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Art Galleries: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Clint Watson on 2/8/2006

This article is by Clint Watson,  former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here.

 

I receive a lot of questions regarding the artist/gallery relationship and what should be expected from that relationship when selling fine art.  For example, just this week I received this email:

 

Clint. . . Do you have any guidelines or articles on whether a gallery (or galleries -- local or distant) that represents an artist should have a percentage of sales made directly by the artist from his home studio or from one's web site? The local gallery that I am in would like me to refer all website inquiries or studio sales to them to handle. They of course do not pay for my website. - Artist

Here was my response, but I admit that it is probably not a perfect solution.  There are so many factors to consider, and we don’t really know all the details in this particular case:


Dear Artist,

 

In general most galleries don’t want to compete with the artist for sales.  And most of the big artists refer all of their sales to their galleries.  I can see how a gallery that is local to you would not want you to be selling direct, because then you are in direct competition with them.

 

It is a difficult question.  It is hard to agree not to sell direct if you are not comfortable that the gallery doing enough to promote you.  My personal opinion is that no one will care about your career than you will as the artist and if you can make a sale – do it.  I think a fair solution might be for any sales you make from web or studio to pay the gallery some sort of commission, perhaps 20%, or if the gallery is in possession of the painting, refer the client to the gallery.  NEVER pull a piece from the gallery to sell behind their back.  I think if they want any cut of your personal sales, they should agree to a certain level of promotion and a guaranteed amount of wall space donated to your artwork, but a lot of galleries won’t agree to that.  There are just a million factors to be considered here. – Clint

(I forgot to add in my original response that if you do sell direct NEVER undercut gallery pricing.  Your retail prices should be constant everywhere your works are sold, and that includes your studio).

 

One of the concepts that I feel strongly about is that we all need to share ideas and information for mutual benefit.  So here is what I would like to do:

 

I would like to ask that you share your gallery stories with me.  I would like them all: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  It may take some time, but I would like to take them and explore the artist/gallery relationship over time and see if we can find ways for you to help each other.  If you email me and I don’t respond immediately, please be patient as I believe many artists will have opinions on this subject.

 

Here are a few of the questions I have considered, but please share ANY topics relating to art galleries that are on your mind:

 

1.      Is coop advertising fair?
2.      Should galleries provide artists with names of collectors who buy their works?
3.      Is a 50% commission reasonable if the gallery doesn’t pay for advertising?
4.      Should an artist refer studio/web sales to the gallery?
5.      Should a gallery receive a commission for sales from your studio?
6.      Should galleries be threatened by artists entering museum shows/competitions?
7.      Are frames handled equitably?
8.      How do you find a good gallery?
9.      What’s the best way to approach a gallery?
10.      How do you know if your work is hanging or is in storage?

Please reply to me with anything you would like to share, positive or negative.  I know from experience that a good relationship with a good gallery is a very positive experience, so please don’t think I’m gallery bashing.  I’m not.  I genuinely want to explore solutions for both sides of the relationship.

 

If you reply to me by email, your replies will be posted by first name only with no contact info, if you wish for other artists to be able to contact you, please go to the blog and post your reply there.

 

Thank You.

 

Sincerely,

 

Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic



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Related Posts:

Vanity Galleries: Can they be harmful to your reputation and art marketing strategy?

A New Kind of Gallery Relationship

12 Steps to Get Your Artwork Noticed by Galleries

Gallery Representation

Working With Galleries: Should They Limit Your Sales Venues?

Negotiating with Art Galleries

The Benefits of Gallery Representation

Selling Art: Donít Rely on Myths and Generosity if You Want to See Real Profit


Topics: art gallery tips | art marketing | Clint Watson 

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 16 Comments

Ron
via web
Dear Clint:

In response to your request for feedback on "Art galleries: the Good the Bad, the Ugly", in my 26 years of dealing with galleries and every other conceive able aspect of this business, I have come to the some conclusions (from my personal experience) that the gallery system is no longer the most effective way for an artist to promote his career, certainly not the only means.

It is and has always been my contention that the gallery needs the artist not the other way around. What came first the gallery or the artist?? From the birth of mans civilization, paintings have been etched on caves and every other conceivable surface and people have appreciated art and obtained it without the facility of galleries. Now dint get me wrong, galleries do serve a good purpose, WHEN they SERVE. The galleries function is to present and sell the artists work to an audience that he would not ordinarily be able to secure himself, not to decorate their walls, or reduce dead space in the storage rooms or closets.

Gallery commissions are just that, commissions of sales. A fair payment for selling and promoting the artists work. To the extent that a gallery does that to that extent should their commission be determined to a specific reasonable degree.

Unfortunately, while there are many fine galleries today operated by honest, conscientious dealers, they are few and far between. I have been represented by the finest galleries from coast to coast and can state that truthfully from my experience. Too many galleries fit the above descriptions or are run by shady characters who have little if any knowledge of art much less any real concern for their artists they represent. they are slow abut sending payment, reluctant to release sales information or client contacts,(but insist on having the artists mailing list), it is a thing of the past to have ea gallery pay for a show or full advertisement, and more are asking for higher commissions for less promotion.

It is my feeling that artists should take back the power they have always wielded but chosen to relinquish, to self-promote, become shrewd and knowledgeable business people and equal the playing field...


Sue
via web
Dear Clint,

I am still searching for a gallery to show my work. I have visited and shown my work to some in San Antonio, Austin and Boerne. The good thing is I have met a gallery owner that is very interested in my work. Although it is not what she generally sells, she told me she wanted to give me a one-woman show. :>) I also met another gallery owner that currently doesn't take any more work, but they are considering changing and enlarging and adding artist. They seemed interested. So, I do think I am making some headway.

While I am interested in showing my work by the same token I am sizing up the gallery and the owner I talk to, watching their body language and listening carefully to what they say. I have run across one gallery that has a long standing customer base and does quite well ( been around for a long time). A couple of things bothered me. One was they have 15 artist on display with each showing at least 6 pieces- that is fine - but they have just as many in their storage. I crossed them off the list. Number one how would anyone see my work - there was so much there - it seemed crowded. And if all my pieces ended up in storage what good does that do me?

Anyway, for what it was worth. It is really learning about yourself and the experience of talking to gallery owners is a growth for me.

I appreciate what you are doing and the help you are giving. I am at least out there and starting to do more gallery visiting and evaluating. And oh yeah - thanks for listening.

Thanks, Sue

Bill Belisle
via web
I've myself have wondered if galleries were the most benificial asset to an artist, rather than self-promotion. For the emerging artist, like I tend to think of myself, a professional gallery won't give you the time of day unless you have a sizable body of work, and have some strong credentials such as a good art educational backround, have garnered a fair share of "best of show" and other awards from local and national shows, and professionally-prepared slides or discs showing your work at its best. Like most "working stiffs," you probably don't have the resources to put your best foot forward, and have not built a following this early in the game to push you into the major leagues.
So, in spite of all the potential benefits that a gallery may provide,it's sometimes not a viable route for the emerging artist, leaving self-promotion as one of the few avenues that will keep your goals a reality. Do I have a negative view, and am I lumping all galleries in the same mold? No - but I'm simply relating my experience with a few galleries, and I'm curious as to how many "stars" never really get a chance at recognition, simply because the gallery didn't think an individual's work was marketable.
Thanks, Clint. Good subject.
Bill

Jeanie
via web
I have had a long standing gallery-artist relationship. If I am physically selling a work, then I pay no commission. However, my gallery is there every day paying rents & utilities whether they sell anyone's work or not. I don't want to be cooped up in a building all day long...I want to produce artwork. If I happen to have a piece of work at home & the gallery calls, then I will gladly bring the painting to them & pay their commission. Otherwise, I would not have made the sale.

I don't really enjoy people coming to my studio to buy. If they want to see & purchase a new work, for example, then they might have the opportunity to make the purchase. But if they come expecting me to drop my price I simply say. "I will NOT undercut my gallery. They are my life's blood. Thank you."

I have had many calls requesting that I do framing for people. My response here is that "I frame my OWN artwork out of necessity, not by choice. I am NOT in the framing business...please contact the gallery." The gallery & I also work together if a customer dislikes my framing choice. The gallery will discount the frame at their cost, give me back my frame and sell the customer a frame that is more appealing to them. I still have my frame to reuse (I make most of my works the same dimensions) and the gallery has satisfied the customer, & I have made another sale.

My gallery always has a check at the first if the month waiting for me. Although we are friends, the gallery owner & I carry on a totally professional business relationship and have done so now for 13 years.

With a website, I list the gallery as a contact if the work is in their space & I let them handle the sale. I am also listed on the gallery's website,so we cross link back & forth. I do not feel as if I am paying for the advertising & they are the sole beneficiaries of my website.

Jeanie
via web
The gallery I use enjoys that my work is on display in competitions. It enables them to get more hits from the links on my website as well as personal inquiries about my work.

Jennifer
via web
Dear Clint,

I am just about ready to begin approaching galleries. I look forward to the answers to your questions.

Thanks,
Jennifer

Jeanie
via web
I once had a gallery call to see if I would be interested in doing a commission of a pastel drawing of a young woman by a lake. Naively, we did not require a deposit on the commission. When the work was completed, I felt exhilarated. I had nailed this young woman dead-on! She had been wearing a hot pink tank top and the pinks were refecting off her fair features...it was beautiful.

When the client came to view the pastel, the reply was that he had expected the piece to look more like a photograph. The gallery owner (a bit shaken) called me immediately asking what to do. My reply was to thank the customer & send him to the nearest photo lab where he could get an enlargement made of this image. My theory was that if the "WOW" factor did not kick in immediately, then why push the point.

I took the pastel home, thought a minute as to what might be the most repulsive beast I could turn this young woman into. I scrubbed off her image and drew in a majestic antlered moose with pink & salmons glowing off the lower edges of his rack. The artwork sold for more than triple the price of the original commission. The client got what he wanted, which was no art at all & I forever will know that I had turned his beauty into a beast.

Stan
via web
I read your newsletter (if that is what you call it) and think the issue of artist/gallery relationship should be spelled out in the contract between the two parties. If there is no mention of what to do with artist web site sales, then the artist should be able to sell his own work from that site as long as he keeps his priciing in line with what the gallery is marketing his work for.

If the web site is developed by the artist post-contract, then the artist should let the gallery know what he is doing and make sure there is no objection. Posting the gallery's name at the site, and picturing some of the work at the gallery in the web site and directing a potential buyer to the gallery for that piece would benefit both parties. The objective is to maintain a amiable working relationship with your galleries.

I hope that sheds a little "artist-side" view on the matter.

I am most anxious to learn how to approach galleries using the internet. I want to develop representation with galleries in other parts of the country and am not sure if what I am doing (sending an email after looking at their site to see if my art style is a fit, and referring the gallery to my web site) is the best way. Got any feedback on this?

I love the data I have access to relative to visitors to my site... it is awesome! I emailed some galleries in NC with reference to my site, and sure enough, one of them visited it and looked at 32 pages.

Keep up the great work!!
Stan

Paula
via web
Hi Clint,
Kudos for the great service you provide. I get LOTS of compliments on my site and newsletter.
My thoughts on the good, bad and ugly:

Any art sold through the Gallery obviously gets a commission, but if the contact is from my web site, I ask how the
potential purchaser became acquainted with my work. If it was not from seeing it in a gallery, the sale is all mine. If
they mention having seen my work in a gallery, my agreement is to pay the gallery a 10% "referral" fee.

Works are only removed from a gallery for a off site sale, when I replace it with similar one of same value.
The galleries I have worked with will pass along purchaser's names and addresses. They realize that artists
keep data bases or client lists. A co-op gallery ,that I am a member of, has a policy to let you know when art has
been stored. Storage space is always limited, damage occurs as art is moved around, and they also realize that
stored art is not making you any money.

Thanks again for the great site!
Paula

Bonnie
via web
Dear Clint,

Thank you for all the insightful information you convey through your messages. I wanted you to know that I read them and appreciate your thoughts.

I have only recently entered into a contractual arrangement with a gallery, my first, and so far it has been a very pleasant experience. The owners asked me not to undercut their prices but encouraged me to continue to sell from my home studio. (We are not in the same town and they are 100 miles away in another resort community.)She said something like, "We want to help our artists make a living, not limit their opportunities."

Warmest regards,
Bonnie

Anonymous
via web
Dear Clint: Okay here's my question:

Scenario: Gallery A and Gallery B for a couple of years share rental space.
Both galleries have their own "stable" of artists. Gallery A closes and
Gallery B takes over their space. As time goes by, visitors to former
Gallery A call Gallery B and wish to contact an artist who previously was
affiliated with Gallery A. Gallery B calls the former owner of Gallery A
and finds out the requested information, then proceeds to deal with the
artist and the prospective client and to extract a "commission" from the
artist. There is no contract between the artists and galleries in this
situation which addresses this situation.

Question: Is this customary, acceptable, and ethical? In my opinion (as an
artist), I would be very angry with the Gallery B for trying to "do a deal"
instead of putting the artist and collector in direct touch. And, how long
should this non-relationship extend into the future? And, shouldn't the
previous owner of Gallery A just refuse to give out information on the
artist?

I would appreciate your advice. In addition to being an artist myself (not
shown in either gallery), I am an art consultant/sales person in Gallery B.

Thanks so much. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous

Keith
via web
Clint:

In response to the Galleries questions:

1. Galleries are essential. I do not have time nor means to market, display, and sell my own work. I am able to sell. Yes, I do have a growing number of my own clients, and I do not hesitate selling directly to them, but I rely heavily on the galleries.

2. Before signing on with a gallery, negotiate the terms. If you do not agree with a galleries terms, and they are not willing to negotiate, then find another gallery. If they are willing to negotiate, you must also negotiate. Both must be willing to give and come to an arrangement that is comfortable to both.

3. Coop Advertising? Never!! I, as an artist run a business and have many expenses and responsibilities. The gallery also has many expenses and responsibilities. One of the gallery's resposibility is to market the artwork. If I pay the gallery to opporate their business, they should be willing to pay a part of my business expenses. Of course they wont. Or alternatively, I should have my contact information included in the ad along side theirs. After all, I am paying half! They of course wont do this either. All of my galleries pay 100% of advertising. Most respectable galleries will.

I could go on but must quit.
Keith


royane mosley
via web
I live in a very small town with two small galleries that have just opened this year. Two questions: Is it standard practice for a gallery to share personal information with the artist...like the buyers name and address? Would it be unprofessional to insist on this? An uncomfortable situation arose with a sale from this gallery. The gallery owner and I discussed the idea of moving work from her gallery and exchange it with another piece if the particular piece did not sell. A new restaurant across the street from the gallery offered to take my art and not charge any commissiion if they sold. I ran this byu the gallery owner and she said that was wonderful...she suggested I take a piece over from her gallery. I did and several days later a man came by who had been in many times to look at this piece and asked where it was, she told him and he said he wanted to buy it. she called me and told me. I found out that the buyer is actually a good friend, Since the painting left her gallery I felt that I owed her a finders fee which we had discussed before as being 10 percent..if someone came to me after seeing a painting in her gallery that was no longer there...but she felt since he saw it in her gallery and told her he wanted it that she was entitled to the full 40 percent...that the restaurant was "an extension of her gallery"..hmmm? what do you think? Thanks so much RMosley

Oscar
via web
Hello Clint,

Loved this newsletter. Great job. I visited your site today for the first time:http://www.webartsites.com/4/lp_40/skin_/fs_/lg_en/pg_generichtml.html. Great info. Your articles are very encouraging. My favorite: Get out of your comfort zone. Excellent. I'm ready! Like you I'm always gravitating around realistic art. Funny though, it is not what sprout from my inside when I'm ready to do mine. Norman Rockwell is my hero. Today's heroe? Morgan Weistling, no doubt. You should check David Darrow: Darrowart.com. I've thinking for years to add a more serious deep dimension to my own art while not leaving my Puerto Rican subjects/market niche. I think I'm ready, I'll keep you posted. Hey, I want to be in "Clint's Favorites List" too, you know!

Well Clint, thank you for your time. Keep up the great work... and the server!

~Oscar

Oh, about the galleries:

1. How to approach them: visit them first like a customer. See how they treat you as a client. That's how they're going to treat YOUR potential collectors if you close a deal with them. Look for galleries that showcase works of your kind. Usually gallery owners that are painters themselves are more sympathetic to other painters and commissions are lower. (That's my case with my galleries in Puerto Rico. They retain 30%. I think that's fair).

2. Your studio/website is YOUR store. Whatever happens there is of your business. Exception: If an artwork is currently in a gallery. It is THEIR product. You're just refering. Don't try to bypass the gallery. It is bad business practice.

3. When approaching a gallery don't beg. You're their reason for living. They're not doing you a favor, especially nowadays where they're many other ways of selling art. You're just presenting your product. It is good stuff. Established. You're making money already. You're giving them the opportunity to jump into your success wagon. They refuse? Their lost. You're on your way to the top with or without them.

4. Once you close a deal for representation. Stay in touch. At least every two to three months. Just small talk: how's business, are you over that flu? Your paitings will come up naturally in the conversation. No big deal. Don't make it too business like. Chances are that after you hang up, they'll like you more and if the pieces are in the basement or attic, they will dust them off and put them back in display. Work for your money

Lori Landis
via web
Hi Clint, You asked for some thoughts about galleries. There are no guarantees in life, so not telling the artist who bought their art when you are consigning art work to them seems to be very low. Yes, galleries have had maybe a bad experience but why should us artists have to suffer because galleries have had a bad experience? We artists have had bad experiences too. I don't know of many of my collectors because after I or they (galleries) have left our arrangement I didn't get the names. It's my fault on this next one, advertising wasn't mentioned that I had to pay so when this gallery did a spread on me there was no mention of me paying. I just was happy.
after that they did a spread they charged me which they said they had forgotten to charge me for the first time. So naturally I was confused. I said I'll pay you half. Okay that put me out the door by them. It's very very important to get all these hidden costs communicated up front.

Kathryn Clark
via clintwatson.net
Clint:
This is a great discussion, and I'm afraid that I have joined it on the late side. But better late than never. Here are some thoughts that others did not mention; the numbers refer to your question number:

2. Galleries should provide the artist with names of collectors who buy their work if the artist provides the gallery with their own list of collectors.
3. A normal commission from a gallery is 50 percent and with that, the gallery should provide all advertising, and framing, and some will pay for shipping of paintings to museum and other invitational exhibitions. My gallery in Chicago did this.
4. An artist should list the gallery on her web site with contact information and list the gallery contact info under each painting that is physically in the gallery so a sale will be made through them. Beyond that, I think that an artist should give the gallery a full commission of a work that the poetential buyer sees on the artist's web site, contacts the gallery about it, and the gallery requests that the painting be sent to the gallery to physically show to the potential buyer. The gallery should pay for the shipping; they make the sales presentation, and get the full commission. The artist should have an agreement in writing that the gallery which has hung a painting in their gallery but has been returned to the artist would receive full commission for 1 month, 1/2 commission for 1 more month, 1/4 commission for up to 6 months if a buyer first saw the painting at the gallery.
5. If a painting is physidally at a gallery, the commission should be full 50 percent. Galleries should also get a partial commission (20 percent?) if it is in your area (normally an area about 1/2 the size of the state) or their area of great influence.
6. Galleries should be delighted with artists having museum shows and entering competitions. The artist should always try to mention the gallery in publicity for the event.
7. I think that the gallery should pay for framing or at least 50 percent of framing cost for paintings that are hanging in their gallery. Or they should not count the cost of framing in their commission, that is the gallery should NOT make money on the arist's cost of framing if the artist is paying for 100 percent of the framing.
8. With your question, "Do you know if your work is hanging or is in storage?" This is the practice I use with galleries: I tell the gallery that once a quarter I check with the gallery to see what activity they've had with each of my paintings and "change out" paintings that they are having trouble showing. I was in a prestigious Chicago gallery which sold a lot of my work but they only paid the artist once a quarter. Sometimes they would say that a painting was out on approval at the end of the quarter, so they got to keep it for six months. When I regularly "changed out" paintings, I found that they actively showed them to clients and if they weren't sold in six months, I took them out of the gallery and gave the painting to another gallery. By the way, this gallery did pay for 100 percent of framing and did also pay for shipping my art work to museum and invitational exhibitions. Unfortunately the gallery burned, and the owner much later moved to Colorado.

I hope this adds to this very interesting conversation.










 

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