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Great Expectations? - Artists and Commercial Galleries

In this article we look at the relationship between artists and their representative gallery; what the expectations are from both parties and how you can get the most out of these relationships.

A commercial gallery will most often approach artists, whose careers they have been following for some time, to join them. Usually there has been a rapport built up from attending the artist's exhibitions, other exhibitions or events, studio visits and portfolio presentations, artist's talks etc.

An artist 'cold calling' a gallery may not be a successful approach. It is much more effective for artists to build up their career, reputation, and profile, and develop relationships with the galleries they aspire to be represented by.

Once the artist is on board with a gallery these are some of the things they can expect from the relationship. Remember that the gallery is supposed to be working for the artist. They can take anywhere up to 50% commission from the sale of the artist's works and so they should be working for it.

  • The basics...

The gallery makes a commitment to sell the artist's work on their behalf.

They should provide the artist with an agreement, contract, or consignment, so that the relationship is fair, transparent, and legally binding. These agreements should be time limited and reviewed when renewed.

The gallery must pay the artist correctly, and on time.

Artists and gallery should jointly agree on the pricing of artworks. If the gallery offers a discount for any reason, it should be taken from the gallery's profit unless mutually agreed prior to the sale.

Galleries should be transparent with all exhibition costs. Both parties should agree in advance who pays for framing, transportation, documentation, promotion, advertising, and opening costs etc.

When artworks are in the hands of the gallery, they are responsible for them. If an artwork is damaged whilst in the possession of the gallery, they should first give the artist an opportunity to repair the work or obtain approval from the artist to proceed with a conservator and pay for the cost of repair.

Galleries should oversee copyright fees for the reproduction of the artist's artwork for print and online media.

They also should oversee fair loan, exhibition, and artist fees for exhibitions outside of the commercial gallery setting.

  • Marketing and communications

The gallery should conduct regular studio visits to keep up to date with the artist's practice and organise clients to tour the artist's studio in between solo exhibitions (if the artist is comfortable to have clients in their space) to pique interest and possibly pre-sell works or sell between exhibitions.

Galleries create a client interest list for the artist's work. This should include anyone who has bought the artist's work in the past and anyone who has shown interest. This can be through emails from the gallery’s website, networking in the gallery, social media, etc. The gallery should keep these clients regularly up to date on the artist's developments (exhibitions, articles published on work, public art commissions, etc.) to keep the engagement high.

The gallery should update the artist's profile on the gallery’s website regularly so that it is current. There is nothing worse than getting online to research an artist and their CV is out of date. It is the responsibility of the artist to regularly update the gallery so that this can happen. It might be helpful for the artist to send an up to dated CV every 3 - 6 months to the gallery to streamline this process.

Galleries should represent the artist's work at relevant art fairs and events. The gallery should be rotating their artists periodically through fairs etc, so that every artist is getting exposure and opportunity.

Galleries should endeavour to exhibit the artist's work in solo or group shows as regularly as possible. When signing up with a gallery it is important for artists to note how many artists the gallery represents and consider how often they can/will rotate these artists with solo exhibitions in a two-three-year time schedule. There is no use signing up with a gallery that can only offer the artist a solo exhibition once every five years unless the artist has at least one other gallery in another city or country so that regular solo exhibitions are being maintained.

The gallery should be maintaining healthy relationships with curators, collectors, and the media, actively promoting the acquisition of works, inclusion in exhibitions, features in press opportunities etc. It is their business to know who is collecting what, who is curating what, who is writing what, and how their artists fit into these activities.

  • Support and guidance

Once again - regular studio visits will continually inform the gallery of new work and developments. This is also a great time to have a critical discourse about the artist's practice, new works, and developments, which are all important parts of art making.

Galleries can assist or advise the artist in funding applications, public art commission submissions, residency applications, etc. The gallery should be providing support letters, references, sense checking, proofreading, and helping with any areas that the artist might be finding difficult.

Dependent on the legal agreement between artist and gallery, they gallery may be taking a percentage of the artist's fees for activities out with gallery-based exhibitions. If galleries are taking a percentage of public art commission fees, they should be taking an active, if not leading, role in the considerable work required for this type of activity - from applications, submissions, concept development to final delivery. However, some gallery agreements are only related to sales or commissions that are directly linked to the gallery. Artists should consider this when entering contract negotiations.

We hope these helpful tips assist forging a healthy partnership between artists and commercial galleries. Research what each gallery offers, what artist's expectations are, what contractual arrangements are likely and negotiate for what is going to work best for you, whether you are an artist or a gallerist.

*DISCLAIMER: These blog posts are written by T Projects are not necessarily reflective of the position or opinions of any of our clients.


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