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Share Your Experience: Art dealers you want to work with

by Brian Sherwin on 3/29/2012 3:50:30 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 18,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

It is not uncommon for people to assume that I embrace the 'anti-art dealer' mentality. I don't blame people for coming to that conclusion. After all, I've written several critical articles focusing on the negative side of the artist / art dealer relationship. Some of those articles have been extremely popular on various social networking sites. I know that for many readers, articles of that nature end up being an introduction to my writing. I want to stress that it was never my attention to project the idea that I'm against the profession. Am I critical of art dealers at times? Certainly. However, I've known some wonderful art dealers over the years -- I know that they are not all 'bad apples'. I will share some of my experiences in a future article. For now... I want to know YOUR experiences with 'good' art dealers. Tell me your story -- share your experience.


In addition to the above, feel free to offer advice on how YOU have established a solid artist / art dealer relationship. What mentality have you embraced when forming those connections? For example, do you stick to the 'business is business' grind OR do you view your art dealer on a more personal level -- as in, a friend? What kind of research did you do before approaching the 'good' art dealer -- OR after he or she approached you? As for the art dealer you have in mind when reading my words... tell us why he or she 'stuck out' compared to the others you've worked with.


I will say that I think attitude is everything when dealing with art dealers (or anyone else for that matter). If you approach an artist / art dealer business relationship with a 'bad attitude', as in assuming that he or she is a 'backstabber', the stage has been set for a potential breakdown of that business partnership from the get-go. It is difficult to go uphill with any relationship if you are constantly taking a step-back in order to look for that imagined knife.


This is what I want to stress -- if any of my articles have fueled fears that you have had about art dealers in general... take time to consider other viewpoints that I have presented concerning the topic. Should you be cautious when entering a business arrangement with an art dealer? Certainly. Read the fine print no matter what business venture you are pursuing. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between being cautious compared to being paranoid.


Professional paranoia can hamper any business -- that statement goes 10 fold for the business of art. In this business, the art business, reputation can easily precede you. You don't want to be the person art dealers loathe working with... while at the same time being the person they 'love' to share paranoid-filled gossip about. You never know what may be said when gallery doors are closed. Fair warning. Don't be 'that' artist.


In closing, I've said what I need to say... now tell me YOUR story involving a positive experience with a current (or former) art dealer. Feel free to name drop -- and by all means, offer a link to the gallery website. (Note: Feel free to ask others for advice if you have only had 'bad' experiences with art dealers in the past. Consider this an open debate about 'good' art dealers and their traits).


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

The Artist / Art Dealer Relationship: Poisoned flowers and the business of art

What Art Dealers Expect From Your Artist Resume: Part 5 - artist residencies (artist-in-residence)

A New Kind of Gallery Relationship

Communication Breakdown: Art Dealers and Cold Calls

Appropriate Fear

Art is a Business

FineArtViews Interview: Edward Winkleman -- Gallery Owner, Curator, Author and Art Blogger

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art gallery tips | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank 

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Howard Cooperman
Brian, you've caught me off guard. I don't know that I've read any of your articles referring to gallerie's that have NOT been negative.

I applaud you for opening up this topic. I'm really looking forward to the responses and hope they can be a learning experience for me as well as your readers. Anything that can help me to improve the relationships I have with artists based on their experiences, will be be welcomed with open arms.

Howard Cooperman
Bucks County Gallery
New Hope, PA

Marian Fortunati
The only gallerists I know are hard working, honest and struggling to make a go of it.

jack white
I've found that artists who always complain about galleries can give you a ear full on how bad their neighbors are.

Gallery owners are people. We all have feet of clay. They make mistakes and so do we.

We personally visit a gallery before we talk with them about carrying our work. We watch how they deal with clients. If we like them, the way they hang their art and if it appears they can sell we ask for an appointment. If they have art leaning against the walls and stacked up unframed they are not for us.

We assume they are honest until they prove us wrong. We have only run into two bad cases. One the gallery manager robbed the gallery and took his young lover to South America with the entire bank account. No one could have seen that coming.
The other gallery was paying us between $150k to $250k a year. He had done that a dozen years. He vanished owing us a nice chunk of change. He was found by the Sheriff and given five years in jail. He was a great guy who broke down emotionally and started to steal from his own gallery.
We treat our galleries like they are family. If something happens to me the galleries will be family support for Mikki.
I look at artist/gallery as a team. If we work together then we have a better chance of making it.
I think Howard is an ideal gallery owner. Mikki's voice doesn't fit his gallery or I'd be on his doorstep, selling him on the need to carry Senkarik.


Brenda Semanick
I have had the privilege to work with several great gallery owners. What made them great? The one I was with for twenty years in Tucson before the gallery closed, paid his artists almost as soon as the painting sold. He also offered paintings for lease for a 24-month period, but the artist was paid in full in ten months.
The second, in Scottsdale, when I brought in new work, lined up all of the people working in the gallery and had them take notes regarding whatever I said about each piece. They also handled all the work with white gloves, just like a museum show.
I have also had dealers who have "lost" my work or damaged it due to carelessness.
Perhaps I am ruminating over the good old days.

Brian Sherwin
Jack -- I've known some who will insist that all galleries are out to 'cheat' artists. Those with that hardline view tend to not understand the expense of keeping a gallery open. They get upset if the gallery takes -- what they view as -- a big percent from sold work. It is almost as if they expect the gallery to be a free service to artists.

I think some forget that commercial art galleries are a business.

Brian Sherwin
Brenda -- How did you handle it when your work was lost or damaged? For some artists... situations like that can fuel anger towards all galleries.

Brian Sherwin
Marian -- In the past it was common for me to receive 300 emails from artists per month. Most of the questions had to do with gallery relations -- more specifically... what to do when the relationship is not going well.

I've heard it all:

* Dealers breaking contract after work is sold -- knowing the artist can't afford legal help.

* Artwork stored -- and damaged --in a flooded basement (the gallery had fibbed about having insurance).

* Artwork stolen off the wall... gallery staff was 'busy' playing a handheld video game

* A dealer taking work home only to return it to the gallery when the artist noticed. (The dealer actually charged the artist when he shipped the work back to the gallery.)

* Galleries changing hours without informing represented artists -- all of whom lived a distance away. (As in... going from being open regularly to just one or two days per week -- if at all.)

* Dealers 'penalizing' represented artists who refused to 'take down' their personal websites. (I recall that one dealer raised his percent of the split over that issue... even though none of that was covered in the contract).

* Work damaged because the dealer tried to cut corners by not keeping the gallery air conditioned during an extremely hot month.

I could go on...

I won't sugarcoat it. I know -- from the experiences shared with me -- that artists have had bad experiences with galleries from here to London. It happens... BUT that does not mean that all galleries are a blight on creatives, if you will.

We also need to remember that not every artist is professional. I know of dealers who have been jerked around by represented artists.

The galleries I have been with have all been wonderful, I just wish I had nore of them.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Thanks Brian, this is a very timely discussion. Galleries are having such a hard time and artists also. We need to find good relationships, figure out how we can help our galleries, and maybe this article and the comments will help out.

I have been in eight galleries over the years and a couple of other retail venues, besides an on-line gallery. Currently I am in two wonderful galleries: Frameworks Gallery in Marietta GA ( ) and Windrush Gallery in Sedona AZ ( ), besides a retail store in Blue Ridge, GA called Wrapsody in Blue and the wonderful gallery in our Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association there. I am also represented by Xanadu Gallery in their on-line artists, which is located in Scottsdale AZ (nothing has sold from there yet). Now, I have not sold anything from the Frameworks gallery yet... just have started there in the last few months but they are my local gallery. But Windrush Gallery (Sedona) has been wonderful to deal with and they have sold several. The remaining galleries have all gone out of business over the last five or six years. One is still in business.

I will say that almost all of them have been great associations. Only one was an issue and mostly that was just disagreements over treatment of artwork and artists. That particular gallery was my best seller over the years, but the original owner sold it, and then it sold once more. The last owner gradually changed the type of art carried, and I became the minority and so less and less clients looking for my style came through the door (and my previous buyers). They always paid the next month after sales, but their theory on discounting did not coincide with my own. We disagreed on that and a few other issues, but always hugged and enjoyed our times together even so. I finally made the decision it was time to leave on good terms and go elsewhere in the same town.

I would always caution artists as you said above (or Jack said) to visit as a potential purchaser and gauge how the gallery treats customers, the art, and how they talk about the artists. Contact artists if you can and get information on how they feel about their gallery. I am actively looking for a couple more galleries and look forward to hearing more about other artists' experiences.

One thing I would love to see galleries do when they have turned down an artist... don't just issue a short sentence or two and say "we can't use your work at this time." Please let us know the real reason you can't: does not fit, wrong images (want local), too many artists in my style, maybe not the quality they are looking for, etc. ... And be kind, as I would expect all would be, but don't think you are doing us a favor by not telling us we need to continue to grow and are not up to the work they want to represent. I had been contacted by a gallery who had seen my work and wanted me to submit. I followed their guidelines and waited. When they finally responded, it was a one liner with no explanation about not accepting me. I was a little taken aback since they contacted me.

And, a gallery should always follow up and let an artist know one way or another... I have had one gallery just never get back to me when I asked their procedure and another gallery never respond after sending what they wished. I treat galleries with respect for all they do, and expect them to return the favor.

Looking forward to other responses.

Walter Paul Bebirian
I have only my online galleries now where prints of any one of over 122,000 images are made only when a purchase is made and if a gallery of the brick and mortar class would like to carry my work - they are welcome to choose what image - paper type or canvas and what size they would like to carry in their gallery and then make the purchase - at which point they are welcome to mark -up - hold onto or resell at any point in time at whatever price they so choose - at whatever deal they wish to make with whatever customers that they have - I have absolutely no complaints about anyone ever! :-)


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