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.
Back when I was selling my work by consigning with galleries, I added a clause in my agreement to limit how long any one painting would stay at the gallery if it didn't sell. When artists put a limit on how long their paintings stay in any one sales venue, it protects their assets (paintings). Some gallerists will hang onto paintings indefinitely - which is a bad idea - first, bad for the artists and eventually it looks bad for the gallery as well.
While not all artists are poor record keepers, I find that the majority of us (I'm included here) have a tendency to forget which paintings we have consigned, so first of all, meticulous record keeping of paintings you have at the gallery is of utmost importance. Second, by limiting the number of months that you intend to let your gallery show a painting, you protect it from: getting lost, stored in the back room or closet, or sold without your notification. Beyond those reasons, when collectors see the same paintings hanging in a gallery month after month - year after year, they come to the conclusion that the artist is not "selling well". Furthermore, they realise that the gallery itself is not selling well.
Why is this important? It's important for both the gallery and the artist to show a fresh body of work in any one location. It does neither the gallery or artist good when art patrons see the same works hanging year after year or even from one season to another. It's better to remove your unsold paintings after 6 months, a year, or the gallery's annual selling season. Collectors want to at least think last year's paintings have been sold, and by removing them or exchanging them with one of your other galleries, they not only get a fresh set of collectors' eyes, new work revitalizes the look of the gallery itself.
One gallery I worked with for a couple of years, had very little wall space for the 140 artists it represented. When I realized that they were not hanging my work but storing it, I made an appointment to take back my paintings. When the gallery manager pulled my paintings out of storage, she exclaimed that she loved them and wanted to continue to show them. I was amazed that she had not even seen those paintings even though I had given them to the gallery months before.
I didn't argue, nor was I unkind. I've just learned to make careful considerations and investigate a gallery setting more thoroughly before consigning work with it.
When you begin a working relationship with a gallery, it's a good practice to put in writing that you intend to consign current works with them for a limited amount of time. For year-round galleries, I consigned work for 4 to 6 months by exchanging unsold works for new ones. Since I lived within driving distance of my galleries, exchanging works was easy since there was no shipping costs involved. If the gallery was seasonal (my galleries in Maine were seasonal), I picked up unsold works at the end of the selling season (usually October), and then brought in new works at the beginning of next season.
Often times, I can rework the paintings I bring home. There's usually a reason why some don't sell. I also have the option of putting some of those unsold paintings in my other galleries or selling them from my website. It's amazing how a painting can sit at one gallery for a year without anyone even noticing it, and then when it's moved to a different venue or gallery, it sells right away. There's no rhyme or reason to it, but my guess is that work has a better chance of selling when it gets some new viewers in a different location. Artists who participate in art shows - be it outdoor or indoor events, have the advantage of showing their work to a wide variety of collectors.
It's good to get into the habit of keeping meticulous records of what inventory you have with each of your galleries. Keeping track of paintings will often save you heartache and frustration in the long run. Many gallerists are excellent record keepers and totally honest, but if you keep track on your own, at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing where each of your works is and whether they've sold or not.
Some galleries will want to hang onto paintings for an extended period. Ask the gallery how many of the paintings will be kept in storage and for how long. It's fair to ask how much time the public and clients view these paintings. After all, if most of your paintings are in storage at the gallery for an extended period of time, you have to wonder if that amounts to "representation".
In this economy, it makes sense that artists who are comfortable meeting with clients should plan to do some selling on their own. Please don't sign a contract that requires that you only sell through commercial galleries. That only protects the galleries sales - and they have many artists. You only have yourself, and if your galleries are not selling well, you'll need another course of action.
If you choose to work with galleries, don't let them take advantage of you just so you can say you're showing in a gallery. Make sure you're in charge of your business. A gallery can be an important partner in sales in that they have a list of loyal collectors that you don't have access to. That may change soon - because the Internet is dissolving the middleman in music and book sales as well. Only time will tell where all the puzzle pieces will settle.