Ask a Gallery Owner: Should Galleries Get 50% on Commissioned Art Projects?

I recently received the following question from an artist:

What is a reasonable split on commissioned work? I’m all for the gallery receiving 50% on work in their regular inventory, as it takes up wall space and has likely been shown to several potential buyers and marketed by the gallery as well. However, I wonder if 50% to the gallery is justified on a commission, especially in the case where the artist has been put in direct contact with the buyer and essentially does all the leg work (apart from the initial introduction).

Considering that a commission project does not take up gallery “real estate” and also the artist has the burden in materials cost and production time (not to mention risk in some cases), the artist will actually make less money on the project than the gallery if the split is a 50/50. As a former gallery employee I have seen commission splits as 50/50, 60/40 and even 70/30. My personal opinion is that a 70/30 may be a bit lopsided in favor of the artist (unless you’re a high end portrait artist and the split to the gallery is more of a referral fee so to speak), but 50/50 doesn’t seem quite right to me either, again, especially if the artist is doing all the legwork. Your insight would be appreciated!

Name Withheld by Request

Artist

 My response

Great question. We do ask 50% for commissioned work, but I feel we can justify it because we stay very involved in the process. Rather than just handing off the client to the artist we act as facilitators, scheduling phone calls and meetings, passing along photos and taking care of all of the financial dealings. My artists tell me they appreciate this because it takes away a lot of the pressure and makes the process easier for them. If there are any problems the client is passing them along to us instead of the artist and we can moderate the resolution.

Granted, a lot of galleries do less on commissions and still expect the 50%. In those cases it comes down to what you can come to terms on. If a gallery is a good sales producer for you and you value the relationship, it may still be worth the 50% to help sustain the ongoing representation.

Jason

What Do You Think?

Do your galleries ask 50% on commissioned work generated through the gallery? Do you feel they deserve the full fee on commissioned work? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences in the comments below.

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

16 Comments

  1. I see the 50% that galleries receive from the sale of artists’ work in the gallery as payment for their marketing, sales and sometimes shipping coordination. They earn it. Sculptor Kevin Caron, for whom I work, sells work at the gallery in Prescott to people in Phoenix (he lives in Phoenix), so clearly the sale wouldn’t have happened if the patron hadn’t seen the work in the gallery, and handle any shipping details.

    That being said, commissions are usually different. Once the patron is handed off to us, we handle client relations and any necessary shipping (sometimes a considerable concern with sculpture – even though the customer pays for the actual shipping – since it involves getting quotes, coordinating pick up, etc.). Even when a gallery doesn’t ask for a percentage for commissions, we offer them 15%, and most are glad to get paid for simply passing along contact information.

    The amount of work is different, so the amount of commission should reflect that.

  2. Does anyone ever suggest that the customer tip the artist, especially if there is a 50/50 split, and/or if the artist did quite a bit extra to accommodate the client?

    In this day and age when tipping seems rampant, I wonder if galleries ever suggest that to clients. If not, WHY not?

  3. If a commission comes through the artists Gallery and the Gallery remains involved in the sale then I would expect to pay the standard agreed upon split. After all the commission exists because of the Gallery efforts at getting the sale.

    But the problem comes on if an artist gets an unsolicited email that says “I saw your work at “such and such” Gallery and would like to commission a new work”, in effect leaving the Gallery outside the commission process. Seems like the Gallery still deserves the standard split still because they participated in getting the commission by having the work on display at the Gallery in the first place.

    I think the only time a commission would not be subject to split is if one’s Gallery is never involved, say when a customer is seeking to have a work commissioned after seeing it online on an artist’s website although some Galleries might also object. And it all depends upon the agreement and artist has with the gallery.

  4. I’m with you Jason–the gallery deserves the 50% if they are referring the client and handling the sale. That said, I also build in a 25% upcharge on a commissioned piece: This accounts for any special materials, preliminary sketches and extra angst that the commission entails. This is non-refundable and the client can walk away from the finished piece (and the deposit) if they are not happy with the end product. The upcharge goes to me in full or would be split if the client refused the work (never had that happen.)

  5. If the commission is handled by the gallery, then, yes. If you have a gallery that actually supports your work, then you should support them. I don’t have a gallery promoting my work, I have work in several art center gift shops, so my situation is different. If someone sees my work at one of those places and contacts me, then I give them 15-25% depending on how much I make. With “friend of friend/word of mouth” contacts, then no.

  6. A commission means a conversation with clients, and the added pressure of meeting a clients expectations, deadlines etc… VS just selling a piece that’s already finished. For anything custom, I’d be hesitant to enter into any agreement involving more parties than just me and the client commissioning the work.

  7. I think you have to look at this the same way you look at the overall gallery relationship: who is assuming the risk, and how is the work distributed. I don’t think there is a single answer to that question – perhaps even individual commissions could differ. As with any commissioned piece, good communication and willingness to accommodate on both sides should see you through to a logical and fair conclusion. You want a win-win-win, and galleries are precious. Let’s keep them in business.

  8. In this case I would think of the gallery as an “agent” and give them the customary 50%. Reason? Because a little distance is sometimes beneficial between artist and collector. When I was still in publishing, my literary agent could iron out any issues that might arise between the editor, art director, and I. This was very rare, but I was happy to have someone step in when it did happen. So the gallery owner can come in very handy and earn the cut. However, I also increase the prices on commissions.

  9. My husband’s gallery gets 40% on a commission and not their usual 50%. We came to this arrangement because an artist works in a flow of creativity so a commission interrupts that flow and there is quite a bit of extra work involved to make what the client wants. Both gallery and artist are happy with this arrangement.

  10. I would like to ask a slightly different question. How much should a interior designer and art consultant get for a painting? I have heard 20%, 25, or 30. Sometimes 50% when there is a split with artist, designer and art consultant. I am always unsure. I don’t want to seem greedy but want to be fair. The sale wouldn’t happen with out the designer and/or art consultant. I could really use help with this!

  11. Many years ago when anyone said my work should be in a gallery, I swore that no gallery’s gonna get 50% of my art! Emphatically, I might add. Unfortunately I not only stayed away from the galleries, but from any other serious form of art marketing. While I have yet to have my work shown in a gallery, I can at least offer what I believe to be true. While the internet is a viable option with an astronomical amount of viewers, they have to find you, or me, the “needles”, in a “haystack” of other artists. On the chance our site is found & visited, what the potential client will see will be what their monitor allows them to. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed seeing the looks on their faces when they experience my art, especially the 3-D, &/or larger pieces. I think “off-site” commissions which were based on work shown at a gallery, should be treated accordingly, with an agreed upon % to credit the gallery for showing & promoting.

  12. This is a tricky situation for both the gallerist, as well as the artist. Galleries are not in business to simply advertise for the artist. They take a great deal of risk and expense when taking on an artist. On the otherhand, artists are typically represented with more than one gallery. The artist can’t split the proceeds from a commission with every gallery. If a client comes into my gallery and inquires about a commission with an artist, and my gallery handles the process, I naturally expect a cut. Typically that is 40%. If the client approaches the artist directly, however has been into my gallery, and seen the artist’s work, or lives in the geographical region in which I have exclusive representation with the artist, I still expect the artist to provide the gallery with 40%. There needs to be a level or respect and trust on the part of the gallery and the artist, that they both are working together. I always state that upfront with the artist when signing a contract with them. If that trust is broken, so is the relationship. It is not unheard of for clients to come back into my gallery and share with me the news of a commission. There are no second chances with me. I am generous with my artists, and they know that. In the past my gallery has taken a smaller cut on commissions, however it can be time consuming and there are such issues as the legal aspect of things, shipping, taxes, etc that all need to be considered. Most artists are pleased not to have to deal with the commission process which is a three phase process. A good gallery earns every penny they make, and should never be viewed as the greedy party.

  13. Hell no, galleries are overpaid!

    With social media and websites the galleries will have to amend their business practices. I refuse to show in galleries and am doing quite well. Plus galleries depend too much on resume instead of quality of work and personal longevity. I understand a patron wants a history of work, but if an artist is selling for years that endurance can be revealed. I have sold/shown in galleries before and to enter one and not see pieces hanging is a disappointment. Galleries have to rotate work, it’s understood, but while your work sits on a shelf in a back room the artist is tied to a commitment without visual representation.

    1. Sounds like you signed up with the wrong gallery, David F. I won’t sign with one that “rotates” work within the gallery so some pieces are there but unviewable. In my experience, most galleries rotate your work by having you take pieces home that have hung a certain amount of time and bringing in replacements, which are then put up on the gallery walls.

  14. I’m booked out over 3 years with commissions. So working with galleries doesn’t work for me. That said I have one gallery in Las Vegas that offered to give me what I want for each piece and they Mark it up what ever they want. This works for me, but I still have the other problem with having such a large waiting list of clients waiting to commission.
    It’s worth noting that all of my clients have come to me through social media, and years of consistently working to build my brand on Facebook and now Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *