurants (which I’ve already said). No one will get out of the car to stop at a gallery while on the way to somewhere else. Maybe there are a few exceptions, but they are a few.

The ideal gallery should also have wonderful lighting, a glass front with paintings attractively displayed, and it should almost always be on the first floor. If it is next to another gallery, so much the better! Quality art is not inexpensive, and so a gallery needs to be in an area where wealthy people go for fun. Art collectors often like to visit as many galleries as they can in one evening. Art Walks are a great way to bring in folks on a regular basis. Where there is one successful gallery, it won’t be along before others crop up around it. That’s when the rents go up. It is interesting to note that many rents in high end art districts can run in the tens of thousands per month. Add $5,000 full page ads onto the cost, and you’ll see why gallery owners need to take 50%. They also can not afford to keep art on the wall for very long if it has not sold.

In fact, smart gallery owners do not let works sit unsold for months on the wall. They either call the artist and ask for an exchange of work or ask the artist to come pick up all of his or her work if nothing has sold. This is actually a good thing. Dealers who do this are interested in making a living and work hard to sell the work of the artists they represent. I have had to pick up work twice in my career - it isn’t a big deal... I’ve seen it happen that an artist took work out of one gallery, went into a gallery on the other side of town and sold a ton of work!

Some owners don’t like contracts, but I do, so if the gallery owner does not have one, I have them sign my own (2 copies) - one for me and one for them. It’s not complicated or unfair, but I expect to be paid within 30 days of a sale, and when it goes beyond that time, it lets me know there is probably financial difficulty or else the owner or manager is not good with paperwork. What that means to me is that I don’t really want those kind of headaches, and I arrange to show my work elsewhere.

Can I afford to be that snobby? Yep... you bet! I’m in business to make money, and possibly let my husband retire earlier than expected. On the other hand, I don’t see my art as just a commodity either... it has brought joy into the lives of art lovers. The way I see it: gallery dealers do not own me, nor are they my employers. They work for me as much as I work for them. It is a 50%-50% partnership based on trust and honesty;we depend on each other.

One time, a gallery dealer on the east coast delayed payment for almost a year (even though my husband called and so did I). She became permanently unavailable. Fortunately for me, one of the gallery’s best selling artists happens to be a good friend of mine, and when she threatened to leave the gallery if I didn’t get paid, the dealer made arrangements to see me in 2 days, and I got my unsold paintings back and check for those that had sold. I also found out later from a client that the gallery was asking way more for the retail price of my paintings than I had set. These kind of practices are illegal in most other business transactions.

Get References:

Once you’ve made an appointment to show your work (I’ll address preparing for gallery representation in a separate article), either contact the other artists in the gallery privately or ask the owner for a couple of references. If he or she gets annoyed - explain that you just want to be sure you’re getting into a stable business arrangement. If they look at you like you’re crazy... maybe you don’t want to deal with that person. If your artwork is good enough to sell in the gallery, you certainly should be treated with respect by the gallery dealer. You are both professional adults and should display mutual respect.

Ok, that’s enough writing for today. Feel free to comment or ask a question.


Lori Woodward Simons




Topics: Art Marketing | Working with Galleries 



2 Responses to Finding the Right Gallery

Thank you for the insight Lori. I've just started exploring the business end of art and appreciate knowledgeable advise. I'll be subscribing to your feed. Is there anything I can do for you?

Thanks again,

Hi Lori,
Your comments are very helpful. I especially can relate to the "I have to make dinner now" comment.

I am very frustrated right now, because I had 2 galleries that show my work. One I quit because in 2 years they had sold none of my work in spite of my efforts. There should have been more effort on their part. The other one is on the way out. I'm feeling discouraged, but then I realize that these two gallery owners don't know as much about the art business as I do. I have been in the business for 24 years, 17 of that working in galleries.
Bottom line, I was very excited and flattered that a gallery wanted to show my work, so I put up with a lot of extra stuff just to be able to list galleries on my website or in my ad. But you are right, "I can afford to be snobby"! "Galleries are not my employers.... they work for me."

Thanks for your article. I'm staying tuned for more.


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