Everything Artists Need To Know About Gallery Representation – Unanswered Questions from Artists

I just did a virtual presentation through SCORE via the Harvard Ed Portal, entitled “Everything Artists Need To Know About Gallery Representation” – we talked about a multitude of subjects, but a few questions were left unanswered at the end of the 90 minute session.

I’m going to work to answer them here so that the participants can benefit from the answers, as can any visitors to my site. A future post will hopefully aggregate resources for artists.

Question: The fees are so high at art fairs! How is that possible?!

Yes indeed: fees are quite high. Essentially, they are that high because galleries are willing to pay them. Fairs are run by businesses – they are a product being provided to users (galleries and artists) as a platform for their own sales to the end user (collectors).

The higher-end the art fair, the more expensive it is. One should keep in mind that fairs like Art Basel do have significant year-round overhead, including for staff and website development, etc. In addition, they are paying to rent the space where the fair will take place.

This isn’t to say certain fairs aren’t making bank. Alas it’s a question of supply and demand. The demand is greater than supply, so price is high.

Smaller fairs will be less expensive to enter. SPRING/BREAK which I showed at this past March can be almost free for individual artists/curators. That said, there are still many costs with setting up for 10 days in a different city. Art fairs always cost more money than anticipated.

This link has more great info on art fairs.

Question 2: How about galleries who ask you for money in order to show your work. “Predator Galleries” as you said. I have been contacted by a couple NY galleries.

If those NY galleries want money to show your work, I’d run in the opposite direction. It’s not worth it and their business model is to take advantage of artists rather than to sell art.

If your work is being solicited by a gallery but not sure if you’re at risk in some way (perhaps they’re not asking for money, but you’re not really sure why a gallery in NY would approach you), the best way to find out is to do your “due diligence” – that means to ask around. If you have artist friends in NYC, see if they’ve heard of the gallery or have been in it. Usually there will be a “vibe” at a gallery. Look at their website and list of artists – how many artists are listed? What is their work like? And, most of all, what does your “gut” tell you?

Also, ask them about insurance. Will your work be insured while onsite? In my opinion galleries should insure the work, although that’s not always the case. You need to make sure that you’re comfortable with the gallery’s policy.

I’ve also found myself in situations online where a fellow gallery wanted to post an artist’s work on their website, and it seemed like a great opportunity to expose the work to a different audience in the US. In reading through the fine print, I wasn’t comfortable with the terms and ended up pulling the plug. Sometimes it’s best to walk away – and it’s ok to do that.

Q: Is there an average percent of what will sell from a gallery show in terms of dollar amount and/or quantity of the whole show?

The short answer (for me at least) is no there isn’t, unfortunately. It’s always going to be less than the artist (and the gallery) wants though, I’ll tell you that.

My best recommendation for a show is to make a target of simply enjoying yourself and the exposure your work will receive, as well as new connections (and possible opportunities) rather than as a money-making event. Do try to sell, but know that you can’t make people buy your work.

In addition, sometimes it takes longer than the length of a show to complete a sale – keep your hopes up and follow up on leads!

Q: With finite resources for just so many outlets or competitions, is it worthwhile to join a co-op gallery that charges fees?

I think that joining a co-op gallery can be a great experience for artists and can be one of the easier ways (if one has the means) to get the experience of showing in a gallery consistently, as well as learning how they are run. There are multiple great ones around Boston. The ones I can think of off the top of my head include:

There is usually an application and selection process as well as initial membership fee and monthly dues. Clearly, there’s an investment involved in being part of the gallery, but the public doesn’t differentiate between commercial galleries and co-ops when it comes to where they purchase art (hence it may be just as lucrative, although these galleries won’t be going to art fairs). If you are looking to get your work in front of people, this could be an easier way if you’re not having luck with commercial galleries, or a stepping stone on your way there.

The original presentation

I hope that you found these answers useful. Check out the entire presentation below (and forgive the fact that this was, for many of us, the first time we had used this format)!

[The original presentation – via Zoom]

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