You mean, you ACTUALLY want to hang my pictures on a wall?!
March 7, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow evening, I meeting with a gallery owner to show my work and discuss the potential for representation through the gallery. I am new to this whole thing. Help, please!

On top of being nervous as all get out (and excited too!), I have no idea what to expect, what to questions to ask or what to take with me, besides my pretty, pretty pictures.

The basics of the arrangement I already know about (the way the gallery will function, exhibition plans, the commission they take off any sales, the exhibition fee, etc.) but I am curious to know if any of y'all have done something similar and would like to hear your experiences.

I already have the body of work together that I would like to show and don't really know if I should take anything else with me. I emailed my C.V. when I responded to the ad. Should I take a printed copy of my C.V. and statement, just in case?

What things should I keep in mind while I am talking with the owner? What types of question should I be asking? What should I be expecting from the gallery?

I am stoked to have the potential to have a place to show my work and gently nudge along my art career. Any help or guidance is enormously appreciated!
posted by godshomemovies to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I apologize if I am jumping the gun, but when I saw you mentioned an "exhibition fee" I wanted to show you a blog post about so-called "vanity galleries" that could be relevant. The blogger is located in Maryland, but the advice is generally applicable. Again, my apologies if it's not that sort of gallery.
posted by pinetree at 6:25 PM on March 7, 2011

Yes, the "exhibition fee" jumped out at me as well -- could you explain a little more what they've told you about that? My parents owned an art gallery for about 15 years, and my dad has had his own work represented in galleries as long as I can remember, and I have never heard of an exhibition fee.

Also, what commission setup are they offering?
posted by scody at 6:35 PM on March 7, 2011

The details, as explained to me in the email, are as followed.

The owner wants to represent 12 artists, eight wall artist and four sculptural artists. Each artist will have about 5-7 feet of wall/floor space and one exhibit in the main exhibiting room a year. The gallery will take 35% of sales and the artist will keep 65%. Their is also a $38 monthly exhibiting fee. The gallery will take care of all promotional costs.

Thank you both for responding; a heads-up about such things is exactly what I need.
posted by godshomemovies at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2011

If they're charging you to hang their work, and they're taking commission of sales, then I would be sure to ask them about what kind of work they will do to get those sales.
Will there be an opening?
Will they provide refreshments (wine)?
How many people usually come to their openings?
Will they be promoting the exhibition? (Hopefully yes).
If so, how do they do it? Do they print up invitations? do they have an email list, facebook, etc.?
Will they add your contacts to theirs to promote the exhibition?
Will they send out a press release?
Who does the press release go to?
Have there been reviews in the past of exhibitions from their gallery? (if yes, ask to see them)
Will you get final approval on any promotion they send out?
Will they provide staff to help with the installation?

Also...I suggest you don't sign any kind of contract at the meeting. If you are paying to exhibit and they are taking commission then you should not get locked in with them for any longer than one show.

The fact that they advertised for artists makes me a bit suspicious. Normally a good gallerist does her own research and seeks out the people she wants to represent. But there could be a good reason for putting out the call. If they are a reputable gallery, why don't they know artists already?

Ask other artists in your area what they think about the gallery. If it has a really great reputation then yay! If not, well, mounting a show is really good experience and you'll learn a lot, even if this particular gallery isn't where you want to be in the long run.

However, you don't like the vibe, don't do it. There will be other opportunities. Renting a space and putting up your own show and inviting all your friends is a very respectable option - more respectable than showing with a shady gallery.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 6:50 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and be sure to ask "What is about my work that makes you feel it's right for your gallery?" See what they say. If they have a vision, and you like it and it feels right for you, then a lot of other stuff is less important. If they just babble inanely then and what they say seems to have nothing to do with your art...maybe think about it.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 6:53 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you say "The owner wants to represent 12 artists..." it sounds as if this is a new business. It's neither the model for a co-op gallery nor a regular commercial gallery given the monthly fee. Aunt_winnifred's questions are right on target. I would do some research about the owner's background, whether this is a new enterprise or no. This is a tough economy to start a new gallery in - many long established galleries have folded in the last couple of years so knowing if this person has any background in the gallery business and what their track record is on important details like paying artists would be good to know.

Joanne Mattera's blog is a great resource on art business.
posted by leslies at 7:02 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, so they're basically asking for $456/year from you, which means (with a 65/35 split -- which is actually a good setup for an artist -- you'll have to sell $700 in a year just to recoup your fee). Do you have a sense of the price range for your work?

Some other questions for the gallery (in addition to the excellent questions/suggestions from aunt_winnifred): how long have they been in business? What experience do they have representing artists who do similar work to yours? What is the general price range among artists that they're going for?

And yeah, "advertising for artists" makes me raise an eyebrow as well... is this a first-time venture? (Not that there's automatically anything wrong with a first-time gallery... just that it seems to me, like aunt_winnifred, that even a first time gallerist should presumably already have some familiarity with artists that they would like to represent. It does give me pause, though, especially as this is a terrible economy for art right now.)
posted by scody at 7:05 PM on March 7, 2011

Any gallery advertising for artists and expecting an exhibition fee is unlikely to bring in clientele willing to spend real money on art. You aren't likely to sell very much art.

Paying $38 for the experience of hanging your art in a vanity gallery for a month so you can add it to your C.V. is probably worth it. Real curated art galleries want to see that you are a working artist not some dilletant hobbyist, the more showings and awards (no matter how trivial) on your C.V. the better.
posted by j03 at 12:15 AM on March 8, 2011

Paying $38 for the experience of hanging your art in a vanity gallery for a month so you can add it to your C.V. is probably worth it. Real curated art galleries want to see that you are a working artist not some dilletant hobbyist, the more showings and awards (no matter how trivial) on your C.V. the better.

I don't think a showing at a vanity gallery would be something you'd want to put on your CV.
posted by empath at 6:58 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is that $38 per artist or for the entire group of 12?

If every artist is paying that amount, it sounds like the gallery owner isn't risking much or perhaps even anything at all on the venture. I'd be curious enough to contact a real estate group and see how much the space he has might be expected to rent out for each month. I bet it winds up being about... $456 a month.

If that's the case, why not skip the middle man? Come up with a deposit, get 12 or more artists together, and start an art co-op with membership fees but no commission charge.

It may or may not be a scam, but if I went for it, I'd ask for the following modification: the gallery doesn't get anything from any sale of your art until you've recouped all monthly fees that you've paid.

Artists are constantly surrounded by sharks who feed on their hopes, fears, and trusting natures. The time you start thinking about displaying your work in a gallery is the time to start being paranoid about which direction the money is flowing.
posted by jsturgill at 9:02 AM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes.... Nthing at this point. My take on it is that if there is a monthly fee to pay then this is not a good set up. The point of the commission that the gallery takes (ok this is 5 to15% lower than usual) is because the commercial risk is theirs. If they believe in the work, and more to the point believe that they can sell the work then they should look to cover their costs that way, and sure $38 a month isn't massive, but it should be seen as an investment, and that's only something that you can decide whether it seems like it'll pay off for you (both financially and in terms of your exposure.)

The one other red-light is the talk of representing you - be careful, as sometimes they will want or expect a degree of exclusivity (sometimes this is limited geographically or for a set time.) By all means test the water if you like them and believe that they can advance your career, but don't get tied into something that could be limiting to your practice.
posted by multivalent at 9:57 AM on March 8, 2011

Ed Winkleman, owner of the Winkleman Gallery in NY, offered some of the most candid and helpful advice for artists seeking gallery representation that I've seen posted in a single place.

For my part - I've worked for, and shown in, a variety of non-profits and commercial spaces of varying degrees of professionalism, from the concrete-and-aluminum white cube type, to the gritty warehouse type... and almost everyone I've worked with (or for) has nothing but disdain for pay-to-play situations like the one you're describing.
posted by D.Billy at 8:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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