Galleries show and sell artwork created by artists, to the public. (*exception) For this service they take a commission of the sale price. The relationship between the artis and the gallery is often complicated, complex and evolves over time. Unfortunately few artists (and galleries) have proper contracts with galleries to ensure their rights as well as their responsibilities. Ultimately, the artists PAY the gallery. But because the money is paid to the gallery first, galleries have a tendency to abuse this relationship. In my own personal experience, I can confirm that this abuse ranges from delaying payment, failing to insure artwork, not promoting the artist sufficiently all the way to all out fraud and theft.
As artists, we have to understand how important this relationship is and that ‘it takes two to tango’. Many artists are also abusing their relationship with their gallery. I’ve heard of artists not providing the work they said they would have, work provided is not presentable, showing up drunk to openings all the way to making ‘secret’ deals with folks interested in the work they see in the gallery so they can cut out the gallery and the commission.
My philosophy is that both parties need to work together, being honest, trying their best and adhering to any and all principles both parties agreed upon, as well as on commonly understood ones. As in any working relationship this is most flawlessly ensure by both parties agreeing to a common contract.
Gallery commission ranges from 0 to 60% (at least I’ve not seen anything higher). If you think about it, that’s really extraodinary – and most buyers to NOT realize that if they buy a $4000 painting, the artist most likely gets $2000 of which probably $1000 went into materials, studio rent, shipping and framing, so realistically the artist receives $1000. Clearly this is a very rough example, but you get the idea.
It is important that both parties understand what the commission stands for. A gallery, that works hard to frame/present, hang, publicize, advertize and evenutally sell your work has EARNED their commission. And as artists we should be happy to pay – when it is deserverd. Unfortunately, with the economic problems galleries face, many galleries are cutting many many corners, making the artists market the show, invite people for openings, framing work, labelling, providing a mailing list, marketing with press and advertising, even providing wine for the opening night. These galleries do NOT earn their commission. They deserve some commission for providing and staffing the space, but that’s about all they did. So where do you draw the line? Here is my take:
- hanging show
- framing work
- labeling work
- providing downtown storefront location
- staffing / keeping good opening hours
- mailing list of art collectors, critics, buyers and similar (not friends and aquaintances) (2000 min)
- snail mail invitation to show to list of local art buyers/collectors or similar (500 min)
- snail mail invitation to show to mixed list (1000 min)
- ads in major art magazine (full page, half page, quarter, small)
- ads in local new papers
- ads in other publications
- marketing on gallery website
- marketing on social media
- marketing other
- sales person knowledgeable about art, you, your work, art history, finances/art auctions
- special show room
- vip events
Non-profits or galliers that aren’t mainly galleries (coops, studios, stores, etc…) commonly take up to 33% commission. This is acceptable. They provide the store-front, some hanging, some marketing, maybe a small opening and staff the location to provide sale opportunities. They do NOT have an extensive collector mailing list, the do not send hundreds of snail mail invitations, they do not put on big expensive opening events (vernissage), etc…
Many galleries with prominently located storefronts, that provide extensive services for artists will charge a 50% commission. From a gallery of this caliber artists should expect: hanging the show, packing and shipping of sold work, insuring all artwork, providing artists with an ‘inventory’ list, an opening with wine, a marketing campaign for the opening and the show in general including: ads in national and local magazines and papers, press contacts, snail mail to large list of mixed contacts, email reminders, a well visited and maintained, professional looking website, announcing the show on the website, adding the artist to the list of gallery artists, great sales staff. You can not expect a highly customized year-round artist representation and promotion, or full/half page ads in major art magazines. In return, these galleries expect that you provide work of the highest standard (you can’t judge art, but the materials and techniques have to be high quality), on time delivery of work, enough work, work that is coherent, titles, info about yourself, communication AND in many cases these galleries demand exclusivity within a certain region.
Only galleries in the center of the art scene in large metropolitan areas can charge this rate of commission. They offer highly prized locations – often store-front or in a prominent art area, and will work tirelessly to promote their artists via the press, reviews, special VIP events, providing a speical private show room with individually tailored viewing experience for interested buyers, year round representation, etc… These galleries have established a large following of collectors and buyers who come to the gallery to buy your art even if they don’t know you, because they know and trust the gallery. Most of the time, the staff has MA degrees in art history and can and do provide interested buyers with a full background of your work, and how it relates within the context of art history, art theory, culture and contemporary society. They are also often knowledgeable about financial terms and can arrange for a variety of sale and payment methods (loans, leases, renting art, financing, auctions, etc…). Your work will be fully insured and you will receive statements and prompt payments. Oftentimes your work will be framed by the gallery (they will add this to the price and you will not earn a commission on the frames). At this level it is important that the artist has an established track record of sales, shows, reviews and publications, etc… and that your pricing structure is coherent. In return, these galleries expect that you provide work of the highest standard (you can’t judge art, but the materials and techniques have to be high quality), on time delivery of work, enough work, work that is coherent, titles, info about yourself, communication AND in many cases these galleries demand exclusivity within a certain region.
*Some galleries let you ‘rent’ their space – the artist pays to show their work there, but these galleries take no commission. In my opinion, this is a tragic mistake for artists to make, because once you pay the rental feel, the gallery has no incentive to sell you work.