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Negotiating with Art Galleries - Part 2

by Lori Woodward Simons on 6/10/2009 12:40:23 PM

This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author.

Transparency Creates Trust

I've worked with some of the best gallery dealers and some of the worst, and what I've learned is that artists should never put up with unfair business practices from gallerists. If they're late on payments because of financial hardship, we might encourage them to be transparent with us so that we can work together to get through the difficult time. Everything should be above board. However, many times artists are silent about "slow to pay" or non-payment or even downright lies. In a perfect business partnership, both parties frequently talk and discuss options - nothing is hidden and no one is left wondering what's going on. Transparency creates trust in the long run.

An Equitable Commission Rate

While some galleries still take a 40% commission on sales, the majority of them insist on 50%. Richard Schmid has shared with me that years ago, galleries took 20%-30%. The commission rates artists are paying today were unheard of 40 years ago. Some galleries have now gone beyond the 50% mark - having raised it to 60%. Where will it end?

It will end with us, the artists. As long as artists believe gallery dealers are in charge of their businesses, some dealers (not all) will continue to require more and more from us. I've always maintained that I own and run my own business - I can either sell work on my own or else pay someone else a commission to sell my work. There are real advantages to working with a good gallery. Many times, galleries have access to art buyers that we artists do not, especially if the gallery is located in an arts or tourist district.

Some Galleries Deserve 50%

While I prefer to pay a 40% standard commission to all my galleries, there are times when I make an exception and pay 50%. For example when a gallery goes the extra mile to promote my work through magazines ads, pays for food and mailings for art openings or when the gallery is located in a major arts district - where the rents are likely to be outrageously high, the extra 10% seems warranted.

However, I've worked with galleries who have decided to take 50% just because "other galleries are doing it". But at the same time many gallery dealers still take only 40%?  Interestingly, I've observed that many who take 40% tend to manage their finances well, and pay on time, every time.

An artist friend, (whose name I am withholding), makes well over $100K a year through gallery and outdoor show sales. She insists that all her galleries take 40%. Amazingly, her galleries agree - because they know they'll be able to sell her work easily. Additionally by keeping all her sales commissions at the same rate, it helps keep her prices the same across the board.

Double the Cost of Your Frame

When I do work with galleries, I prefer those who take 40% or less. In reality, I am the one who pays the gallery a commission to sell my work. They are not my employees and I am not their employee - we are a partnership. The reason why I think 40% is fair - is because I frame my own work, and the extra 10% I keep allows me to put a better frame on my paintings.

It Never Hurts to Ask

So when the gallery normally takes 50% or more, ask them if they will consider 40%. If they insist on 50%, ask what they will offer to you for the extra 10%. No matter what they want to take, realize that it is you who pays them the commission. I'm not suggesting that you get angry or upset, but set a fair standard for yourself and other artists. I wonder what would happen if we all asked galleries to take only 40%. Would it change the industry standard from 50% to 40%?

It's Your Business

Remember who owns your business. Whenever you're negotiating and suddenly get a sour feeling in the pit of your stomach because you know you've been taking advantage of, perhaps that's a good time to begin an open discussion with your dealer - to begin setting up a system that seems fair to both of you.


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Related Posts:

Gallery Representation

12 Steps to Get Your Artwork Noticed by Galleries

Art Galleries

A New Kind of Gallery Relationship

Negotiating with Art Galleries

Do artists need galleries anymore?

Topics: Gallery/Artist Relationship

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Diane Overmyer
via web
I am an artist and I also own a fairly large art gallery. While my gallery only charges 40% commmission on sales, some of the other galleries that carry my art, charge 50%. I would never dream of asking them to charge less, because I know how expensive it is to run a gallery. Most galleries these days are having a hard enough time keeping their doors open. And there are more talented artists producing more work than ever before. So an artist could run the risk of having a gallery decide against carrying their work by making such a request.

I think a better approach would be to make sure that the gallery is earning that 50%. If they are not, then simply pull your work.

anne watson
This article is very helpful. You mentioned framing, and I've always wondered about this. You said if they only take 40 percent then you can put the rest towards a nice frame. But the fact is that the majority of galleries take 50 percent. I already think that's really high, and the artist is already covering a lot of expenses--canvas, paints, etc. And frames are expensive-- I take issue to buying a frame and only getting 50 percent of that cost back. My question is if anyone has worked with a gallery that reimburses the entire cost of the frame if the piece sells. Or one which frames the piece themselves, or even shares the cost of the frame to begin with?

PS--In my case I'm talking specifically about gallery wrapped canvas, which can do without a frame, but would would look sharper with one.

anne watson
Oh, I see that this issue has it's own article by Clint, "Framing the Problem". Well, i guess I'm not the only one who's confused by the question of who pays for the frame! :)

Dave Tighe
My daughter has recently been totally ripped off by a gallery taking the 40 percent by agreement, but actually deciding to keep 100 percent. No one can help, not even the police because the artwork was given willingly. Artists beware.

Constantin Bucharest
I am a young artist, who is collaborating with an art gallery (considered as a good one and i agree). The commission was 40 percent two years ago, in 2014 we signed for 50 percent. I read all the info, I agree with the different points of view (from the artist's side and form the gallery's side). Subjectively, it seems to me a little too much 50, if we look at the fact that an artist puts more than just money at risk, also his health (but that's another story).
My question is: Are the fees for the state included in the 40 percent or 50 percent commission? Or after you get the money, besides the sum for the gallery, you also start paying for the income fee, health insurance, etc. - so you end up with less than 40 percent from the price of the artwork?
Can anyone please answer my question? Thanks a lot.


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