Should Artists Show their Art in “Vanity” Galleries?

In a recent interview, I was asked where I saw the  the art gallery business going in the next ten years. This is a very interesting question and could have resulted in an hour-long conversation on its own. Because I only had a few minutes to reply in the interview, I pointed to three trends I see as being very important to the future of the business. I mentioned the increasing importance of self-promotion for artists. I talked about the move toward increasing online sales. Finally, I predicted that we would see a rise in the number of art galleries charging a fee to show and sell artwork. Even as I write this, I can see that there’s great discussion to be had in all of those topics (watch for future blog posts!). It’s the third and final point I wish to focus on here, however.

I frequently have artists write me about their encounters with galleries that are asking for a fee to show work. Last week, for example, I received the following email from an artist:

Not asking for any advice this time. You have been very helpful with that. This is follow up info on a gallery I asked you about a couple weeks ago on N. Marshall. You gave me some insights on how to find out more about them. I did as much due diligence as I could and they seemed to be a traditional gallery, so I flew in to meet with them. They moved to Main Street just before I got there, which I only found out they were doing after I bought tickets. But since that seemed like a good thing, I was not concerned. I assumed it meant they were doing really well. When I got there I drove past their old gallery which was a nice medium sized space with lots of wall space and great lighting. Based on that and the photos they had of the space on the their website,(they have since changed the page) I expected the same set up when I got to the new one. I was in for a genuine surprise when I got there and it was this really small space, which is when I started to wonder if they had” changed programs on me”. If I understand “vanity gallery” correctly, that is what they are running. They charge a large fee for you to hang your work for a month. It does not hang in the gallery the rest of the time. I can’t say for sure what they had going at the other space, but I suspect this is a change in model of operation to some degree. They are offering this to people with more limited, if any, gallery experience that may not understand what they are doing. I realize it is perfectly legal as long as they disclose it all, but they are not up front before you come in. I think I even asked them before hand if it was a traditional gallery set up. I did get a couple things out of it. A great learning experience. Also, they liked my interpretive horses, which you commented on when I asked you to look at my work awhile back. That was a nice confirmation for me about my horses.

My purpose for this is because I think a lot of artists have naive assumptions about more established, well known art districts such as Scottsdale. It frankly never occurred to me that a vanity gallery would open up there.I don’t know why, just something I assumed. My biggest concern was how they were doing financially. You do a lot of blogs and on-line discussions about art and marketing and galleries, etc. It seems to me a lot of artists could benefit from understanding the various types of galleries that exist, the pros and cons of them, and what to try and avoid. I understood as soon as I got there that it was not what they let me think. ( I want to be clear they did not blatantly lie, they inferred.) But I am in a couple galleries and have perhaps done more research than an artist just getting started. Artists should know that location is not a guarantee of a traditional gallery, or even if it is ethical in how it’s run. I also understand galleries are having to try a lot of new ideas to survive, but I think that is a far cry from a vanity gallery. I , for one, would love to see me information on those subjects. Anyways, just an idea for your future reference.

Thanks, Kim J.

 

Kim brings up some great points. Just to be clear, what she is describing, a gallery asking for a fee to show your work, is the classical definition of what has been labeled the “vanity” gallery. For those readers unfamiliar with the term, let me explain. The idea is that these galleries, instead of taking work  on consignment based on the marketability and merit of the work,  play to the “vanity” of artists. Instead of waiting for their work to improve or waiting until they’ve gained further recognition for their work, these artists are willing to pay the fee to get the exposure.

The concept is similar to the “vanity” press. A vanity press will publish your book for a fee when traditional publishers decline to publish it. I suspect that the term started in the publishing world and migrated to the artworld.

The Art Market is Changing

I actually think our conception of these galleries is a bit outdated. The market has changed, and there are a number of galleries that are charging a fee to show artist’s work, but they are not doing it to prey on vanity. Instead they see a change in the market and an opportunity to create a new business model. In fact, I try not to use the term “vanity gallery”, because I feel it’s taken on a charged and derogatory connotation (I’m using it in this post in quotation marks because I feel the term will be understood more readily by those familiar with it) and I feel that for some of these galleries, the title and concept are no longer accurate.

So what do I mean when I say the market is changing? In past posts and podcasts, I’ve talked about how the internet is opening up opportunities for artists to interact with and sell directly to collectors. This is great for artists who want to promote themselves and manage their own sales. It’s also great for collectors who wish to seek out artists outside of the gallery scene. It can sometimes lead collectors to find good values. These direct sales are putting pressure on traditional art galleries to an extent. While it is sometimes the case that these collectors simply would never have bought artwork had they not been able to buy it directly from artists, there are also cases where the collectors are buying directly from artists instead of buying the work through galleries.

In some cases, the artists are showing in galleries, but the collector then approaches the artist to buy work directly from the studio, cutting the gallery out of the sale. This is especially harmful to the gallery. Now the gallery is paying high overhead to show the work, but not seeing any financial return for the expense. Galleries are dealing with this issue in many different ways. Some are going out of business. Some are working harder and being creative to find ways to provide more value to the artist and collector and earn their commission (I like to think that this is what we’re doing at Xanadu Gallery!). Some are starting to charge a fee to show work.

Instead of thinking of traditional galleries as “good” and fee-for-display galleries as “bad”, I just think of them as very different businesses.

For an artist who wants to focus on creating art and avoid dealing with the sales and business side of things, a traditional, commission gallery probably makes the most sense.

For an artist who wants to do their own promotion and sell directly to buyers, a fee-for-display gallery might make sense. This artist might simply consider the fee an advertising expense.

Do Your Due Diligence Before Working with a Vanity Gallery

Of course, if you are considering showing your work in such a gallery, you would want to make sure that the gallery is offering value for the fee. Simply having a space and opening the doors is no guarantee of exposure or sales. I would recommend that before agreeing to pay a fee to show your work with the gallery, you speak to three or four artists who are showing, or have shown in the gallery previously. Ask if they feel the exposure was worth the fee. Make sure that you understand how the gallery will promote and display your work. Ask how a sale will be handled. Does the gallery also take a commission on sales? If so, you would expect it to be significantly smaller than the 50% traditional galleries ask. I would certainly recommend a written agreement.

Interestingly, this is exactly the same advice I would make to an artist considering showing in a traditional gallery. Remember, you might think that a “vanity” gallery is charging you a fee, and a traditional gallery is not. This is simply not the case. The traditional gallery is taking the fee after the sale; the fee-for-display gallery takes it before. Because there is no guarantee of a sale, this means that in the traditional gallery, the gallery is taking a greater risk if the work doesn’t sell. If you are paying fee to show  your work, you will be taking the greater risk.

Ultimately, this means that a traditional gallery has more direct motivation to promote and sell your work. The fee-for-display gallery also has motivation to sell your work in the long-run, however. If they don’t sell any work, they will eventually run out of artists willing and able to pay their fee.

Another concern I often hear is that artists are afraid that showing in vanity gallery will hurt the artist’s chances of getting into future galleries, or hamper future sales to collectors. I feel this fear is unfounded. If you can generate exposure and sales through the fee-for-display gallery, those sales and followers will be a positive on your resume. It’s unlikely future galleries will even pay attention to where those sales came from.

Share your Thoughts on Whether an Artist Should Show in a “Vanity” Gallery

You’ve heard what I think, now it’s your opportunity to share your thoughts on the vanity gallery. Have you shown your work in a fee-for-display gallery? Was it a positive or negative experience. Did you sell art or get some other benefit from the relationship? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments below. Please avoid naming galleries or giving gallery locations – I wish to keep this discussion based on broad principles, not specific galleries (I also would like to avoid law suits!). I am particularly interested in hearing from artists who have had positive experiences.

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31 Comments

  1. Any artist who sells around their contractual relationship with a gallery is practicing unethically. They should be dropped for breech.

    Vanity galleries might be interesting as a way for some gallerists to move risk to artists. I do not care for it as a model. As an artist, I already assume all the costs of creation which are non-trivial, plus freight costs to and sometimes back from galleries. Not sharing the risk of sales by charging for wall space just adds to the financial burden, which is a non-starter for me. I expect a partnership.

    1. You are so right with this. As much talk as there is about selling art online vs a gallery, artists need to make a conscious decision of which route they want to go. Work with a gallery, and allow the gallery to develop their career, or sell direct themselves. Galleries make an investment when they take an artist on, and it is in the artist’s best interest to work with the gallery and not against them. As for “vanity galleries”, (often referred to as well as “pop up galleries”) it is a mistake in the end. It may feel good to have your work hanging on a wall for all to see; however there is no long-term future with it. In my opinion it is a lazy way of doing business, and in some ways unethical on part of the gallery owner. Many times the public does not understand that it is a vanity/ pop up gallery and returns in the future to wonder what happened to you. As difficult as it is to position yourself in a legitimate gallery, it is well worth the effort.

  2. Jason:
    Very interesting and timely subject!
    I have work at a traditional gallery and the commission fee is high. They do sell my work at higher prices, so it kind of evens out in the end.
    Then I decided to try an opportunity to go into a “fee for showing” gallery. I paid the reasonable monthly fee, placed more reasonably priced work there and sold 2 pieces. But I still owed the gallery a commission.
    Though lower than the traditional gallery’s charge, once again, it kind of evens out. I had already paid some of it in advance as a “fee for showing”.
    I find that in any arrangement and location, refreshing the work offering pretty regularly helps with sales.
    So I keep painting!!!
    Thanks for sharing all your terrific experience and wisdom.
    Denise Petit Caplan

  3. I have been in a large community gallery in a tourist town for seven years. You must be invited to join after a portfolio review. We pay minimal rent for wall or studio space and this gallery takes a smaller fee per sale than a traditional one. My name has become known and I was even invited to be in a 3-person museum show because of the director seeing my work “out in public”. I earned having my own studio there and have a space where I can do workshops. The direct interaction with the public in my studio has been enjoyable and valuable. My gallery also has lots of events/classes unrelated to art that bring in a lot of traffic. Since I have only been able to completely devote my time to art since I retired, I would have never had the exposure I received quickly through being in this type of gallery. We’ve actually become an attraction and other galleries, restaurants and stores are opening near us. I’ve seen these springing up in other towns lately. I hope to show in more traditional galleries too, but this has been great for me.

    1. I think Cindy and others may be describing a more traditional cooperative gallery, not a so called vanity gallery. I have belonged to a co-op in my small upstate NY town for many years. It is very enjoyable and has allowed me to meet many other local artists, but is has also unfortunately not been very useful for selling my art.

      In the past I have been in several online discussions about vanity galleries. Mostly, those who are the most adamantly critical have two main complaints. On one hand they say that these galleries really don’t care about their artists, only about getting their money. Mostly these arguments are made by artists who have little knowledge of a vanity gallery, but find it offensive that they will be asked to pay to show. They tend to identify them as “scams” because they ask artists to pay for showing their works because as everyone knows “good galleries” don’t do that . In my mind labeling them this way is extreme as what they are doing is not a scam. They are as Jason points out just using another business model.

      The other often stated complaint is that it can hurt your reputation and career as an artist as many galleries and museums upon seeing that you have shown in a vanity type gallery will see it as a negative, that you only showed there because you paid money to do so and were not chosen because of the quality of your art. However I think that is an unfounded fear. I have yet to encounter any artist to whom this actually happened. Moreover some vanity type galleries do have a portfolio review to make sure the work is of high quality which makes sense because if they show works of inferior quality they may build a negative reputation.

      One thing that vanity galleries can do is an open door to artists who may be just starting out. And I have also heard that in New York City some of these vanity galleries show the works of artists from abroad who want to show in the US but may not want to come to NYC, not knowing how their work will be received, or who cannot afford to come here.

  4. Jason.. Sold a couple thousand and minimal “rent” of tiny gallery. Did own marketing, and had fun meeting folks talking about my work. Have been featured in traditional gallery, now in co-op with 25 artists. We all pay monthly fee and a percent of sales. All three galleries have pros and cons.

  5. I live in a community that in spite of having a population of about 300,000, has no traditional gallery. We have a community art association run by amateurs and a couple of small spaces run by millenials. Without pop up events and vanity galleries we local artists would have no other way to show and sell our art, so don’t be snooty and knock it.

  6. If you are dying to work with a gallery, I would only give this a try if you are within driving distance and if the gallery is in a destination location…and if you, the artist, have a solid plan to help them promote your work.

    I’m going to guess that a vanity gallery’s mailing marketing list will be mostly artists. They really have two businesses that they run—selling space to artists…and as Jason points out, trying to sell art to keep artists in the space.

    It’s all fair as long as everything is run ethically.

  7. a major concern for me would be the company i’m keeping. I’d certainly want to visit to see what type of other artwork is being shown. Poorly executed art in the rest of the gallery will reflect poorly on your own art. I would hope that there is some sort of jurying process and that these galleries just don’t allow anybody to show?

    1. We try to curate the work by a jury process. Once we had a great painter come to meet with us. Instead she brought her “multi-media” pieces done with glitter and pieces of jewelry and sequins. She was not juried in because she wasn’t interested in showing her older work, just her new “creations”. Lol! Then she bad mouthed the gallery because of this experience. So you never know what you will get when you say o.k. to a random artist.
      .

  8. Agree with Jan about selling around their contract with the gallery. Regarding “pay to play” or “vanity galleries”, It seems like a very large financial risk. One gallery charges $9,250 for 20 feet of wall space, that including the travel and or shipping expenses for a one month showing seems prohibitive, unless one has a proven sales record and collectors in the area. And if one has a proven sales record and collectors in the area, then it seems unlikely that one would need to pay a fee to show. An artist’s desire for exposure needs to be balanced by the realistic benefit of that exposure.

  9. I suppose the thing to do is look at the reasons for the evolution of gallerys. I suspect it’s the 50% to 60% that gallery charge. A lot of Artists are not happy with the percentage because they don’t see any effort or any measurable effort on the gallery to service their needs. I would submit to you, Jason, that the bulk of your fellow gallery owners do not put in the effort that you do for your Artists. When it comes to a choice of giving up 50-60% of the price for my art versus DIY online, its a no brainer – particularly where I don’t need to make thousands of sales for my livelihood. That being said I understand Gallerys have a overhead they have to meet to stay in business, but unless and until they can show they’re earning the percentage they charge Artists are going to seek alternatives to the traditional form of exhibiting their art. High percentages and Vanity Gallerys are just some of the reasons contributing to the changing Gallery scene.

  10. I operated up a studio/gallery for 15 years in a major western city. My main focus was really to make my own art and not to run a gallery, but since I had a nice retail space on a great street I had to find creative ways to help keep the retail gallery open and my business thriving. I opened up my gallery to other artists who paid a fee and/ or worked to keep the gallery open. So I suppose you would call that a vanity gallery. Many artists derided the artists who would pay to be in a gallery, but those same artists had to take there chance finding a REPUTABLE gallery which isn’t that easy. One of the things that lead me to open my own Gallery in the first place is that I had been in so many traditional galleries where I had to chase my money from sales in order to get it. I was tired of it.
    The benefit to the artists who were in my gallery was that they were able to control the work that they showed, they didn’t have to pay large commissions and a huge thing was that the patrons really enjoyed meeting the artists and developing a relationship. What I was really surprised to find was that the public often liked and bought the work of Artists that I thought was (not so good). and some other artists that I thought were fabulous, didn’t sell much. That experience made me realize that the public will decide on what they like if given the opportunity and artists or gallery owners have another opinion on what is good. Gallery owners often keep the work they choose to show a bit narrow to fit their own tastes and this doesn’t really encourage growth or expression of the individual artist. Choosing to show in a “Vanity Gallery” gives the artist more freedom to be creative and see what the patrons respond to.

  11. I own what could be termed a vanity gallery in a somewhat destination location. I also do custom framing on the premises. In this market I have been paying all my expenses with custom framing. This means there is less time to curate and sell on the gallery side. The artists are mostly locally known and are given opportunities to have a one month solo or group show. We try to hold seasonal themed shows around the winter holidays and Halloween. I do not charge to hang in the gallery and only take 35% commission on the few sales we have. I have been mulling over the idea of charging for a “Solo Show” just to cover expenses if nothing sells. I realize that the work is sometimes less than stellar, but we also have some amazing art on the walls. What solution do you see for this dilemma of making money for the gallery and being fair to the artist?

  12. Good grief! $9,250 for 20 ft. for one month??? Plus a commission? They must be showing some really high end work that sells for big bucks. In my price range, I could fill the entire 20 ft. with my paintings and the total retail price wouldn’t be that much.

    The artists like me with more modest reputations can’t afford it, and the “star” artists can sell their work for high prices in traditional galleries with no up-front fee. So why would anyone fall for that?

  13. t thought,”Oh great! This gallery is in the right place (next to Victoria’s Secret). There will be a lot of people coming in and I will sell some of my art.” It was a vanity gallery. I spent more money than I had. I sold nothing. The handmade, low priced jewelry sold. Some paintings. Not mine. Nothing. Nada. I pulled out. I’m using my saved money to paint for myself. Am I ever going to sell? I have some pieces in a gift shop so I’ll see if any one likes my work. I do. Cash flow would be nice, but painting is therapy for me and a lot cheaper than a therepst. I wish all artists good luck. It’s a tough business!!!!

  14. Jason…..In an effort to gain more exposure, I joined a local fine arts association. To be accepted as a artist member one must fill out an application, set a date for the membership jury to review 3 or 4 pieces of your art , At the time of your “review” you show your art, give a short “talk” about your art, and a check for your membership . (Jan. – Dec. ..$40.00. June – or later = $20.00. ) Membership in the club entitles you to exhibit up to 3 pieces in the clubs members only gallery in any of 8 or 9 monthly Shows. An additional “entry fee of .80 lin .ft. is assessed per piece/as well as a Reception / “buffet fee of $15.00. These shows are open to the public for sale in which the club takes a 35% commission. Additionally there are 2 juried shows that are open to members and non members (same entry fees apply to all who enter, member or non member.
    I will tell you that the “Gallery” is beautifully maintained and located in a smaller specialty mixed mall. (retail, services, specialty stores movie theater and recently placed new regional contemporary art museum. /the traffic is not anything to shout about, but it is across the street from a major retail mall . Next to and connected to the gallery is a “artists craft shop.. pottery, jewelry, photography, with artists studios available for rent above the craft shop.

    EXAMPLE OF A MEMBER EXHIBITING FOR A SHOW:
    ONE PIECE OF ART: 20″ X 20″……20 +20 = 40″ 40” x .80 = $32.00 plus $15.00 reception fee.
    Total Cost for a member to exhibit his piece in the gallery for a month …..$47.00

    ***if the artist pays the “entry fee” two weeks in advance of the entry deadline , the club “prints the artists names on a on a post card size card announcing the date of the show, day and time of the reception and makes the cards available to the artists for distribution and places the announcement throughout the mall. (there is no charge to public for the reception…there is usually a small jazz music playing during the the reception hours of 5pm – 8pm.

    At the cost of $47.00 I entered the first “open, juried show of the season and won a second place red ribbon and $125.00

    At the cost of another $47.00 (my 3rd. month showing) I exhibited a 24″ x 24” Acrylic. It sold at the opening hour of the reception for $975.00…..and remained on the wall, marked “SOLD” through the remaining days of the sale. I got several inquiries about the availability of similar pieces. which led to the sale of 2 other pieces.

    Within the last 5 months I have additionally exhibited several of my pieces in high end restaurant……with (to me) great success. Over a 90 day period, and over 26 pieces exhibited, 9 pieces sold. The restaurant did the installation and did the take down…cost to me….. time to attend the reception and to “hang” out a couple nights at the bar around the art. I told the wait-staff, that if they “sold” a piece, they would get 15% of the final sale price. The wait-staff knocked themselves out talking up my art))

    The truth be told, I have exhibited 4 more times at the gallery. (members do not have to enter every show) and have gone without a sale….but I feel the exposure of being on the wall and mixing and meeting with prospective clients for 3 hours at the reception is worth the investment of time and money.

    SO………………..SOMETIMES IF PAYS TO PLAy
    and I don’t think it diminishes the quality of the brand……better the exposure, than it stacking up in my studio.

    Jason, keep up the fine, informative work…it is appreciated.

    RON B

    1. An excellent example of what we, as Artists, can accomplish marketing our own work and not be dependant on Gallerys to “push” our artwork. Too many Gallerys hang you but that is the extent of their involvement in helping you sell.

  15. I put my work in a vanity gallery when I first began to show my art. It was a good experience. I way to get my feet wet. I didn’t make a ton, but it was the only gallery in the town I lived in and it was a good start. Of course, I hadn’t read “Starving to Successful” yet which has been really helpful in guiding me to be as professional as possible. But I think, why not? We had an open house on the first Friday of each month, people would come and have a glass of wine and see what was new.,a different artist would be featured each month. It was a good confidence builder.

  16. I agree that another term is wanted from “vanity” for shops that charge a fee to hang art. I can see the value of the option from the artist’s perspective as well as the gallery’s; it’s good to have options. It’s good to have ethics. Due diligence is a must in all fields.

    I’m taking this something like literary publication; there are different ways to publish and different ways to spend money. Maybe that’s why I find it feasible in the art world, too. I participate in contests that have submission fees. I do research to ensure it’s a publication that has been around for a while, who actually has product, and who curates their fares, as opposed to the publications that will take anybody’s work and sell you a book. I may choose to self-publish at some point, but right now my vanity scale tips toward someone else wanting to do it for me. I’m that vain.

  17. Hello Jason,
    First and foremost, thank you for all you do to help guide artist. I can not thank you enough for all I have learned so far.
    As an artist coming from the traditional ‘show’ circuit where you pay for your space, shipping & travel for very short period of selling time of my work, “Vanity Galleries” do not seem like such an unreasonable venture. What are your thoughts for an artist just starting out in the Fine Art world? Would “Vanity Galleries” be a good place to start or should they “hold out” to get in to a traditional gallery?

  18. I belong to a cooperative which currently has about 10 members, but at one time had 22. Membership levels fluctuate. Full members paid $100 per month approximately and got a 3 week solo show. Half members paid $50 per month and had shared shows. Time slots not taken were used for group shows and “Call for artist” shows.
    Recently we are going to a Artist Run Centre (ARC) model so that we can apply for grants. If you are a vanity gallery, you can’t apply. We were told by the funding agencies that if members paid a fee and got a show, we were just a self-interested artists club – a vanity gallery. Hence our move to an ARC model.

    In the 10 years I have belonged, I was able to create a new body of work for this small gallery each year; and as we billed ourselves as a contemporary gallery, I was able to try some more adventurous explorations. If I paid for the time slot, I could do what I wanted with the space. Most times I put up a series of paintings but once, I put up an installation and a whole roll of Arches drawing paper on the walls and drew on it during the opening hours. I finished 3 of these during my exhibiting time.

    As a result of my membership in this cooperative, I have learned so much about exhibiting. I have had the freedom to find my own way with great results. Because of the encouragement to do new work, I’ve developed new ideas and new ways of working which I find fresh and rewarding. I’ve also met some mature and experience artists – ones who are teaching at college and university level. I learn lots from them and appreciate the sharing and the friendships. I don’t know how I would get them otherwise.

    Because of my consistently professional exhibitions over the 10 years, I have met other art professionals – gallery directors, curators, commercial gallery dealers. I had shows offered to me in municipal and community galleries. My work has been purchased by city art galleries. I have been offered cost-neutral artist-in-residencies. All of this would not have happened if I hadn’t belonged to the cooperative.

    As we go to the ARC model, one of our newer members has very clearly explained that she cannot include on her resume a show that she creates in our gallery because it is a vanity showing. It would ruin her reputation in the academic world.
    I think we have to be aware of what the consequences might be to list vanity gallery shows on our resumes, but I still like the model we had. In small communities or large, there are way more artists than there are spots in traditional galleries. We need to make our own opportunities if we don’t fit the model of either Artist Run Centers or Traditional Galleries.
    Art is not all about selling, though that is very welcome when it works out. Art is also about expressing our visual thoughts. It’s about seeing our subject matter and interpreting it. It is about the simple act of painting. It’s about meeting and encouraging other artists to find their own expression and about helping them to develop their exhibiting skills. It’s also about finding peers to talk shop with, or else we get isolated in our personal studios.
    We need to share our work with others. Labeling our work as valid or not valid because of the venue in which it is shown is not useful. Labeling the work (and the show) for the quality it exhibits (or not) is a better way of evaluating the work.

    And then I agree with several remarks noted above – you need to check out the gallery you want to show in and know whether you are willing to accept the terms and conditions. Due diligence is key if you don’t want to be disappointed.

  19. The real value of a “traditional” gallery vs the other models is that the gallery does a superior job of promoting your work and building up a reputation and group of collectors. In other words, the traditional gallery has a large “book of business” built over years of experience. People know that when they go to a traditional gallery they will find high quality art, that is, art that the gallery owner and staff have pre-judged to be high quality. They have proven their judgement by continuing to exist as a gallery. On the other hand, many artists only understand that they want “exposure”, so being “on the wall” is the important element for them. But space on a wall does not by itself, in most cases, sell a piece of art. Thus, the potential purchaser wants some sort of validation or encouragement before they hand over their money for a piece of art. The established gallery provides the validation and encouragement via reputation and specific promotion and marketing techniques. Then it becomes a numbers game. People must see art before they can purchase it. A traditional gallery has more art buyers passing through than a regular retail space or a gallery that does not specialize in promotion among its body of established art purchasers, otherwise known as “collectors.” So as art world models change, we are modifying the issues of “expert promotion”, “exposure” and “numbers.”
    Online exposure can increase selling opportunities. But validation and salesmanship encouragement may be lacking. Work on a wall in just any space, is nice, but also lacks the necessary validation of salesmanship or some other form of encouragement. Direct sales via participation in Art fairs
    and festivals partially fulfills increase in numbers, and exposure but increases the effort needed to market, without the residual buildup of reputation for quality that the traditional gallery validation bestows. Today’s artist who wants to sell and not just create, must choose how they will get their exposure to a large enough number of the “right” people who will purchase an artwork. Traditional galleries have been paying (investing) over many months or years to build their numbers of collectors who keep coming back because they like what they see among the prejudged works that the gallery staff has chosen.
    It is for the legacy of gallery skills and collector base plus reputation, that the artist is paying the “big” commission. The artist must find the best combination of how they will work the variables for exposure and purchaser encouragement, i.e. meeting the objections that prevent a sale of a specific art work and actually collecting the money.

  20. I believe the vanity model could work for a gallery where rents are outrageous, like here in Denver, if run by ethical people. Unfortunately that model doesn’t encourage the promotion and sale of artworks, and is sustained by desperate artists.

    We have one such vanity gallery in a location with no foot traffic and difficult to find street parking that charges $125 to $1350 for a small piece of wall after you have paid $35 to have them look at your images (like it really takes more than 5 minutes to know whether a piece is show worthy). On top of that they charge commission, up to 40%, on sales. The fact that they get away with this business model shows how desperate artists are to have their work displayed.

  21. I’m fairly new to this game having first offered my art (I’m a photographer) to galleries only about 1-1/2 years ago and have had reasonable success being accepted to juried exhibits in commission based galleries. That worked great for me because it’s a no financial risk way to show my work. Last week I met a small gallery owner who is changing her business model from commission to rental. The fees vary with the size of the space you want in the gallery. I think this model affords me more flexibility to show what I want to show rather than what a gallery owner or juror thinks fits in and I’m probably going to rent some space from her. And yes, I’m also maintaining and establishing new relationships with commission based galleries at the same time. The models are not mutually exclusive.

  22. I recently joined a gallery with a small quarterly fee plus 20% commission. It’s a new gallery and being a commercial banker in my previous employment I know how difficult the gallery business can be. The quarterly contract is renewable and either party can cancel. I’ve popped for the ssecond quarter because I know it will take some time and expisuemre as I am a new artist. I feel both parties win in this arrangement.

  23. I regularly exhibit at the “vanity ” gallery at Paris, where I live, and, I’m very satisfied with it. I sell a lot , and not only to my contacts, 80% of sales is made with the people who just walking into the gallery and see my work for the first time ! Next July it will be my 4th exhibition at this gallery. I work with the traditional galleries too , I make a decent living from my painting with this system: “direct sales + gallery sales + internet sales” . I have noticed one important thing, taking the financial risk helps me to improve my work. Even it’s uncomfortable to feel the pressure, it pushes me to working harder, producing more , and make the effort to become the better seller .
    If I have some advice to give about the choice of the gallery, in my experience, people who are buying the art are either passionate about the art , or passionate about the interior design, or both… and of course, they have the revenue above the average… brief, it’s a niche market, and the art buyers are very savvy, so , the better is to find your vanity gallery in the street with the good traditional galleries around, not just a tourist place …
    Of course, asking the artists about the gallery it’s a good idea… and, if the price is rather high, (in my case, 2700 euros per week) but , it’s full all the time (like in my case , I have to book this gallery 2-3 years before the exhibition), for example, for my first exhibition, I booked the space in 2015 for 2017, now , I have the reservation for 2021 … and , you see the same artists exhibit again, and again… well , you can see it like a green light !
    Hope, this could be useful… and apologise for my English !!

  24. This is a fascinating & timely discussion.
    I am a professional painter.
    Yesterday I went to a co-op gallery mid-day art recepion. Gallery was open but redemption was ending as we arrived so they were putting food away. I said we came just for the reception… so they happily shared a few cupcakes.
    I’ve showed in this gallery in the passed during special events. It’s a tousist area. I looked around with my friends & ended up purchasing some small special art items. As I checked out I discovered the girls who created the art were there working. Meeting the artist made the purchase so much more meaningful exciting. The artist explained their art.

    That’s just what often times you don’t get, the personal artistic connection.
    I have had some success with all types of galleries.
    I am currently showing in a variety of both vanity, which I have made some nice sales & in some Co-op & some traditional galleries, I even promote on line sales…
    I have discovered, however if you meet the artist or have an amazing interactive Sales person in a gallery or an exciting gallery owner it can make a huge difference with more sales.
    Art does sell itself yet if you help sell a piece to a customer as soon as a person connects with the art or like a special at a restaurant.

    Expressing or educating a customer about an art piece or artist with a personal touch or to help educate a customer about the amazing light in a painting or discuss the glazing or thick impasto a custom becomes more involved.
    The more personal connection that can be made the better sales. I have discovered up selling works for myself while a customer may want one piece purchasing a collection could be very tempting & often happens if the art is displayed in a grouping or by color or history of the art & artist. I’ve moved furniture around in a show room only to wait to purchase & turn around and the grouping was imidiatly being sold to someone else. Just like selling furniture I’ve had the same thing happen with customers. The customer may walk away for a moment & another customer may be listening. I had art sold to the next person who was listening. I t surprises me at times.
    Art sells better in a coordinated grouping art can also be grouped.
    Art can be grouped with the same artist or a coordinated mixed art grouping.
    I have discovered in almost all cases artist involvement is what a client is wanting or information many times.
    I have discovered I am my best sales person in person!!!!
    I sell best in my own shop or
    while I’m making a guest appearance… at any gallery or event.
    Yet most of all the art I sell is at art shows!
    Short time frame & Yes just a pop-up
    art tent in the park or at a festival of any type.! I’ve even sold art at tractor shows- to Seafood Festivals along with traditional art shows.
    I still support having art in locations close to where shows are so you can network future sales with a local gallery.
    Don’t give up keep trying to grow your style & relationships.

  25. I may be in a “vanity” situation. I’m not sure. This year I decided to enter some national juried shows. I need to beef up an art resume having left academics. So I committed to sending in entry fees and expecting rejections (which I got) but also acceptances which is really nice. Everything is remote from me. Los Angeles, Lynchburg VA, Ann Arbor MI. Since I’m working in a rather fringe medium, I select carefully.
    Here’s the thing. I was asked to be a member in one of the galleries. Annual fee and inclusion in 3 shows for that fee. I also have gotten the ear of the director so I expect something more might shake out.
    A gallery that rejected my work sent me an email suggesting I consider submitting an exhibition proposal. That, I’m following up on.
    Because I had to enter through a third party, Art Show, Cafe, EntryThingy, I have more shows than I wish to enter and services for my “portfolio” which each agency has and I can add to. Fees are minimal or free.

    I’m thinking some of the galleries are exploring this artist- fee as a way of increasing their exposure too.
    Whatever it is, I feel fairly good about my current career choice if for no other reason, to get to know and be known by the gallery/ curator/ jury network.

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