Gallery representation

I recently received and email from a gallery that I will leave unnamed. The email went something like this…

We saw your work on your website and we absolutely love it. We would love to have your work in our gallery. Please email us for more info or visit our site to learn more about us…

This seemed a little odd to me. I have helped other artists get gallery representation and have talked to other galleries about showing my work, but never have I seen the whole process initiated through the email. Usually it starts with a phone call or a face to face conversation at an event. Never the less, I was already sensing some sort of come on so I immediately began to research the email. As far as I can tell, I am one of the only people I know who has received this email. I asked around to see if it was a mass email. If it came your way too, I would love to hear from you.

Upon reviewing the gallery and their website I discovered their business model and the “artist representation fees” that I would be required to pay. Basically $3500 a year. For that price an artist gets work hung in what sounds like group shows, space on the gallery website, various promotional materials, and a 70/30 split with the gallery.

Now I realize that this is a perfectly good business model for a gallery these days. They make some money either way without having to gamble on final sales. As an artist $3500 a year is a little steep for me with no return guarantee. I mean, I would have to sell a few pieces before I even saw anything remotely resembling a return on my investment. I suppose there are lots of people out there who would be ready and willing to put this on their resume and run with it. But what will they get besides another line on their resume? What, if any, are the proven financial track records of galleries such as this? Will this gallery be around in five years or even two years? These are the kinds of questions anyone serious about gallery representation should be asking themselves. If you are truly wanting gallery representation or a book deal or whatever other success benchmark you can think of, then do your homework and get down to some serious business. Find every galley you can that represents the kind of work that you make. I once went through a list of almost 5,000 galleries for an artist to narrow it down to 100 galleries that he might fit in. From there we went on to create very slick marketing packets of his work and shipped them off to the top 50 or so. After all that he got two bites and ended up in one of the galleries with interest for the future from the other one. It didn’t cost $3500. It cost a lot less than that and the gallery does a great job promoting and selling the work.

Stop and ask yourself – what is success as an artist for me personally? Don’t get hung up on the traditional models of success like gallery representation. I have known quite a few artists who had gallery representation and found it more trouble that it was worth. Rarely was their work sold and the investments of printing, framing, and shipping the work were never recouped. Make your own version of success and make art because you love it – not just because you need an ego boost.