Thursday, February 16, 2012

Choosing the right gallery for you

Posted by: Dave

I get a lot of emails from emerging artists asking for advice about approaching galleries. I thought I would put together a list of things to look for in a gallery; things I have had to learn the hard way. I will say that I have considered myself a professional artist for only about 2 years, so take anything and everything I say with a grain of salt. In fact, don't bother reading this article.

1) The gallery shows other artists whom you respect.

You should see what sort of other inventory the gallery carries and if it is done by other artists whom you respect and admire. (When I approached S.R. Brennen galleries, it was because both Adrian Gottlieb and Michael Klein exhibited there.) It is also a really good idea to talk to other artists who show at the gallery as well to see what their experiences have been in terms of sales and payments.

2) The typical commission rate should be around 50% of the retail cost; any gallery that asks you pay them to be included in the gallery is a not a gallery that I would recommend.

3) Location, location, location.

A gallery does not have to be close to where you live, though it can be helpful. I live in Canada but sell everything in the States. It is good to research which areas are solid art markets, ex. Santa Fe, Palm Desert, Scottdale, etc. No matter how good a gallery may seem, if it's in a place like downtown Detroit, you may want to avoid it.

4) Make sure that art sales are the gallery's only source income. You may want to avoid any galleries with frame shops, crafts, all you can eat buffets, etc., as selling fine art may not be their primary focus.

5) Have work available before approaching a gallery.

That being said, it is a myth that you need an entire portfolio built up to give a gallery. You should have around 10-12 images of works of consistent quality you have done, but very few galleries want to commit to a dozen pieces all at once, nor should you want to commit all your eggs to one basket either. 3-4 is typically plenty. Having a website is the best way to showcase your work......or having the most manly blog in the world.

6) Artists are always getting approached by galleries. Choose carefully.

The better you get, the more people want a slice of the pie. Don't get overly excited and settle for the first one that comes along, like Kate did with me. You should have a strong and friendly relationship with your gallery. The gallery isn't doing you a favor by accepting you, they are going into business with you. Talking to Maggie and Carlen from "M Gallery" where I show feels like I am talking to my relatives.

7) If you are going to a gallery in person, wear a monocle and top hat to look sophisticated. I also fake a British accent to sound more intelligent. If that doesn't work, you can simply cold call a gallery to get a better feel for them and see what the application process is.

I am sure there are points I have missed or exceptions to the rules, so feel free to comment (or praise me).


  1. Will you being doing a "Doing Taxes as an Artist" post soon?

  2. "The gallery isn't doing you a favor by accepting you, they are going into business with you." And, I would add, don't be overly flattered when a gallery is inviting you to join up. Take some time to really think it over before hooking up to the wagon train.

    Thank you for this entertaining post!

  3. Great. I would definitely reinforce the notion of being familiar with the gallery's roster, and being sure that you fit in. I would add a few things.

    If you live anywhere near the gallery, you should make a habit of visiting in person. It comes off as kind of rude when you send the gallery all these materials and expect the gallery to review them, and yet you can't be bothered to stop in and see what's actually there. So very uncool.

    Having your shit together is a good rule. Agreed that 10-12 pieces of consistent (emphasis: consistent) work is a.o.k. However, if you feel the need to apologize for *anything*, as in: "I'm kind of working on my website...still..." or "I don't really know how to take good images of my work" then you should not approach a gallery. Wait until you've got it together, then approach.

    Never approach a gallery you do not know with your own pre-packaged concept show.

    If you need to qualify that you are self taught, or "have only been painting since 20XX..", you are not yet ready to send your work to galleries. Again, wait until you can hold your head high and walk in the front door (even if the front door is only virtual), with no excuses. Otherwise, you'll just make a crappy first impression, and you won't get another chance when and if you are ready to show.

    Review any written materials you are thinking about submitting and consider whether or not you come off as a crazy person. Realizing that you may not be the best judge of this, you might want to ask someone else to have a look. If the person whose opinion you trust most is someone who sees you only in a professional capacity involving the words "warden" or "therapy", consider submitting to an outsider art gallery.

  4. Good comments everyone. Kate should be doing a posting soon on shipping your works from Canada to the US, but the tax thing is so damn complicated I wouldn't even know where to begin (plus Kate and our accountant do all of it)

    I agree that you only have one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one. Galleries don't care where you trained, if you were self taught, if you have only been painting for x years, they just want a solid product.

    1. Another excellent post David! I think the best gem of advice you give is to show up at the gallery openings wearing a top hat and monocle. I will be sure to start working on my British accent right away. After all, it does have to be a good accent! Not Cockney or anything working class. ;)

      This guys seems to know what he is doing--at least he is very good at the British accent!

      Kidding aside, great topic. Thanks for posting!

    2. From the perspective of a gallery, don't be crazy, take your meds if you have to, but don't appear to be hard work. Galleries prefer easy going artists, I've seen so many artists dumped by galleries for being pains in the ass.

      I once took on an artist for representation, only to be continaully pestered that same day & even woken the next morning by a call...all this whilst taking my gallery to an Art Fair. So I dumped the artist within 24 hours of representation, that's gotta be a record?

      From the artist's perspective....A catch 22;

      Don't accept representation from any gallery that asks you, unless you are way under their league. And if you approach a gallery and they accept you, be wary. You should not want to be part of a gallery that'll have you, nor be part of a gallery because they need you.

      There is a third way to get representation, but I'm not tellying you :)

  5. The way I've gotten into galleries is by being recommended by one of their other artists.

    I've had a gallerist tell me of an artist pulling a "don't you know who the f**k I am?" when being told his works wouldn't appeal to that gallery's clientele, it turns out that I know that artist personally!

  6. Very true Jason. It really is a small art world and having friends in galleries you wish to be a part of is very helpful. The internet has been very helpful for meeting other artists, though I usually only use it for youtube fail videos.

    Cube. True enough. No gallery wants their artists to act like a needy girlfriend, no matter how hot of an item they might be.

  7. I like your blog, it's funny and interesting. I did an unprofessional thing but for me it worked: since I didn't have any luck getting galleries to call back or respond to cd's of images, or answer emails, I just walked in. I made sure no clients were in, the owner was literally doing nothing but sitting at the computer, and I introduced myself and said I had some work in my car, and could I please bring a couple pieces in to show them. I went into three galleries one day, ended up having a show in two of them, and am still showing in one of those two. That was a couple years ago. (The third gallery owner went mad when I asked him, and nearly threw me bodily out, but I figured I had it coming.) Maybe that will help someone.