In the past, I’ve discussed different models for galleries: traditional commercial galleries (consignment), co-op galleries, and “vanity” galleries. A recent email reminded me that there’s another variant of the traditional gallery that I’ve yet to discuss here: the artist owned and operated gallery.
An artist owned gallery shares many of the characteristics of a traditional consignment gallery, with a twist: the owner of the gallery is also an artist and showcases his/her artwork in the gallery. In many cases the artist couldn’t secure good gallery representation in the local market, or perhaps there weren’t any galleries around. Rather than ignore the market, the artist decided to open a gallery.
In other instances the artist may have decided that she or he could do a better job running the gallery and making sales than the galleries in the area. Or, perhaps, the artist simply wanted to have the opportunity to interact with customers and wanted to control the entire sales process, from the creation of the art all the way through to the sale.
Whatever the reason, almost every art market will have a number of galleries being owned and run by an artist. It’s often the case that when the gallery begins it only shows the artist/owner’s work, but often the owner decides that it would be smart to diversify what’s being offered to clients, and so the owner brings on additional artists. The dynamic in this kind of gallery is interesting, and it was this dynamic that sparked the email from an artist showing in one of these galleries. The artist wrote:
I’ve been represented by galleries all across the US in my 20+ year career but one problem has always bothered me. Are galleries run by an artist or a pair of artists going to give you and your work the same attention as theirs?
I currently have a gallery [representing me] that is owned and operated by two jewelers. They do fabulous high end work. It seems though that potential customers are led to the jewelry counter first and paintings on the walls are a second choice. I’ve even been there when the one owner stumbled over my art philosophy to a customer.
Should artists steer clear of galleries where you will be in competition with the owner’s spouse or even both even though it’s in a high traffic area? The sales from this gallery are much lower than my other galleries (which happen to be run by non-artists) and I suspect I may have entered into a situation that isn’t bolstering my career. But pulling out of a gallery is always a foreboding feeling especially here in a high competition area [. . .].
What are your feelings about being represented by artist owned and run galleries?
This is definitely a dilemma. In my mind, there’s no doubt that an artist/owner is going to give his or her work the highest priority – they have a huge financial incentive to do so. However, they are showing other artists work because they know that their clientele is going to be best served by them having some variety.
Ultimately, it would probably be better to have a gallery where you are on a level playing field, but until you have another gallery lined up, I would think that some representation in a major market would be better than none at all. In other words, I would continue to show with them, but I would also be actively seeking other representation in the market as you are able.
Every situation is different, and I know of artists who have been very well-represented in artist-owned galleries, but it sounds like this particular relationship isn’t working as well as you would expect it to. It might be worth having a conversation with the owners to express your observations and ask if there’s something you and they could do together to help better the marketing of your work, and, by extension, the work of other artists showing in the gallery.
What is Your Experience Working with an Artist Owned and Operated Gallery?
Have you shown in a gallery where the owner was also an artist? What was your experience?
Are you an artist that owns a gallery? How do you try to promote the other artists who are showing in your gallery? Do you feel a strong incentive to prioritize your own work in terms of display and sales efforts?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.