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Alternative Gallery Spaces: co-op galleries, vanity galleries, rental galleries

by Brian Sherwin on 5/28/2012 8:46:27 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, 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,

 

Brian Sherwin



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Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction | Think Tank | tips for exhibiting art 

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 11 Comments

Chaz
via faso.com
Renting a space can be expensive. But it is not so bad if you partner up with other artists. I rented a $1000 space in Chicago with 5 other artists. By putting our money together it was really affordable. It was in this old storefront. Make sure that the owner is OK with artwork placed on the walls. Plan out everything before you put any money down. If you don't live in the area try to stay with someone who does. Hotel fees can chip away at your wallet.

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com

Clint -- Thanks. :)

Chaz -- Good point about making it clear that the space you are renting will be used to display art. The person renting the space -- if it is not normally a gallery space -- needs to understand that nails, for example, may be used. That should all be worked out before you agree to anything.



Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
More thoughts: I must say that I love co-op galleries. I love the idea of artists coming together for a common goal. The community aspect of it can be very rewarding. Working within the system -- while at the same time being outside of it... is powerful.

The way we view co-op galleries today has strong roots with the Tenth Street galleries in NY during the 1950s. Hundreds of artists exhibited in those artist run galleries. If you think it is hard to find gallery representation now... well... it was damn near impossible back then. Co-op galleries -- and the communities they nurture -- have a strong place in the history of art in the US.

Today -- due to advances in technology and communication -- artists can be more organized. Even in smaller communities there was some distance in the past... today we know who the artists are. I know artists from smaller communities often complain about having no exhibit opportunities in their area -- the whole time I'm thinking, "Why don't you all create an opportunity?".

Seriously. I know of 50 artists in my home area... if they came together -- each offering $50 a month -- they could afford rent and utilities easily. They could strengthen the surrounding art community... strengthen regional focus. $50 is not a lot of money today when you consider how much the average person spends on coffee/soda per month.

I don't think artists realize how much power they can have simply by working together.

Jo-Ann
via faso.com
I'm the founding member of a self governing "Artist Colony" in high end vacant retail space in my town. Twelve artists in three different storefronts, some with studio space and some with more of a co-op situation. Our spaces won't be available forever, and a new owner is making efforts to rent it for full value.

But the artists know each other now, and have become a valued part of the community with well- attended ArtWalks each month. The time is coming when we'll be pushed out, but in the meantime we've had terrific exposure and good sales, all by asking for it and taking a chance.

One of the problems of a group situation is standing out as an individual artist. Sometimes when someone purchases, other artists rush to make similar work they think might sell. It mostly doesn't work, but can take away from the original artist's idea.

Karyn Cott
via faso.com
This is more of a question rather than a comment. You mention in your article about co-op galleries, vanity galleries and rental space galleries but I am also interested in the other types of galleries that you did not mention. Is there a type of gallery that asks for a monthly fee, takes a small percentage of your sales, but does not expect you to work in the gallery and you have no say in the operational aspects of the gallery?

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
Karyn -- Some vanity galleries operate like that. You have some that want payment for one exhibit... and others that charge a monthly fee for 'representation' -- in addition to taking a percentage from sales.

There are also some co-op galleries that work in that manner - but in that scenario I'd suggest that they are more 'vanity' than a real co-op experience. So yes, I'd say vanity co-op galleries exist.

In a way, you have to go with your gut in deciding if any gallery -- no matter what they claim to be -- is 'vanity' or not.



Lynn
via faso.com
To my thinking, one key question in determining if the business is a vanity gallery or a co-op gallery is: who makes all the decisions and assumes financial responsibility for the operation? If it's the artists themselves it's more likely to be a legitimate co-op. On the other hand, if "membership fees" are collected by a sole decision maker, I would tread very carefully.

Karyn Cott
via faso.com
I have been reading your responses to my initial question regarding vanity versus cooperative galleries. My husband and I are gallery owners and it is not a cooperative gallery. We have been there and done that and found that the cooperative galleries we have been involved in became very uncooperative!!! In our gallery we make the decisions and are responsible for all expenses and the artists do not pay any "dues." We were considering asking them to pay a small fee each month just to help us keep the doors open in this uncertain economy. Would that be something that would be frowned upon and be considered a vanity gallery? Of course, we do not want to be perceived as a vanity gallery, which we are not.

jean mull
via faso.com
Would someone comment on the following pls
A co-op presents a show, charging rental etc and if an artist sells a painting the comission is 30 percent
If during the show a patron admires an artists work but would like to vsit this artist studio
They buy a painting from the artist studio, is the artist expected to still pay the Co-op 30 percent
If so for what length of time after the show, should that same patron revisit and buy further paintings is there still an obligation?

Lynn Edwards
via faso.com
The co-op should be given their commission, even though the buyer made the purchase at the artist's studio. After all, were it not for the co-op, the artist would not likely have had access to the person buying the art. (The same would hold true if the work had been shown at a gallery.) As for the duration of any further obligation, I would check to see if that issue had been addressed on the co-op's show application form or its membership agreement. If not, the artist should ask what their policy is. You can never go wrong by taking the ethical high road.










 

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