Understanding the Business of Art Gallery Representation: The Big Agreement
If we think of art in terms of business the decision of controlling ones market over sharing profit often comes into the fold. The issue at hand often boils down to mere percentages. The question at hand-- is it better for an artist to sell solo in order to reap the full reward of profiting from sales or is it better to place the business aspect of ones career into the hands of an art dealer who hopefully has more knowledge of selling art than the artists he or she represents? The choice is a personal one-- it is a choice that should involve deep consideration and research. Needless to say, art gallery representation is often very confusing to both emerging and seasoned artists. Thus, more artists need to understand the basics of gallery representation.
My main focus is the sales agreement between artist and art dealer. Said agreement appears to be the most basic and misunderstood aspect of gallery representation. This is due to the fact that most art dealers will desire 50% of the profit made when artwork is sold-- especially if the art dealer is taking a gamble on an emerging artist. After all, reductions in percentages going to the art dealer rarely occur unless the artist has a history of earning solid profit on a routine basis. Thus, it is highly likely that any artist entering the mainstream art market will be faced with a 50/50 split agreement on sales if a professional relationship is to be secured with an art dealer. That said, artists often avoid said agreement like the Black Plague.
This avoidance is due to the fact that the majority of artists who are new to the gallery scene are ignorant of the expenses involved with establishing and maintaining a professional gallery-- even seasoned artists can view said agreement with resentment. These artists automatically assume that an art dealer is taking advantage of artists by asking for a large cut of profit. Artists who scoff at the 50/50 split agreement are often ignorant of how a professional gallery operates and have it set in their mind that the art dealer is getting rich off of the talents of others-- but that is rarely the case.
Most art gallery owners are striving to keep their doors open-- just as artists struggle to keep their studio doors open. Most art dealers have a genuine admiration for artists and love for their artwork-- and do the best they can to support the artists they represent. Like creating art-- running a gallery is rarely done with the idea that great wealth is within reach. There are other business ventures that are far more profitable and require similar business savvy-- so keep that in mind before automatically placing art gallery owners in a villainous role.
When one considers the expense of operating an art gallery in a major city it is often clear that the art dealer is not exactly coming ahead. After all, he or she has to keep utility bills, travel expenses, advertising, various service and professional fees, and the expense of keeping the exhibited artwork secure into consideration. On top of that the gallery owner also has to pay staff. With those expenses in mind the 50/50 split agreement between artist and art dealer becomes a lifeline for the future success of both the gallery and the artists represented. Not to mention that most gallery owners know that if one of their artists becomes an instant hit with art collectors he or she will most likely jump ship to a more notable art gallery.
Sure-- there are some bad apples among art dealers in general. Obviously there are gallery owners who do not put as much back into the gallery as should be expected. One can easily find examples of crooked art dealers with a mere Google search-- and I’m sure we have all heard horror stories about an art gallery that treated represented artists unfairly. However, the same can be said for artists as well. Point blank opportunists and strategic scams can be discovered in any type of business no matter the focus. I don’t care if the business involves oil or art-- there will always be sharks as far as business is concerned. That is where research comes into play.
If an artist decides to seek gallery representation-- or happens to be contacted by an art dealer for that purpose-- it is the responsibility of the artist to research the legitimacy of whom he or she may enter a professional business partnership with. The blunt of gallery representation horror stories are often rooted in artists who made ill choices in negotiating or were simply daft concerning the agreements made. They failed to do needed research-- and allowed the excitement of gallery representation to cloud their professional judgment.
If you are in talks with a gallery owner-- or any other form of art dealer for that matter-- be sure to ask around and find out all that you can before making the big agreement. There is nothing wrong with contacting current or former represented artists to find the dirt if there is any to be found. A few Google searches of the art dealers name and the name of the gallery is better than no research at all. Try to find out as many facts as you can so that you can enter a mutually beneficial agreement. Key point-- understand that the agreement is mutually beneficial. It is not all about making you the next art star.
In closing, the reality of the 50/50 split agreement is that it will most likely be the agreement that follows an artist throughout the majority of his or her career as a gallery represented artist. Thus, if as an artist you do not accept those terms you may desire to go it alone as far as selling, marketing, and promoting your artwork. I know of artists who have been very successful selling solo due to the internet and occasional artist driven group exhibit. However, don’t write gallery representation off entirely. Art gallery representation can be very profitable and beneficial to your overall career as long as you understand the big picture of how an art gallery functions and your role within that structure.
Take care, Stay true,