Practical Matters: Asking a Gallery for Artwork from Their Inventory to Supply Another Gallery

I recently received the following email from Steve, an artist in Arkansas. Steve has been working to expand his gallery representation and is in discussions with a new gallery that has expressed interest in his work. Steve writes:

I’ve recently been in touch with a new gallery that is interested in representing me. They reached out to include me in a group show for July, and asked that I send them images of my recent work. I responded with 10 slides of paintings I had in my studio. In response, they named off 3 canvases that were not on the list, but are in another gallery.

What do you think the proper response would be for this situation?

The previous gallery has had the 3 works for 5-6 months without a sale or leads, do you think it would be fair to have the gallery ship the works back or to the other gallery in return that I refresh the work?

Final Question: As a gallery owner, how often would you like for artists to rotate inventory? Is it common for the artist to cover shipping both ways?

I responded:

If you feel the show [in the new gallery] is a better prospect than the gallery holding the three pieces, you should contact the gallery that currently has them and let them know that you’ve had a request for the pieces from another gallery. Because they’ve been there 5-6 months, I think it would be reasonable to expect the gallery to ship them for you, but they may have a different opinion. If it had been less than 3 months I would definitely expect the artist to pay for the shipping, and they may feel that they need to have work longer, depending on their market. In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if they requested that you cover the cost.

Typically I try to keep work at least 8-14 months for having the optimal chance at selling.

That was the short answer. The longer answer is that this is an example of why it’s important to maintain open lines of communication with your gallery and to communicate regularly. It’s also important to have a good consignment agreement in place that lays out the terms of your agreement with a gallery and provides a framework for understanding how the relationship will work – including how inventory transfers will occur and who will be responsible for shipping expenses.

These aren’t the kinds of question that have objective, right or wrong answers. There are very few industry norms in the business. Up-front communication as you begin working with a gallery will answer many questions about how a gallery deals with these kinds of issues. If a situation like Steve’s comes up, however, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, explain the situation and ask how the gallery would like to proceed.

If the gallery that currently has the inventory would like to keep it and shares with you that they have had some strong interest in the work, you can let the gallery that is asking for the three pieces know that those artworks are currently committed to another venue and invite them to select other works.

What do you Think?

Have you run into awkward situations related to inventory being in one venue but needed in another? How did you deal with the situation? What thoughts, questions, or comments do you have on inventory rotation? Share your insights and questions in the comments below.

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