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.

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.

7 Comments

  1. I recently had a gallery that has closed for the season, sell a piece that they had carried off their website on the last day of the contract. However, they did not tell me until after the contract was over. The piece has been consigned to another gallery. I did my best to try to mediate the situation between the galleries. The gallery that sold the painting was angry with me and the new gallery. The new gallery said they would give the old gallery ten percent of the sale but that was it. I was so stressed about it all and then the gallery that was angry dropped me. Saying I did not advocate for them. I was so sad and also ticked off because it was out of my hands so I felt. What could I have done differently?

  2. Personally I would question why they wanted the works knowing that they are in another gallery and thus unavailable. Where did they see those 3 pics? I would hesitate to undermine the existing gallery relationship My response would be to say they are unavailable and explain that you honor and respect relationships both existing and new

  3. I would not do it. I see it as a matter of commitment to a gallery. It would give the impression to your potential gallery that you would also be willing to pull work from them for another gallery Since the 3 pieces in question were not on your list of work available to them I don’t see a problem with telling them they are in another gallery. It would show your commitment and loyalty to any gallery that represents you.

    Thank you, Jason. I think you give the best advice on these matters. Thanks for providing this space for us to discuss these issues. Always so helpful

  4. I agree. My mom always said, “the subjunctive mood is a powerful argument.” I never knew what she meant until I saw her in action with a store manager. “If you were me, what would you do in this situation.” That was it. He was demolished.
    Your take on this is exactly right, it seems.
    Jason keeps us in mind of “relationships” and that future one seems a bit one-sided.

  5. I had a piece that was juried into gallery show. I delivered it to the gallery and marked it as through gallery on my website. But it took a few days for the gallery to put it up. In the meantime it was promoted online through an Artful Alert and someone contacted me and asked about the piece. I explained it was committed to a juried show and I even invited him to the opening reception not realizing he was 3000 miles away. He then managed to buy it direct from my website saying he really liked it. He said he understood if I needed to keep it in the show so he could wait on shipping. I called the gallery and explained what happened and asked them to mark it sold. When I collected it at the end of the show I paid the gallery their commission but shipped it myself. Everyone was happy. I considered it an investment in goodwill.

  6. This is a sensitive issue with myself. It is typical in my gallery for certain works to move very quickly, and others to take some time. There are clients who will come into the gallery multiple times to look at a work, before making the decision to purchase. This can sometimes take weeks, or months. I personally like to hold a work for at least 9 months to a year. Some artists will not agree to those terms. If I have a piece that is getting a lot of attention and the artist wants to move it to another gallery, I will let him/her know that I am not ready to release it, however if it is a work which has not garnered much attention, and I am not real optimistic about it, then I will heatedly agree to release it, if the artist can supply me with something fresh. If I have not had it for a long time, then I feel the artist should assume shipping. Put yourself (the artist) in the gallery’s position. Can you imagine if you were constantly paying for shipping on artwork because artists wanted to move their work around to other galleries?

  7. Jason, I appreciate your bringing this question to light. It’s one of those situations we artists get nervous about, as we don’t want to burn bridges or have a gallery not like. Good communication is and getting things understood and in writing is key.

    Thanks for your typically-thought-out answer. I respect you for your willingness to tackle the tough questions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.