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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54 Comments

  1. Hi Jason,
    I agree with you in that the fee-for-display gallery is just a different business model. I really see little difference in this type of “show” than paying for a space in a “side-walk” art show… or for that matter, paying a monthly fee for your own website to display your work. It is all self promotion.

    I think the precautionary work before getting involved with a particular group is common sense. One of the important questions would be whether the gallery has a mailing list from which they promote the shows… or are you expected to provide your own mailing list, which could be a problem for most emerging artists.

  2. Thank you for the great new insights on Vanity Galleries. Helped me change my perspective. I was in two co-op galleries, which is a different twist to Vanity Galleries. I paid $200. per month, and “sat” the gallery once a month. I sold a lot of work through both of them. The biggest problem was that most artists that sat the gallery were shy and did not feel comfortable approaching customers or selling work like a professional gallery would. That means on the “shy artist days”, sales were slim to non-existent. All in all though, I would say it was a very successful experience.

  3. I’ve never shown in a venue that charged a fee quite like that, but rather have had experience showing my work in non-profit galleries. These vary greatly! Some charge a fee to enter a group show, per piece. Most of these ask 30% of the sale, if a sale happens. However, their gallery sitters are just that, sitters, not sales associates. There’s not as much incentive for the non-profit Gallery to move the work. They can’t really afford to recruit and retain sales staff. Their hours of being open are sometimes weird. Often they share space with other disciplines, such as an arts center or church. So sometimes, to be honest, the non-profit staffing feels too stretched or uninformed or unprofessional, at worst… but can also be very earnest and kind and accommodating at best! I’ve had a positive experience with these, because I’ve been able to promote my own shows and sell through these venues and I enjoy the business side. I have autonomy. Since I pay for my own opening reception, for example, I’m the boss… I choose the music, the caterer… and I make a good profit with my sales. I’m leaning towards wanting a traditional gallery now… it is tiring to “do it all” over and over again.

  4. A great article, Jason. You’re right to distinguish between business models.
    The writing world has been in a similar situation now that self-publishing (used to be called vanity press) is so prevalent. A lot of bad writing gets published for a fee, but for writers who want some exposure the cost is worth it.
    I was part of a somewhat different situation with a local gallery who made space available where artists could “rent a wall” for a month. The difference was that this was also a learning experience for the artists – including me – as we were responsible as a cooperative for everything from mounting our own shows to sitting the gallery and working with potential buyers. It was a great experience for me and others who did not have a long resume. We also benefited from the advice of the gallery owner who was in the main gallery next door and directed folks to our smaller space.
    That said, I’d probably not be interested in a true “vanity” gallery. I’d prefer to set something up on the sidewalk near my apartment building and let street art be the thing!
    Thanks for your good articles that give us plenty to think about.

  5. Thank you for the clarification! I have owned 3 galleries. Some I have had others hang and eventually just me. A gallery/studio combined. I thought a vanity was when the artists or artist own and sell and show they’re work. Owning these galleries which I do not have now , are they qualified for my resume. And I feel snobbish, but we have a gallery here more like a coop vanity combo. You pay for wall space and asked to sit the gallery, which I believe is unsafe because it is way too big. And the area is getting overwhelmed with homeless and and lookers getting out of the heat. Back to my other plight. I charge much more for my work and I am not a beginner. These artists do sell. But I cannot sell my work in that price range. It isn’t fair to the collectors who have. Plus this place doesn’t attract my clientele . That and the fact that my health doesn’t permit. I have chose for now to try online only. I would like to start a blog? Newsletter? (Are they the same thing). Thank you so much Jason. I was in your online gallery for a while. Blessings Cheral

  6. Jason,

    The depth and breadth of your blogs is greatly appreciated. You defy the prejudices one might expect from your perspective as a gallery owner. Clearly, you are a Freethinker, which is the smartest perspective to have in this dynamic digital art world. Kudos to you, and thank You for being a Teacher for the rest of us.

  7. Thanks Jason!
    For a dummy on my way up the Mountain, your insight into the Business of the Art World is very helpful to me. I purchased a copy of “Starving to Successful” and will use a lot of the relevant info as a guide to ultimately getting Gallery Representation myself.
    To address the subject mentioned: A “vanity” Gallery model seems fair as long as both the Artist and the Gallery are clear about the investment and risk. You mentioned a possible tread towards Galleries charging an admission fee? I’ve always wondered why prominent Galleries don’t do that already? With the seasonal foot traffic/looky loo’s etc, I think charging a small entrance fee would be fair, or perhaps.. get an alcohol sales license and charge a bigger fee and offer a glass of wine etc.
    Kind Regards
    Gerald

  8. I am just starting out and expect to show my work in different venues. In my opinion , it is just a different business model. For tax purposes it works out better for the artist if you are incorporated.

  9. Hi Jason,

    You raise good points here. I agree the term “vanity galleries” does carry a negative connotation because the artist has to pay for exposure, when realistically exposure happens whenever their work is on display. Still, you mentioned that galleries seem to be and may be shifting farther into this business model as it is a guaranteed way for them to make money; consignment is not as guaranteed or as fast any longer, if art sales are consistently challenged.

    (By the way, I unfortunately cannot contribute to this discussion as an artist, but because I support and have great respect for fine artists, I am curious to learn more about the future art and gallery business).

    Thanks, VS Art (Vanessa)

  10. Excellent post and quite helpful. At first I’m reminded of the vanity publishing company in Umberto Eco’s “Foucalt’s Pendulum”… Made for a very funny basis on which to start the book.

    These are such tough questions. I fear that rather than introduce the promised world of new opportunity for artists, the internet will end up narrowing options so that only those artists who have the financial backing and existing social power to mount campaigns across these options will succeed. Some of us believe that’s what happened in the music business – where the internet has net out increased the power of the studios because the cost of maintaining promotions in so many places overwhelms starting artists.

    Is there a model to look at in the music business that applied in the art world? Where the gallery is less about one specific physical space?

  11. It is evident these days that there are several different type of Gallery Models out there. Yes the traditional “commercial” galleries are becoming fewer and are inundated with artist’s submissions to be represented. Their are several other types of galleries now: Non Profits, Vanity, Co-opts, Pop ups and one that I haven’t got a name for which is typically run by an artist and shows wonderful artwork with a business model to sell classes, workshops, artist talks and framing and sometimes interior design services. I suppose they all work for some artist as they wouldn’t exist long if they didn’t. I think the main question is how much incentive is there for these galleries to sell artwork? I was surprised to learn that way back in the day Art Galleries would buy work outright from the artist and not work on a consignment basis. I don’t think these exist anymore, if they do let me know. It has been my experience that true Collectors prefer to buy through a well established traditional gallery or directly from the artist in their studio. I have found that most of the other types of galleries are less effective in sales but may be good for exposure ( Artist can die from Exposure) ( or lack of it as well)

  12. When a writer finishes a book they apply to a publisher to facilitate the printing, editing and proofing of the copy. The publisher, consisting of experienced writers and market experienced publishing experts review the book for its merit and quality as well as marketability. Being excepted by a publisher is a feather in ones cap because of the sometimes brutal evaluation of publishing experts. The publisher makes an educated guess that they can sell your book and will utilize all sales, marketing, dealer contact and network advantages at their disposal to sell your work. I suppose you can ague I have some things not exactly correct, but for the most part I am close to the mark on how it works. That business model is a far cry from paying a printer to print your books and leaving you with 4,000 books in your garage that you have to sell yourself. I think most people end up with 3,850 books in a garage for ever. So if a vanity gallery operates the same way I don’t see much benefit at all. You basically just pay someone to show your work. Do I have this right? Are there any standards at all? Or does it just take money to be accepted into a vanity gallery. Does the vanity gallery do any advertising? Jason, can I get into your gallery if I pay you $500 in cash, thats what a vanity gallery sounds like too me. Tell me where I am wrong.

    1. Most writers who get books published through major publishing houses use an agent to facilitate that arrangement. Agents are very knowledgeable about the industry and have many contacts. They act as an additional filter with a manuscript even if it’s been through countless drafts, workshops, salons, and the services of a professional editor.

      Some writers do get books published without an agent, but they’re likely going to be at an imprint with limited resources. (To be fair, getting a book published on a major doesn’t mean you’ll have any promotional budget – it’s all a numbers game anymore, except for elite author names.) Of course, there’s always been vanity publishing and it’s modern variants (Kindle Direct, et al), and they have their place.

      I’ve wondered why the art industry doesn’t embrace the agent-based model that publishing or live performance musicians use. I’m sure some living professional working artists have an agent, but probably not many.

      I’ve also wondered why galleries don’t have an equivalent to something like the publishing industry’s Submittable. My wife edited a literary magazine for 9 years and Submittable made submissions management so easy for all parties. I wonder how many art galleries would sign up for a Submittable-like system. Or even something like the Publisher’s Marketplace, which is an incredible subscription-based searchable database for writers, agents, publishers, etc.

      Perhaps this idea will be picked up in the future on by some programmer kid in their bedroom. The gallery/artist industry is so decentralized. Maybe it always will be. But I’d like to think that some kind of system could be created to help coordinate these relationships.

      1. Publishing is even more centralized and controlled than the art market. The imitable Martha Grimes’s novel, “Foul Matter,” describes the conundrum.
        After receiving seventy-plus standard refusals, one agent was kind enough to thank me with a personal letter for my submission, praised me on my writing, the unique persona of my biography, but then stated, “My publishing house receives 1,000 (!!!) proposals a month. They bet on “sure thing,” because publishing costs are high coupled with so much high risk, unless you’re a known name. Yours could absolutely make it … but might not. Thank you, and good luck.”
        That is when I self-published … and no, not all publishers demand minimum purchase. I still sell word of mouth, years later.

  13. I was in a gallery for many years that was consignment — they stretched my work and framed it, all the while charging a small percentage on the art, and making the majority of their money on frames. It was extremely successful in sales, but eventually the gallery closed due to the owner’s retirement. He wasn’t interested in selling his business, so it was the end of the line. I tried a couple of downtown galleries, where rent was into the stratosphere…they both charged a monthly fee, plus a modest commission. While I sold a fair amount, it wasn’t enough to cover the expense of being there over time. Maybe this is the future of how galleries will work, but I am focusing on working with interior designers and online sales. Thanks for sharing your many perspectives on what is going on in the art business.

  14. We have a local gallery that charges $40 a year to exhibit twice a year – once in December and again in June. There are higher levels depending on how much and how often you wish to exhibit. I figured there was not much to lose by joining, and just in the December exhibit I sold three paintings immediately. It more than covered me to pay the next higher level of $150 per year, so now I exhibit there year-round (4 paintings every other month) and I’m selling paintings regularly. This is currently a good pace for me right now. It is an established gallery (10+ years) so I would caution people to be careful and only deal with a reputable gallery.

  15. What about an on-line gallery that charges a fee for entry, where awards are presented and the Winning artwork is published on-line. Is that considered a vanity gallery? and is it perfectly acceptable to publish that your piece was presented a “2nd place, honorable mention, etc award during the April Competition” And also, note your piece as an award winner when showing locally? It seems like good marketing strategy for the artist.

  16. Both traditional gallery and non-traditional have usefulness. My experience is that the traditional gallery works harder for sales and usually gets me far more money (even after their commission fee),than I would get with direct sales. I tend to “give away” my art. They seem to know what the market will bear!

  17. I went with a fee first gallery in DC. I ended up with 4 sales, and a wonderful Washington Post positive critics review by Mark Jenkins, how much better could it ! Now when I show on my own, in my local town I have jump started my work. I do think this exposure was good and will look good on my cv as I continue to search for a fully commission only gallery to represent my work. I just had another studio show and the evening that night I sold 3 paintings, 3 commissions, and 5 limited edition prints. I am not in the business of prints, but in limited amounts, since this piece hung in our local museum, it made sense. So consider the gallery, ask around and if you like it, try it.I do promote my own work and studio, and in the future would like to have full gallery to do most of this, while I support their efforts. Time is time, and that is money so I appreciate the commission and sales!

  18. I have avoided vanity galleries, but recently joined a non-profit gallery as a member (which I am happy to support even if they did not exhibit my work) and was juried into their Member show (there is not room to exhibit all members). They are located in the same area as the high end traditional galleries, so I thought showing there vs. some suburban art center might expose me to more of a serious collecting crowd, or so I reason. I work in a medium that is not “gallery friendly” because the process is very slow and building the inventory of work required for a traditional gallery is not really feasible. In a good year I complete 3 pieces. Also my medium is marginalized (fiber) even if I could churn out enough work. So I’m only looking for exposure and by getting involved with this gallery I am marketing myself for commission work, not even sales per se. The real reason I did it was to have a portfolio and web link in the online member directory and to get published in the member show catalog, which will be available at the non-profit gallery’s booth at the Seattle Art Fair. I think for people who are focused on the commissioned art market, the exposure of a “pay to play” gallery might be a way to get your work in front of the right people when other avenues are not available to you.

  19. Didn’t you ask about vanity galleries before?
    .
    I am always amazed how galleries stay in biz with some for the crazy prices they charge. Especially the galleries in NYC. They got that hi-rent to crack. I read one established gallery closed up shop and went online. Another gallery stopped doing international shows, just too costly for them. I’ve often wondered if galleries are a rich persons plaything more than a $ maker?
    .
    I run a gallery / museum of sorts, but it is only online and does not sell anything.
    .
    ‘The Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection’
    .
    For years I’d lust to win the lotto…so I could open up a small museum for the ignored, snubbed and outcast photogs. Well, it finally sunk in I could do all that, without winning the lotto and for free, on the internet. Now I still lust to win the lotto…so I can shoot in Japan. But in the meantime, it is the reality of trying to do one’s art and still survive in an increasingly costly world.
    .
    As far as vanity galleries?
    .
    Working with museum placements is my field, so that is how I am tailoring this reply.
    If you are a great artist and aspire to great things, I’d advise you to only show in prestigious places. Don’t associate your art with anything or anyone that will not help you on your path to greatness. But if you are the kind of artist that shows at craft fairs, then nothing you can do is going to hurt you…show anyplace you like.
    .
    In reality, no one can say for sure if something will hurt or benefit you. We all start from the proverbial bottom. Still, everyone has their pecking order in the art world. We have to face it that every artist is not museum grade. Still we can all benefit from art and make sense of our world with it no matter where our art falls in rank. To move up in the art world, you will have to determine if your art and ability is going to be of that rarefied caliber.
    .
    Some galleries wont show previously displayed work. And it would be especially bad for your CV if your previously displayed work was shown at low-end venues. So think about all this in terms of your future.
    .
    If you aspire to greatness, and would like some $, I’d advise you to apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship. It is free and it can fund you with a hefty chunk of $! I wrote 4-part series on it at my blog. It breast-feeds it all to you. Check it out, you still have a few months left for this year to apply. A Guggenheim is one of the most prestigious awards an artist can get.
    .
    Good luck!

  20. My first gallery exhibit was with a ‘vanity’ gallery in the Chelsea art area in NYC. They did a good job of promoting the group exhibit I was in and my particular art. However, I had no sales – from talking to the other artists at the exhibit, they did not do well either. Right now, I am with a traditional gallery. They bought three of my paintings and I have three paintings on consignment. Once again, I have had no sales in two years. I was selling regularly with an online gallery based in Great Britain until they decided that my digital paintings weren’t really paintings and they forced me to reclassify them as monoprints. I pointed out to them that I was using Corel Painter and other digital paint programs, and created my paintings in the same way as a natural painter would. I also pointed out that monoprints are created in a totally different way and no monoprint artist in history had ever created a monoprint that looked like a natural media painting as I had done with the digital paint programs. They agreed, but still wanted me to classify them as monoprints. Although I had sold many paintings through them at $1,000 per painting and all my purchasers were very happy with them, that cut no ice with them. I ended up dropping them because who would pay $1,000 for a monoprint by, less face it, an unknown artist. I’m about to request that my consigned art be returned as the gallery has not sold any of it. I recently had a local exhibit in an upscale coffee shop; in three weeks, I sold three paintings and over 60 blank cards featuring my paintings at $4.00/card. I would like to get into a traditional gallery in an area that is art savvy, but I find that there is a prejudice against digital art (I paint contemporary realist landscapes) on the part of many gallery directors and curators even though I have won many awards competing against natural media painters (in one case, I accidently came across a natural painter’s website who was furious that I had beat her out for the top award – she was the runner-up).

  21. Excellent discussion of the changing art gallery world. Both artists and galleries are needing to find new and innovative ways to market their art. And I am happy to see a more positive open discussion of the “vanity” model which gets away from the notion of on one hand the artist just seeking to show their works just to stroke their vanity and on the other of those denouncing vanity galleries as money grubbing operations taking advantage of artists. There is much more to this than that.

    One thing that has not been mentioned here is that many past arguments against vanity galleries have centered upon the idea that anyone exhibiting in a this kind of venue may be looked down upon in the art world. To show work in a vanity gallery means that it is probably not carefully vetted by art professionals and chosen strictly for the quality of the work. It is often referred to as “pay to play” which rather tells one how it is viewed. If one is a serious artists, the argument goes, one needs to get vetted and shown in larger and more prestigious galleries and museums and hence build a reputation as an artist of merit. Shows in vanity galleries may be seen as a black mark, indicating that the work is just not good enough for showing and representation in the mainstream art world.

    Now I have not personally had this happen to me but have read of artists who feels it has hindered their artist career and encountered others who were counseled to delete vanity shows from their resume to avoid giving the wrong impression. Even though times are changing as are gallery models it is probably still wise for artists interest in establishing a reputation to consider these aspects when considering showing in a vanity gallery.

  22. I’ve only exhibited in traditional venues and am unfamiliar with vanity galleries. I understand the thinking behind this new method of staying afloat as a gallery though.
    My sales have morphed from traditional galleries to mostly online – both off FB and my own website – to folks who’ve been collecting by using both methods for years.
    Working with Xanadu online studios is new for me, and I’m anxious to make a sale through there to celebrate a successful online collaboration!

  23. Agreed, “vanity gallery” is a demeaning term, but it has became an established business model. One could easily call them “shut out of the market” galleries. Artists need to take a cold hard look at a glutted market … too many artists for too little demand.
    If a paid gallery (same thing) is all you can do, arm yourself with information and try it … some owners are better than others. I’ve been legitimately represented over the course of my art career, one paid gallery, a co-op, and finally decided the money I put up for the latter two could be used for self promotion. Harder work? Absolutely.
    My main objection to paid galleries is what free labor means to sales … the gallery charged sixty artists by the linear foot and demanded they serve two days a month. The owners were so highly compensated sales were simply a bonus. No effort was made to train unskilled salespeople. Indeed, most put their time in and sat in a chair reading or quietly “demoed” whatever their medium was. One guy cut woodblocks in the corner and could barely say hello. Wonderful artist, but hardly sociable. Others would maneuver visitors to their own work … so much for supporting your art community. The gallery never sold one of my paintings, while I sold a piece every month for the year I stayed with them. A competent sales staff is critical for any business and you’re not going to have that (exceptions) other than in traditional galleries.
    I know two artists who opened their own galleries out of pure frustration; their own work plus a select group of artist friends. They’ve done quite well over the last two decades. I suspect the art market and evolving galleries will continue to change. It might become a hybrid business model of all them. Whatever works ….

  24. Hi Jason, I have been in galleries with different results. A co-op for 7 years, than a artist run Gallery . 2009 the co- op closed after the financial disaster.. The artist run Gallery, sad to say, cheated as well as a restaurant . Same area and had a number of collectors there. Last 6 years I have been showing at galleries in France and Paris. In France You pay for every thing!! For the past 6 years I belonged to Salon Nationale des Beaux Arts part of the Louvre and won 2 awards. Academy of Arts Science and Letters and SNBA. They are not called Vanity galleries. Unless one has a remarkable name and the work is very modern Europeans do not buy traditional paintings. The French are not like the US with a growing movement towards modern Classical works of art. Even though people would often compliment the work in Europe, they were not buying. I became disheartened by the galleries who cheat here at home.Now looking to to market on line and not give up 50% of hard earned money.It is lovely to meet people in the galleries and know ones clients but there were too many heart aches and lost faith.

    1. Hi Katherine-
      The Salon Nationale des Beaux Arts sounds intriguing..Did you join as an American? or are you French? American who speaks French? I ask as the web-site is in French?
      Kind Regards,
      Gerald

  25. I feel the “vanity” gallery business model is not set up to be helpful for the artist. Since the gallery has already gotten their fee up front, what is the motivation to spend money promoting the artist? Many are designed to only offer the artist a one month show and I’ve found the space being offered, for a fairly large sum, is not very big. I would advise against getting involved with this sort of gallery.
    I think a traditional gallery is a better deal for the artist. I am looking for a long-term business partner when I approach a gallery. I want someone who will work with me and provide a win/win relationship where both of us benefit.

  26. Hi Jason, after reading your description of both types of business models, I can certainly see benefits to both. As an artist just beginning to sell my art, I can see me utilizing both types of galleries. It could be particularly helpful if I were working on a new style. For instance, if I have an established style that I already know will sell, I would likely place those pieces at a traditional gallery. If I were working on a new style, I might place those pieces at a “vanity” style gallery in the short term to generate exposure and to see if or how well they might be received, that way it’s not a long-term commitment if my new stye is not popular.

  27. A newsletter I received from Orangenius, an organization in Manhattan, claims Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is where the art world is going.
    “CREATIVE BUSINESSES AND COLLECTORS USING AR TECHNOLOGY
    As the art of selling depends less on physical gallery spaces and more on the digital realm, curators and gallery owners will increasingly need to digitize their vaults so that collectors can see works remotely or imagine them in their new homes….
    Orangenius, a technology platform for artists and the parent company of Artrepreneur, is launching an augmented reality app that allows art buyers to transport works to their desired space and visualize how it will appear amongst the rest of their collection. This technology is expected to revolutionize the way consumers purchase art online, as it allows them the opportunity to try out how a work might be viewed in a space before they make their purchase. It’s also a useful tool for gallerists and curators who would like to envision how works will be viewed in an exhibition before they make their final selection.”

    The article doesn’t mention if fees may be charged for an artist to have work in this virtual environment, or if it’ll be like traditional galleries who only want artists with a track record of sales they’d be willing to throw the dice on.
    https://mag.orangenius.com/vr-art/

  28. I’ve exhibited in lots of places to get exposure (banks, shops, art fairs) just to get initial exposure and find out if my art would even sell. I soon found that my art DID sell, and began showing in a lovely gallery near my studio that did NOT offer a one-man shows. That is, it was simply a showcase for many artists and appealed to walk-in customers and passersby. I sold many works of art this way, and the advantage of this was that they took much less commission. I negotiated usually somewhere between 20% and 40%. Traditional galleries here in Vienna take 50%. So for me it was a trade off. I gained exposure and ended up with more money after a sale, but did not have the show or the prestige of an opening night with lots of my own and new collectors invited to see my own work. Another angle I worked was showing at lawyer’s offices. I found new clients that way and the office always ended up buying an artwork. There were no prices on the walls, just a price list placed discreetly on a side table. Group shows are always better (for me at least) since your range of clients suddenly widens and you gain new followers. I have always sold the most at group shows.

  29. A Fee-For-Display gallery can be a great venue for any artist with a good body of work. We have an artist owned and operated gallery which features a rotating artist each month. For a modest fee, the artist gets to hang their art on the most visible wall, help with writing up a press release, given a large list of press contacts, invites sent out to a large email list and they are listed on our website and all social media. We encourage that they have an artist reception, give demonstrations or be on hand at the gallery during busy days to discuss their process to prospects. After the month is up, each artist has expressed their gratitude for the press received, the sales made and generally some new opportunity has come their way from the show. The benefits for our gallery are that we look like a real busy gallery with new shows each month, more people visit the gallery and more sales are made as a whole. It’s a win win for all of us.

    1. If yours is an artist artist owned and run gallery it sounds more like a co-op gallery. Vanity galleries are not artist run or owned. It is important to understand the difference. In a co-op the artists have a much bigger role and stake in keeping the gallery going. In a vanity gallery the artist has little to no say about how it runs.

  30. Here in this part of the country the pay for play gallery is the only game in town. There simply are no traditional galleries within miles. We artists show and sell and host shifts at these galleries and that’s all there is to it.
    We self-promote, or not, have themed shows and featured spots, and have First Friday Art Walks with late gallery hours, live music, and great food.
    There just isn’t the market to support high-end, traditional galleries here…
    …yet.

  31. I have paid a few to be considered to be chosen to be in their art gallery for one month . Some of them were local business and some were not. I have done well this way, but I would like to further extend to have my work in a traditional gallery. I have tried to be my own business manager and I found it too time consuming. I would rather have commission basis instead of pay a fee to hang. I currently have two art stores selling my art miniatures. This works well for me. I guess there are many ways to sell art, you just have to decide which one is best for you.
    I appreciate you blog very much as it gives me greater understanding on how to proceed to sell more art work. Thank you for being so generous in helping emerging arts and some professionals. This is such a great thing to appreciate everything that you do.

  32. OFF TOPIC
    My work is good, I know its good, but so are hundreds if not thousands of other artists work.
    I am in a gallery with 5 pieces, the gallery owner chose from my work what she wanted to exhibit, and all of the paintings are not in my top 20, I keep making suggestions to change a few out but she says no, she wants these, what am I to do?
    Im pretty convinced the reason my work isn’t selling is because of hr choices.

  33. Great topic, Jason, and you handled it beautifully! I’ve only shown in a co-op, with the ups and downs others mentioned above. I’m thinking now I might consider representation by a commission format online gallery, but still enjoy the DIY, though online. I have the romantic fantasies of owning my own gallery, but I just don’t have the time to run the front and maintain gallery hours to successfully match with active collectors, nor can I afford to hire sales staff and cover the overhead. So I guess it’s DIY online for me for now. Maybe I can make my online presence look and feel like that gallery in my dreams.

  34. I tried a vanity gallery last year. I paid $350 to display 4 pieces along with about 20 other artists. That’s
    $6-7000 for the gallery for the week. They held a ‘reception/opening’. The only people in attendance were the artists. ie. the gallery made made no effort to engage buyer contacts that they SHOULD have in the art world. So, perhaps that is where the expectation should start. Artists should inquire (and perhaps have access to sales info) about how many potential buyers the gallery will bring in, what media network they utilize.

    I suspect this vanity gallery, in the basement of a cafe in Toronto, will not be in business long.

  35. I am in two “membership galleries”. There is a small quarterly fee but when there is a sale, I get to keep 100%. I was involved another one as well (different state). It’s good exposure. Please be aware of the typical vanity galleries that charge a fortune and support their high costs with a ton of bs. You can do a search on reviews for those galleries and that will stop you in your tracks from making an expensive mistake.

  36. My “problem” with the fee-for-show galleries is that it seems that as long as an artist is willing to pay the monthly fee, the art is hung regardless of its quality. And, so, the quality is not of an even level. Also, In several I’ve visited, when they start out, the work is hung in a pleasing manner. But, as time progresses, the hanging gets less desirable and crowded in order to accommodate more artists, and, hence, larger fees for the gallery owners.

  37. Hi Jason… wow! This is a hot topic.

    I don’t have any problem with galleries that charge a fee, as long as they let the artist know that’s their set up before the artist spends money to meet with the owner.

    It’s true that the market is changing… a lot of things are. But recently, I had an individual contact me about being a featured artist on his TV channel. This has been a popular art youtube channel for a long time. This person raved about my work and how much it would do for their artist audience – and how much publicity I’d get from it. In order to get more information, I had to email or phone. Long story short, there is a fee now to be featured… in the several thousand dollar range. Much more than I wanna spend. I don’t need that kind of publicity – mostly because if I want to start my own youtube channel, there’s nothing from my doing so.

    Secondly, a major art magazine contacted me this week – once again – raving about my work and saying they wanted to feature me in the magazine. It was sent by a real person who works with the magazine. At first, I was flattered and excited, but the follow up email mentioned at the very end of the email that fees are involved. Then I realized that the person who contacted me work in advertising at the publication.

    I have no trouble with paying for these things, but the initial contact is presented as though they think your work is so great that they want to feature you. Really, they’re phishing for prospects who will pay for their service. Of course, they do curate the art to some extent.

    I really wish these galleries, magazines and video companies would be more transparent about why they’re contacting the artist with the initial contact letter. They usually want the artist to follow up by phoning.

  38. It has been my experience that if a gallery gets paid in advance they loose all motivation to sell your work. This type of representation is for artists who do not need or want to sell.

  39. I recently put my downpayment on a gallery such as this. I’m doing advertising on all platforms, going to offer a giveaway, have entertainment and bar for the reception. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, I’m taking a big risk. They were upfront and clear, I’ve sold with them before in group shows, and they have huge traffic.

    The reason I picked this path is because I am a visually impaired painter. I have a rare eye disease and I’m quickly losing my sight. This show is all about that. I have no time left, and every painting could be my last. I am hoping to sell enough to cover the cost of switching to sculpture (lessons/equipment/rides/etc). I see this as possibly my last chance to continue chasing my dream, so I am fighting with all my might.

  40. I am gratefully fortunate that I do not need to pay to rent space to exhibit my work. Several years ago, however, I was a part of a show in Chelsea for which I had to pay a rather substantial fee. The “sales staff” never left the obligatory box of Paul Macon nor acknowledged the patrons. My rep was told that she would not need to attend the opening. There were at least three thousand viewers some who expressed interest in my work. I have, to this day , never sold my own work although I have enjoyed several sales by my reps. Fortunately , we were able to sell five out of eight pieces from that exhibit, with no help whatsoever from the staff nor owners.

  41. Wow, I know the gallery industry would like artists to accept this business model because it will help their bottom line. The obvious problem and the question that should be asked form the artist is, “If this gallery has sales, why don’t they just take a commission?” The answer is simple, they do not have sales. Or at least not enough sales to keep the doors open. So, why would you want to hang your work there? Look at it like this, this is an investment of your time and effort, and no one would ever invest in a business that had no sales! I truly believe if you explain this strategy to anyone with a business background or small business advisor. They would tell you this only benefits the gallery and to run away.

    Never, ever pay to show your work.

    I would say there is only one commercial gallery left in my area, they have either become gift shops or gone the vanity route, or both. Which means that if you have a pulse and will pay the fee you are hanging on the wall. The quality of the work is very low, novice at best.

    Never, ever pay to show your work.

    There are endless Guilds, Coops, and Arts Councils to exhibit your work in. And yes, they charge a fee, all of which would love new members and you would have some input in the organizations and community. Better yet form your own gallery, get four or six artists together and rent a nice space, I know two groups that have done this very successfully.

    Never, ever pay to show your work.

    Also, you would be better off investing the time, money, and artwork online.
    Online gallery of your own, Web Galleries, shows, forums, blogs, social media, websites. My advice is if you must hang in a vanity gallery ask “Business” questions, what are your sales, how will you promote, opening? Do they have a mailing or client list? Get a no from any of those, run away. And after forty years of making my living as a commercial and fine artist, the only piece of advice I always kept.

    Never, ever pay to show your work.

  42. I own a gallery. I buy and sell work. I show work on consignment if its compelling enough to sell. I rent wall space to artists and groups of artists for their shows. I sell my own work. I sell frames and some supplies to artists.

    There is no shame in an artist or group of artists wanting to rent a very nice venue to show their work on a one-time basis (and make as many sales as they can, which, in fact, is often a secondary purpose).

    You want to stay in business as a gallery post-September 2008? You better have at least four or five sources of income coming from the same space.

    And for those of you who want to look down your noses at a gallery like mine and label it as “—————–” (fill in the blank), have at it. But I’ve lasted over ten years and seen dozens and dozens of other so-called traditional galleries come and go.

    You want to make it as an artist in the traditional way with a traditional relationship with a gallery, great. Create work compelling enough to jump off the wall and grab people’s emotions and make them spend their good money.

    I love this business!!!

  43. I had a bad experience with a “vanity Gallery” in Chelsea, Agora Gallery, were I commit myself to a year and a half contract with two group exhibition. They were suppose to promote and guide and do a lot more for a fee that was not cheap for me (around 5500 US$). I thought that it will help me be seen by potential buyers and maybe other Gallery owners since they were well situated. In fact not only they didn’t guide or promote me in anyway, the Gallery owner ignore meevery time I went to the Gallery to deposit the paintings, or for the Vernissage, and both time put me at the end of their Gallery where less people went. The only time I had contact with her directly was when she was discussing the contract by e.mail and when she send me a letter to buy a new contract with them, which I respond that since she ignore me then she could ignore me now. I pay for many years the loan that I made for the contract and the expenses I made for bringing the paintings myself and coming for both vernissage.

    Here in Quebec province(Canada) the cost to exhibit to vanity Gallery or café/galleries is exorbitant, at least I think it is, for it is around 500 to 1500 a week. Often the space is not very big too and since I have a tendency to do medium to big paintings it doesn’t suit me, because exhibiting two or three painting for that price without being sure to sell them and without any real publicity is a waste of money and I will prefer to give away my paintings to people who love them.

  44. I find this article very interesting. Personally I tend to stay away from “Vanity ” galleries, but I do see a need for them to exist. Using myself as an example, I show in museums and win awards for showing in exhibits, but have been unable to get what i consider to be higher quality galleries to show my work. Perhaps it is my approach to the galleries, but it is still an issue for me. On the other hand I have been asked to show in “Vanity” galleries. The choice becomes either pay to show or not show in galleries. So I do not show in galleries.

  45. There is a vanity gallery near me which I visited on four occasions, trying to figure out whether or not it would be a good place to show my work eventually. What I found was that the two owners, both artists, had mostly their own work on the walls, and the other artists’ work only stuck around for a month. When I asked about pricing, I realized why. The cost to hang a piece was $20 each for 1 month and the average price of the art was around $100. Diminishing returns for sure! After the cost for framing and materials, most artists would be in the hole after one month if the piece didn’t sell. The gallery was on a Main Street in an upscale suburb here in California, but though I spent more than half an hour talking to one of the owners on two occasions, no one else walked in. I’m guessing this town can’t really support a gallery of any type, and the only people making money here are the two owners.

  46. I have not read any of the comments, so if my question has already been posed, forgive me. Would a sort of hybrid model be viable – where a gallery charges a lower, modest to the artist, then, when (if) the piece is sold, the gallery takes a small commission? The gallery owner gets a little revenue up front, but still has incentive to sell the artist’s work.

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