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Evaluating Your Galleries

by Lori Woodward on 12/15/2010 9:38:43 AM

Today's Post  is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 



Recently, Clint Watson wrote a short blog post here, illustrating a logical way to see if your dealings with a gallery produces a profit. If you are working with a gallery - do the math, and if the favor doesn't come out in your favor, it's time to reconsider.


My tennis coach in college had a saying, If you're winning the match, don't change a thing, but if you're losing, try different strategies until you begin winning. I've used these wise words to guide me through life's endeavors, and they've repaid me handsomely.


Here's what you should be asking yourself:


Am I making a decent profit by working with my gallery? Are they doing a good job of promoting my work? Do they treat me with respect -  as a business partner, and send me a check promptly after a sale? If the answer is "no" for any of these matters, it might be time to have a business meeting with yourself and re-evaluate your relationship with the gallery.


Whenever I've consigned work with a gallery, I usually revise their agreement or else write my own agreement if they don't have one.  I print two hard copies - one for myself and one for the gallery owner/manager and have that person sign both my copy and theirs. You might think this is a bit drastic, but it comes in handy when issues crop up. 


Here's a list of what I include:


 I agree to supply the gallery with 5 or more paintings at any time. When the paintings sell, I send an equal number of replacements. If nothing sells, I don't send anything. I've seen artists end up with thousands of dollars in inventory sit for more than a year in a gallery with no sales. It's unfair for the artist to have their paintings, along with framing and shipping investments - not actively selling and possibly sitting in storage. Again, the whole idea of working with a gallery is to sell to collectors whom we have no way of attracting. If that's not happening, just being in the gallery to list it on your resume probably isn't worth it.


I include a clause that lets me exchange unsold paintings with the gallery after 6 months.  That way, collectors don't see the same paintings month after month - when they are removed, it gives them the impression that they have sold. When I work with more than one gallery, I have the option of placing those unsold paintings in one of my other venues. More often then not, when I move an unsold work to one of my other galleries, it sells.


I require prompt payment of my funds within 30 days of the sale. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is crucial to my income and my relationship with the gallery. I've worked with a couple of galleries where I hadn't received payment for months after a sale - it got to the point where the owner would not answer my calls. This kind of business issue stresses me out. I make it my aim to work with business partners who are financially solvent, ethical, and welcome hearing my voice.


I make sure the gallery insures loss of paintings while in the gallery and also when the gallery ships the paintings back to the artist.


I don't let my gallery dictate the other venues where I sell my work. Some galleries state that their artists cannot sell from their studios or at certain other galleries (who they deem in competition with them). This requirement is far too restrictive to my income. The gallery has many artists with which to draw income, while I only have that gallery. In my mind, it's unfair for them to restrict my income sources while multiplying theirs.


There's more, but for the sake of not taking up your painting time, I'll stop here. The key: Never let a gallery do anything that increases their income while it restricts yours. Remember, it's an equitable partnership. The day is here were we artists can and should make working with a gallery a true and ethical experience for both sides of the equation.

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Related Posts:

Slow to Pay

Do artists need galleries anymore?

Art Galleries

Why Galleries Rock

Advice From a Gallery Manager

Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | sell art 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Lori,

Thank you. Excellent information. I wonder if you have a copy of your agreement that you could share? I would love to see it.

Thanks again for the great advice.


Melinda Redd
Thank you for the tips! I'd also like to see a copy of your agreement if you wouldn't mind sharing.

Kim VanDerHoek
Thank you Lori, for expanding your thoughts on this issue. I think the advice you left for me as a comment from Clint's article is my next step - to talk to the gallery owner.

Stede Barber
Valuable nuts and bolts information, Lori. Thank you.

This type of information helps create a greater level of confidence when beginning a gallery relationship. The wisdom of your experience is a great gift.

tom weinkle
Great post Lori. A reminder of some basic principles for doing business with galleries, or for that matter anyone else who may wish to represent your art. In tennis terminology, I would say you have served an ACE!

Very savvy advice, Lori. I was also wondering if you include any terms in your agreement for the costs and responsibilities of opening receptions you may have at a given gallery, i.e., who does what and who pays for what?

Jan Perkins
Great article! I have a lot of evaluating to do.
I would also like to see articles on galleries feeling very threatened by artist's websites and is it really a true threat or just something that is feared. For example, a gallery who represents my work is very threatened my FASO site. The comment was that it looks too much like a gallery's website and not like any artist's website that they have seen. And they didn't like my prices showing on my paintings even though on each piece their is a direct link to their gallery. Any comments?

Lori Woodward
Jan, I really don't blame galleries for feeling fearful about artists' websites. These business owners are seeing the era of the big gallery come to an end with the Internet. The same thing is happening with book publishers, department stores, newspapers, record producers, and the list goes on.

For the first time in history, the artist does not need a gate-keeper to introduce work to the world. Granted, a gallery can and still does help artists promote their work to a new group of collectors, but even that is changing in some ways.

If artists are going to work with galleries while not letting them push us around, here's how we need to think:

1. We are business owners and the CEO of our business. Therefore, we make decisions with profit in mind.

2. We are not employees of the gallery. In fact, we consign our work with them (which means that we legally own that work until it's sold)
What this means is that we pay them a sales commission for marketing and selling our work. We can ask for our unsold works (our inventory - not theirs) back in a reasonable period of time.

3. When a gallery sells our work for more than we stated and secretly keeps the difference, it is illegal - they are stealing from us since we own the artwork and agree to pay them a specific commission on sales... they sell for us.

4. When a gallery sells a work and doesn't pay us, they are also treading on illegal ground. Those funds belong to us as soon as the collector pays in full. We are gracious to the gallery and let them pay in 30 days so they don't have to update their books every week.

5. No gallery has the right to say how we present our work and weather we post prices. Having prices on the work keeps the gallery honest too... so they can't really sell the work for more than we've allowed.

Remember who owns your business. Never approach a gallery with desperation. If you let them abuse your rights as business owner, then it's your own fault.

HA! I think I just wrote another blog! Can you tell I feel passionate about these things?

Lori Woodward
OK, just so I don't look like I'm gallery bashing... I have recommended artists to great galleries over the years, and it has made these artists' careers flourish.

Many galleries do an excellent job of promoting artists and selling their work - many send out checks in a timely manner, and the staff and owners are true partners with the artists. I personally would work with a top gallery if my work was of the quality that they consider.

I have half a dozen friends who are gallery owners, and I really admire what they do for their artists. However, I can count on one hand the number of galleries I know who have a great track record with artists. I'm sure there are many more out there that I don't know about.

Just make sure you don't give in to unreasonable expectations from the gallery just so you can be on their roster of artists. If they're really interested in carrying your work, they'll listen to your needs and wants too.

Sorry, I have not been working with galleries for a few years (because I write so much these days). I've listed everything you'll need to write up on a contract. Many galleries use no contract at all.

Casey Craig
Great information Lori. Artists need to walk away from a situation if it is not in their best interests regardless of what the short term benefit is.

I will say that most galleries want some exclusivity with their artists, usually in their city. By exclusivity I mean that they want to be the artists only gallery or dealer in that specific town. Some galleries may want the whole state, but depending on the state that can be ridiculous. I think exclusivity (within reason)is a fair request from galleries. They don't want to invest time and energy in your work then have you sell from several other outlets right under their nose.

If artists look at gallery representation as a partnership it works best.

Thanks again, Lori.

Lori Woodward
Hi Casey, I totally agree with you. Most galleries in Vermont require exclusivity within the state because it's so small. Maine - artists can show in Kennebunk and in Bar Harbor easily.

What I'm talking about is galleries that have a national collecting audience, and they state in their contracts which other galleries in the U.S. that their artists cannot work with.

tom weinkle
I fully support the idea of galleries, and I think you have raised some great additional points Lori.

To me, this is really about how artists and galleries adapt to the needs of the marketplace. It would concern me to put my identity, and all the marketing responsibility of my work in someone else's hands (a gallery or galleries). With that said, the relationship can be mutually beneficial. Artists must build and maintain their brand with more than just artwork. (Moshe had a great post about building your niche) If one signs on with a gallery, i think they have to put their best foot forward to promote sales for the gallery, and vice versa. But that doesn't mean an artist should give up all control. There is enough evidence of what happens when we do give up control. I agree that the relationship has to be monitored, just like most other things in our lives.

The world becomes more competitive every day and so what may have worked for the gallery and artist a few years ago is obviously now just part of the solution.

I suspect that the galleries who are having success carry work their customers appreciate, and have developed marketing activities that take advantage of the new technologies at our feet. Beyond honorable business practices, they are probably very good at marketing and sales.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Good reminders to us . . . we need to be in charge of our own destiny. That means also being a practical and as honorable as possible. I have spoken to a gallery owner that feels that artists "are a dime a dozen." She didn't stay a gallery owner very long! Thankfully.

I am changing galleries this month -- and I know the new gallery will be more likely to treat me as a true partner in this effort! Previously I was never sure what was happening. I did get paid -- after the 15th of the month following the month the sales were made. But it was done religiously, no problem. They did want too broad an area for exclusivity.

You've given the nuts and bolts of the gallery / artist relationship. We are in changing times, and they will need to be more thoughtful about how to make the best use of it. Artists will also have some thinking to do about how best to create a good balance.

Thanks - and I look forward to hearing more thoughts from others.

Esther J. Williams
Lori, I want to say thank-you for your practical advice. Looking back on what I let happen to me just to be in a gallery, it feels good where I am now. It was a dog eat dog world before.
I might add that I used to make an inventory list and had it printed twice and signed by the gallery director when I dropped off a work and when I picked it up if changing out.
Thanks again, I need to go by your terms in the future.

There is a new type of gallery in my region, where the gallery puts together and distributes a very impressive, well done glossy guide several times a year, and artists pay several thousand dollars to the gallery to have an ad in the guide, ranging from a small ad to a full page ad. The gallery actually does the ads and apparently advises or consults with the artists on the look of their ads. The artists also get exhibit space in the gallery and the gallery takes a reduced commission (compared to the general going rate) on work sold. I have to say, the ads are very enticing, and the gallery is located in a high traffic art center. I'm not sure what else is included under the commission, such as openings. Along with the artist ads, the guide also includes museum ads and other arts and culture industry type ads. I haven't heard any feedback from artists on their satisfaction with this type of arrangement, however.

Lori Woodward
Kim, it'll be interesting how this new arrangement works out for the artists. One thing a gallery must have is a list of viable collectors. It can have the greatest artwork, but if they have not build a loyal collectorship (which can take years), selling the work will be more difficult.

Let us know how it goes if you hear anything.

Thanks for all your contributions here. I learn from you too! Love the exchange of thoughts, ideas and information.

Lee McVey
Lori, You written another good and helpful article. I really enjoy reading what you write.

I've learned some of the things in this article the hard way. At least I learned them through experience rather than not learning them at all.

There are some galleries here in NM that do not insure the artwork in their gallery saying it costs too much. While insurance may be costly, I don't see how it can not be included in the cost of doing business.

One area you didn't mention is getting buyer's contact info. I prefer to receive buyer's contact information from a gallery. A gallery I worked with for a while always gave me the buyers names and addresses so I could write a thank you note. Then that stopped and I was told it was because one of the gallery's artists went behind their back to sell to the gallery clients without paying commissions.

How can artists expect galleries to be upfront and honest if they aren't upfront themselves?

There are good galleries out there and some who are not. There are artists who are good business people and some who are not.

Donna Robillard
This was a very informative article. The things you mentioned were very important and will help us from getting the raw end of a deal.

Thank you for your informative article.

I pose a question to you: A gallery in my local area has "rooms" (they call artist studios) which they "rent" on a monthly basis to an assortment of artists. The gallery owner then takes a 40 percent commission on top of the rent when a painting sells. The gallery also charges an artist a flat rate to be a featured artist in their gallery.

I was wondering if this is typical of galleries artists are represented in; or is this something to be concerned about? I'm inclined to believe the only one making out in this is the gallery owner, which leaves the artist still struggling to make a profit.

I'm probably going to get some flack for mentioning this online; but it is a great concern for me since two artists who "rent" have not sold one painting in a year and want me to come in with them.

All comments appreciated.

Carol Lee Beckx
This is a timely reminder to artists that the business adminstration side needs to be given careful attention. Artists, as in anything else, will get the treatment they allow.

Setting clear terms and a fair approach will avoid problems for both sides of the relationship.

A very good post, Lori, thank you.

Joanne Benson
Thanks for the great info Lori. We are lucky to have you guiding us in our endeavors!

Casey Craig
This is what is often called a "vanity" gallery, meaning the artist absorbs a great deal or all of the costs for exhibiting their work.

Personally, I think 40 percent plus rent is outrageous. Most galleries will take anywhere from 40-60 percent, but only when you sell. The gallery absorbs all the costs of doing business and their overhead. And you are right the only one making out is the gallery owner. If all of the costs are covered by the artists, they have no incentive to try and sell the work....and from what you state it isn't selling.

I would seek out a non-vanity gallery and try and submit your work to them instead.

That's my 2 cents, hope it helps...good luck!

Carol Schmauder
Lori, this post comes at a time when I have been evaluating the benefits, or lack thereof, of working with the gallery I am presently showing in. I have been considering pulling my work as there have been no sales since last spring. I have been putting it off to the fact that the economy has been bad but I think it is time to move on. Thanks for sharing.

Carol McIntyre
Lori, great info as usual. I loved your last statements, "Never let a gallery do anything that increases their income while it restricts yours. Remember, it's an equitable partnership."

Last week I was approached by a NYC gallery in the Chelsea area. Their website is very impressive and they even have testimonials from artists. If my portfolio submission is accepted, I am expected to fork over a minimum of $3,000 for promotions, mktg, etc. Their commission is 70-30 (artist gets the 70).

Is this typical in NYC? Should I run?
Thank you!

tom weinkle
Carol, Welcome to the club. They eblast as many artists as they can find. They fall into the vanity category, but that doesn't mean that some artists who have had success with them. Who knows?

Lori Woodward
Yes, Carol... you should run like a gazelle!

Vanity galleries get their payment in full from artists, but the artist takes all the risk. As someone mentioned earlier in the comments here, they have no incentive to sell.

Collectors don't shop at vanity galleries. I know dozens of artists who make a good living and never have shown in a NYC gallery. In fact, for more traditional artwork, NYC isn't the best place to show.

Lori Woodward
Carol, did this gallery have "Whitney" in their name? Any gallery that needs to take money up front from artists is taking advantage of them in my opinion.
The best way to run a gallery is to consign. If the artist sells nothing, then no money is lost, and the artist can get their paintings back.

Finding a gallery close to your home is the best bet because you won't have to ship paintings, and the owners know that you might stop in. It keeps them honest.

Thanks for asking, Carol.

I posted the original question about those types of "vanity" galleries and apparently, there a ton of them out there according to these posts. I'm glad you pointed out to us the collectors do not go to the vanity galleries to find art. It is also a shame there are many talented artists being taken advantage of by those types of galleries.

What methods can you suggest or work best to submit works to a gallery? How do I introduce myself and get them to take a look?

Carol McIntyre
Thank you Tom, Lori and others for your comments. No the gallery does not have Whitney in it. It is They have a magazine and the photos on their web site are impressive. I agree with you Lori about finding a gallery closer to home, as I dread shipping and not being able to drop-in, but I think I am going to submit my portfolio as a "learning" experience to garner any feedback I can.

Where did the word "vanity" come from? How would you define a vanity gallery?

Again, thank you.

Carol McIntyre
Thank you Tom, Lori and others for your comments. No the gallery does not have Whitney in it. It is They have a magazine and the photos on their web site are impressive. I agree with you Lori about finding a gallery closer to home, as I dread shipping and not being able to drop-in, but I think I am going to submit my portfolio as a "learning" experience to garner any feedback I can.

Where did the word "vanity" come from? How would you define a vanity gallery?

Again, thank you.

Esther J. Williams
Carol, I know that gallery, they asked me to enter the exhibition about 5-6 years ago. It was $2,000 back then, my, my, their price for fame is going up. It is not worth it, they will say anything positive that they can to get you to sign up. I think $3,000 is too high a price to pay just to say you are hanging in a NY gallery. Just my opinion. Vanity gallery is explained in detail on Wikipedia:

Make sure to go to the Talk Page to see some rebuttals on the description, they are interesting.
Hope this helps anyone out there.

Lori Woodward
Agora gallery has been around for years, and they definitely ARE a vanity gallery. They stay in business on funds from artists.

Galleries are supposed to stay in business with funds from collectors, not artists.

Carol McIntyre
Thanks so much Esther and Lori! Isn't it interesting that they have a long list of positive testimonials from their artists. As a person who often looks for "what is missing," I did notice that very few of these artists mentioned anything about actual sales.

Well, I guess I won't be spending anymore time putting a portfolio together, but it was good for me to start re-writing my artist statement......that would be the silver lining of this little experience.

Linda Young
I've been following the conversations about the vanity galleries. It was amazing to me when I spoke to some artists who were showing at one of those vanity galleries they didn't sell a thing in a year. I couldn't understand why they hadn't sold anything at all. Now I do. Their art was of good quality, they just weren't in a gallery that wanted them to succeed. Thank you for your valuable information and resource link at wikipedia to read more about. It certainly is eye-opening.

Carol Lee Beckx
In any other retail sector the vendor has to invest in the product. The product has to be bought then it is sold.

Art galleries working only with consignment goods (the artists' paintings)do not have to push to sell the product they have bought.
if it doesn't sell it is simply returned to the artist.

In the meantime if the artist paid to exhibit in that gallery the artist has carried the expenses.

I have had a retail shop for some years and in very few instances did I not have to pay upfront for goods I wanted to stock.

Linda Young
Carol, I also have a service and retail store and pay for everything upfront. That way, it's my desire as the businsess owner to get a return and profit on my investment. If I have someone wanting to put their item in my store on consignment, the expense is on their shoulders and not mine. Thanks for pointing it out in your words. It makes it simple to relate that to those vanity galleries.

Barb Stachow
It is my opinion that the great world of internet is the way to go if you are looking to sell your works! Galleries are just not cutting it!

Jan Perkins
Next time I will spell check before I post! Whoops!

Carlos Thága
to some years ago this happened to me, I contacted a gallery by mistake and don´t make contracts. my paintings were not exhibited and when I picked my paintings were damaged

Jan Perkins
I am reviewing this old post, comments, and your answers to my previous questions again. Very helpful!

I am thinking I will be leaving this gallery soon because they are getting more and more restrictive and fearful of me selling my paintings on my own. But I wanted to get your opinion on the following situation.

I am very honest and straight forward with the galleries I'm in and I want to be fair. When a new client contacts me I always ask how they found me. If for some reason the client can't remember how they found me (which just happened), I then ask my gallery, "is so and so one of your clients?". So far the gallery owner has said "no, so and so is not our client". But the gallery restates their (only spoken, not in the contract) policy to me that if a current client of mine has first seen my work in their gallery or on their gallery's website, and that client then somehow found me, and is now working with me directly, then I owe this gallery a 50 percent commission if I eventually make a sale to that client, even if I do all the work in making the sale. Also, they insist that I never under price the gallery not even with a slight discount. If I break either of these rules then I need to leave that gallery. There is zero give and take on the matter.

What are your thoughts? I am being desperate by staying with the gallery thus far or are they right?

Lori Woodward
Hi Jan,

I'm packing to leave for a week-long trip today and don't have a lot of time, but in short - what your gallery stated is the way things have been done with galleries.

When working with galleries, it's important not to give clients discounts - buyers will go to the least expensive place to buy your work and word will get around. This leaves the gallery at a disadvantage for sales. Let your retail price be your retail price. Clients should not get a discount by buying from the artist. Someone always gets the sales commission - whether it be you or it be the gallery. Don't subsidize the buyer by giving them a discount. That being said, when a buyer purchases more than one painting or is a return customer, it's normal to give them a 10 percent discount. Galleries do that too.

The other point you brought up is a good one - where you need to give the gallery 50 percent commission if the client learned about your work through their ads, gallery or website. Although this is generally the way things have been done in the past, with the internet, no one remembers where they first saw your work. Unless they actually bought a painting from the gallery, the gallery would have no way of knowing if they are a former client.

Many of my "more famous" artist friends sell through their galleries and not from their studio - and that avoids this kind of conflict. When they teach workshops, that's the only time they sell on their own. However, I do also know artists who sell at outdoor shows and galleries - but they keep their retail prices inline.

OK... so today with the Internet, people go online and see your work on your website and theirs. Knowing this, it's difficult or the gallery to demand that you send them a 50 percent commission - because they won't remember. I don't think this practice will hold up much longer. The way I see it, whoever actually sells the painting gets the commission (including the artist). If you're working with 2 galleries and the client saw your paintings on one website and then bought a painting from the other gallery, does the first gallery send the second gallery a commission? Nope.

Right now, galleries are losing control over sales. Some make the artists sign an agreement that they will not sell on their own to protect their sales. In many ways, I feel bad for gallery owners because unless they are situated in a tourist location or put on a special event show with the artists' best work, they're going to compete directly with their artists.

Many galleries are going out of business. The artists who sell at outdoor shows are doing very well, while work is just sitting in gallereis. The owners have invested a lot of money in their businesses, but they are starting to lose clients to direct sales and sales at museums and special events.

So here's my advice (and it's usually $100/hour) but I'm feeling kind and have a few minutes today :)
Is your gallery selling well for you? If the answers is yes, then stay with them. You can either let collectors know you only sell through your galleries (which clears up the whole problem), or you explain to them that you need to keep your retail prices the same - if you discount, the galleries will drop you - plus you don't sell wholesale to the public. They must earn a 10 percent discount by buying more than one painting at a time or being a previous collector through you.

If your gallery is not selling anything for you and you're doing a better job selling on your own, consider leaving the gallery and marketing your own work. This decision is a serious one - some artists feel that it's necessary to have gallery representation to feel validated.

Finally, here's what some artists do: They sell their larger, more finished paintings from their galleries and sell smaller - less expensive paintings from their websites - so it's really two different products... never selling the big ones from home and never selling the little ones at the gallery.

All I've got time for. Hope that helps!

Jan Perkins
Hi Lori,

Your time and information is so helpful and greatly appreciated! I will print this out and re-read it. It's a keeper along with your article today and comments. Thank you again for your generosity.



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