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, artnet and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 19,000+ 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.
I've received a number of questions lately from self-represented artists concerning exhibit opportunities that don't involve gallery representation. I was surprised to find that the majority of the artists contacting me were unaware about basic types of alternative gallery spaces. Pointblank, they assumed that all art galleries represent artists long-term -- and under similar conditions. The following article provides standard information about three types of alternative gallery spaces. Consider this a basic introduction for self-representing artists who are just starting out.
Before I get started I want to make it clear that there are more than just three types of alternative gallery spaces. That said, the following -- co-op galleries, vanity galleries and rental galleries -- are the most basic types. I'm keeping it simple... with beginners in mind. If you happen to be an experienced artist feel free to comment with other alternative gallery suggestions -- OR offer further advice about the three I'm focusing on.
1. Cooperative Galleries (also known as co-op galleries OR co-operative galleries)
If you are a non-represented artist (not represented by a gallery) you may want to consider taking part in a co-op gallery. This type of alternative gallery space is normally operated by artists who have banded together in order to create exhibit opportunities. By joining a co-op gallery you will gain some insight into how galleries function -- at least the difficulties involved with keeping a gallery open -- AND learn from fellow members. The experience can be extremely valuable if you are just starting out.
Most co-op galleries operate with funding allocated from monthly membership dues. Co-op gallery membership dues vary depending on where the gallery is located AND the number of members involved. It may cost as low as $20 per month -- or as high as $100 based on what I've observed. Again, it depends on location and how many members are involved.
You will also want to find out if the co-op gallery takes a percentage from sold artwork. Keep in mind that the percent is often low compared to traditional galleries -- and that the money should go toward gallery functions. If it doesn't -- and someone is clearly profiting from the membership dues / commission -- you should be wary. Furthermore, most co-op galleries don't have gallery staff... the artists run the show -- so DO expect to help clean the space and to volunteer time during exhibits and gallery hours.
Don't let the money factor scare you away from considering co-op galleries. Some of them offer some real 'bang' for the buck. For example, your membership dues may include the privilege of assigned studio space or a shared area for instructing workshops (another opportunity for profit). If the membership dues seem pricey -- find out what is included AND consider the location.
2. Vanity Galleries
Vanity galleries are another type of alternative gallery space -- BUT I strongly suggest that you find a different alternative for exhibiting. Vanity galleries target -- and profit from -- the 'big dreams' of artists. In other words, they know that many artists dream of exhibiting in places like New York and London -- so they set up shop in those locations.
The typical vanity gallery (and NO... the owner will not address his or her gallery as a 'vanity gallery') will claim to have a high standard of curatorial choice when it comes to 'accepting' artists for exhibit. In reality it all boils down to money... you will have an exhibit if you can fork over the cash. I've known of some that have charged artists $3,000+ for exhibits -- not including hidden fees.
The problem here is that they tend to know how to make an artist feel good. Some of them are REALLY good at it. They will say all the right things... tell you that you were 'selected' (never mind the fact that 200 other artists were spammed with the same message), offer gallerygoer traffic information for the area (remember... they are normally located near respected art galleries -- they WILL fail to tell you that those gallery visitors are NOT visiting their gallery), offer information on how much money is made on art in the area (again, they are talking about other galleries in the area).
Vanity galleries normally will do some PR work for your -- which, more often than not, means they will spam all the other artists they have contacted with information about your exhibit (hoping it will spur those artists to let go of their doubts). Most of them do contact press -- but that does not mean that art critics / reviewers will show up (anyone can make a list of press email contacts). They most likely will have staff available during the exhibit (that can lead to hidden fees). Pointblank, vanity galleries will take some of the right steps -- but they do it all wrong. They don't have the reputation or professional relationships to back their efforts. At the end of the day... they just want your money.
With a little experience you will be able to recognize vanity galleries for what they are. They target your hopes and dreams... and place a price tag upon them. They have zero respect within the professional art world... there are better alternative for exhibiting your art.
3. Rental Galleries
Rental galleries are another type of alternative gallery space. If you choose this option you will most likely pay a flat fee for renting the gallery space. Rental galleries -- in the context I'm thinking -- are legitimate art galleries that rent space when not exhibiting represented artists (some galleries are not open all year... and like to make a little profit from the space when 'closed') OR they are simply a 'space for rent' venture. (Note: I've known artists in NY who rent out their studios as exhibit space while on vacation. In other words, there are many ways to define a 'rental gallery').
When renting a space for an art exhibit you must understand -- in general -- that ALL of the responsibilities of exhibiting fall on YOU. The owner of the space is simply renting you the space that you need -- that is as far as the relationship goes. Don't expect to use the gallery name within the context of your marketing if the space happens to be a gallery. Again, the owner is just renting you space... he or she is NOT representing you.
The flat fee may simply depend on the monthly expense of the space. For example, the individual offering the space for rent may be a renter as well -- he or she may not own the space. In that scenario he or she may only expect you to cover the rent for the month in which your exhibit takes place. I've observed situations like this in smaller communities.
In closing, the alternatives mentioned above are just a few basic approaches for exhibiting without gallery representation. Consider this an open debate about alternative gallery spaces in general.
Take care, Stay true,