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Art Gallery Commission: Complaining about the 'split' is a waste of time

by Brian Sherwin on 9/9/2012 11:10:53 PM

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, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 20,000+ 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.

One of the most controversial aspects of the art gallery/artist business relationship 'boils down' to how profit is split between art dealer and artist. As we all know, art galleries charge a commission once a work of art is sold. The commission will often involve between 25 and 60% of the selling price – 50% is common. Many artists – specifically those who have never been represented by a gallery OR have had bad experiences with a few galleries – claim that the split is unfair. Needless to say, this frustration often spurs 'us vs. them' debates among artists – with art galleries being described as parasites, or worse. I, for one, feel that the cycle of complaining is nothing more than a waste of time.


This is the hard truth: Complaining about how money is split between art dealer and artist does nothing to change the situation. Pointblank, art dealers -- in general -- are not going to magically lower their percentages based on complaints from artists. Trust me on this... art dealers know that the 'split' is controversial – they know that many artists dislike it. They also know how much their time is worth... and that they are running a business.


Like it or not, art galleries tend to be privately-owned AND for-profit. They should not be confused with non-profit art exhibit spaces that focus on education and preservation. The relationship between the commercial art gallery and represented artist is a business partnership. It is a relationship established with mutual financial benefit in mind – NOT charity. The foundation of the gallery / artist relationship, in this context, is a business arrangement. Artists need to remember that.


The gallery commission may seem high at first glance. That said, some artists forget – or simply don't know – just how expensive it is to operate a meaningful art gallery. The gallery owner(s) must think about utilities, paying staff, shipping, exhibit promotion, marketing expense, insurance, rent or property tax... the list goes on. I realize that artists have expenses as well. News Flash: every business endures expense. Get over it. You are not being forced to form a business partnership. You can represent yourself (even open your own gallery) if you desire.


This is what I want to stress: If you don't agree with the commission a gallery takes... the solution is simple -- don't get involved with the gallery. Furthermore, don't worry about art gallery representation. Problem solved, right? Just remember that in order to reap 100% of the profit... you must do 100% of the marketing. It is as simple as that. Stop complaining about percentages... stop being obsessed with what the art galleries are doing. Stop wasting your time - I promise you they have heard it all before... long before blogs and online forums. Focus on your business model – as a self-representing artist -- rather than complaining about the business model used by others. Stop. Wasting. Time.


In closing, if you honestly feel that all art dealers are sitting on easy street from their 'cut' of the profit... I challenge YOU to open a gallery. Let us see if you can get past the 5 year mark. Let us see if you can make it just one month. I know, I know... you can say the same to art dealers about creating art. BUT remember... creating art is not their business -- selling art IS their business. Your relationship with a gallery is a business partnership... two businesses coming together for mutual gain -- each with a different set of skills. Think about that... and decide what you want from the art business. Just don't waste too much time thinking about it.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

The Future of Art Galleries

Art Gallery Representation: Some factors to consider. Part 2 -- Art Pricing

Art Gallery Representation: Some factors to consider. Part 1 - Distance

12 Steps to Get Your Artwork Noticed by Galleries

Art Gallery Representation: Some factors to consider. Part 4 - Experience

Communication Breakdown: Art Dealers and Cold Calls

Do's and Don'ts On How to Approach a Gallery for Representation

Art Galleries: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Vanity Gallery -- Art Scam or Art Opportunity?

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

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I wonder if we thought of this relationship more in terms of selling our "widget" at wholesale to a gallery who then sells the widget at retail price. When we don't get paid until after the "retail" sale at galleries it just seems different.

We don't have gallery representation but if we did I'd be more than happy for the gallery to get a great commission. Selling something - even with commission deducted is better than selling nothing :)

Karla has a good point though. Galleries offer consignment sales; they don't buy the artwork outright. I wonder if galleries do have art they have purchased? If so, then the gallery has a vested interest in selling the work they own as they get the profit and their initial investment back, which they can use for further purchases.

Many years ago I had an antique shop and took some pieces on consignment. But I would always try to sell items from my own inventory first.

Another point - well, question really - is that gallery owners and staff are only human and surely may have their own agendas? They might favour one artist above another when it comes to selling artwork maybe? It might be something simple - maybe that they just like the artist as a person. Andy's work used to be in a gallery and we found out that the girl who worked there (not the owner) had her own artwork there. This wasn't a problem as her work wasn't similar at all but she would have tried harder to sell her own work surely?

However, if any gallery owners happen to read this - we are more than happy for you to have a 50 percent commission :)

Brian Sherwin
Jackie -- You said, "Another point - well, question really - is that gallery owners and staff are only human and surely may have their own agendas? They might favour one artist above another when it comes to selling artwork maybe? It might be something simple - maybe that they just like the artist as a person."

Some galleries do treat specific represented artists as stars, if you will, if they are top sellers. BUT a 'good' gallery will use that momentum, that interest, to benefit every artist at the gallery.

Brian Sherwin
Jackie -- You said, "Andy's work used to be in a gallery and we found out that the girl who worked there (not the owner) had her own artwork there. This wasn't a problem as her work wasn't similar at all but she would have tried harder to sell her own work surely?"

Perhaps. I've known of galleries that allow staff to exhibit work in exchange for non-paid work hours. I've seen that with art fairs as well. BUT they are told to not focus on their work.

I have some experience with this... one of my former employers formed a partnership with a major (at the time) international art fair -- and I was offered the chance to exhibit my work in a small space on opening night... it was treated like a reward for all of the extra work I had done for the founder of the art fair and my boss at the time. I refused... it just seemed tacky.

Situations like that are controversial to say the least. I don't know if that was the case there... but it may have been. Scenarios like that can also cause a rift between non-staff artists and the gallery.

jack white

I could not have said this better. If artists don't like the commission level then don't seek a gallery to sell their work. No one is forced to be in galleries.

We try to treat our galleries so well they push Mikki over other artists. If an artists is a pain in the butt and we treat them like our best friends, who do you think the gallery will push? Or goal is to become part of their extended family, thus Mikki always ends up their top seller. She also makes art that sells.

If we treated the salespeople and owner like dirt, that would be reflected in our sales.

There is nothing wrong with someone working in a gallery and showing their stuff. If they don't make art people will buy it does them no good. One we were in a gallery in Scottsdale where the owner was an artist. Mikki out sold him in his own gallery.


Marian Fortunati
There are few people and NO for-profit businesses that don't need to make money.
Yep... If a gallery works for you to sell your art, they should be compensated.

John G. Anderson
Excellent article. I think the real key is establishing a relationship of mutual support between the artist and the gallery. It is of benefit to both to support each other. Galleries who have artists who work in concert with them are much more likely to promote an artist's work and sell it. The commissions may seem high, but operating a gallery is no easy matter.

My concern in the emergence of more and more galleries that want to charge rent to show work--basically renting space for display, without any attempt to promote or sell the art.

My gallery owner is very good. He pays for the receptions at shows, promotes my work, and invites clients who I may not otherwise have access to--and he even sends invitations. Can't beat that in my book.

I think it's really important to find galleries where our work fits, and where the gallery owner is excited about the work and enthused enough to promote it.

The other side of that is my commitment to the gallery. I need to work with the owner--not under price my work outside the gallery, and make referrals to the gallery for sales of my work. It is a partnership.

Most gallery owners will share the cost of discounting, if the artist agrees to give a discount. I find that the more mutually supportive the relationship is, the better the outcome for both. It is, after all a business situation where we must partner with the gallery owner. Both profit and risk are shared.

The new trend among galleries and representatives is to not share any of the risk. One gallery wanted to simply rent me space for a show--but I would bear all the expenses. The only thing they would have done is give me access to their client list for invites. In these situations there are good spaces that are usually available for less cost--and where the artist can sponsor their own show. Likewise, representatives who charge large fees but share none of the risk and don't work to promote and sell work-- instead, they simply advise the artist, charge a large fee, and invest little in the artist.

A gallery that represents an artist is investing in the artist, believes in the artist and their work, and creates a relationship that is of mutual benefit. Not a bad deal, if you find a good one.

I like the idea of paying a commission they only make money if we do. I would love to make a gallery owner rich. Keep selling guys I love you.

Kate Klingensmith

This is an excellent article. It's hard for me to understand the problem artists have with 'the split'. My last gallery experience was in a joint venture gallery. There were ten of us juried in. We did everything: design the invitations, maintain/update the mailing list; print the list and prepare the invitations for mailing; bring food to and host openings, take turns gallery sitting. Life got interesting when we debated getting a website; a number couldn't see the benefit. Once the decision was made to create a website, then we had to figure out the design and how to get it put together. We paid a membership upfront and monthly "rent". In return we got 90 percent of the price of the art sold, 5 percent less if it was a credit card sale (something I disagreed with--it was the cost of business like utilities to me). So guess what happended when an artist didn't sell anything for that month? They were out the monthly fee. If one goes for several months without sales, it does start to affect the wallet. I saw it as a business expense, but certainly not one that I wanted to perpetuate.

All this is to say that there is a tremendous amount of time, energy and money spent running a good gallery. I would have no problem with 50 percent commission; at 65 percent I would need to see if this warrants what I would get from the gallery.

I think that artists who see themselves as business people don't have a problem with the split. It is simply how the art world works. If the gallery owner makes their income with commissions, they are motivated! If the commission is small, would they be that motivated? My sense is that artists who have issues with 'the split' are coming from a place of fear and insecurity.

Brian Sherwin
Jack -- I think one issue is the romanticized image of the artist as rebel... and the fact that so many artists, specifically younger people, try to emulate that movie screen character. Galleries may like images of rebellion... but that does not mean they want to interact with struggle when working with an artist.

True, a number of famous artists were difficult to work with gallery-wise... take Jackson Pollock for example -- BUT, as you know, those artists are an exception (In Pollock's case... he really did not have that many exhibits while alive).

John -- You said, "My concern in the emergence of more and more galleries that want to charge rent to show work--basically renting space for display, without any attempt to promote or sell the art."

In that situation, depending on the context, I would suggest that artists would be better off combining resources in order to rent a space elsewhere as part of a co-op initiative. That said, renting space at a gallery does not necessarily mean that the gallery is a vanity gallery. It all depends on the details. Just some thoughts.

Brian Sherwin
Kate -- You said, "My sense is that artists who have issues with 'the split' are coming from a place of fear and insecurity."

I'll add that some artists appear to let their ego get the better of them. Some feel as if artists are the only people who should make money from art -- so they automatically look down at others who work within the art world. When they exhibit... those types treat gallery staff like garbage, potential buyers mockingly, and glare at press as if they are the enemy.

Those who snub tend to not get that far in their career... at least from the business side of it. Professional narcissism is... well... not very professional.

Howard Cooperman
Karla/Jackie, there is a gallery one block away from mine who does purchase artwork outright. His policy is to sell the art for any price he can get, sometimes twice the artists retail price. During slow periods, he'll sell it for cost, just to get his money back.

That speaks a lot to credibility for both the gallery and artist. No consistency. Some collectors pay more than they should, others get a great deal depending on business climate.

Needless to say, his pricing structure and game playing has caught up with him. There are "going out of business" signs plastered all over his windows as of this week, and he's discounting the art up to 75 percent. Not the kind of relationship any artist should get involved in. Not worth selling your art to a gallery unless you have a very specific contract regarding pricing structure.

John, I wish your art was a match for my gallery. You get it! You have a good business sense for knowing how to work with galleries. Since I don't have employees and I personally select the artwork hanging on the walls, I am excited and enthusiastic about each and every artist I represent.

I've not yet run up against a problem with any artist complaining about the 50 percent commission I collect. They know I work my tail off on their behalf. If there is any doubt in their mind, they're welcome to take their art elsewhere, no hurt feelings on my part. My rate is a bargain based on my efforts in marketing.

Jack, I've not yet dealt with an artist that gets it like you do. More should learn your model, but if that were the case, the gallery/artist relationship would be just about perfect.

Brian, any artist seeking representation should go into a relationship looking at it as a "Partnership". It must be beneficial to both parties, and be a two way street.

Good article, thanks for opening the topic for discussion.

Brian and John, THANK YOU.

Jack Walker
My Dad once said,"Don`t count the other man`s money," Negotiate for want you want and don`t worry about what he makes. It is a good point...don`t like the split, don`t seek representation. Conversely, if you acquire representation expect them to be actively engaged in selling your work. Some galleries simply wait for someone to stagger in off the street and buy something and then they stick their hand out for a commission. Make sure you are clear on what the gallery will do to earn their commission. It has to be more than just to let you help decorate their gallery.

Katarzyna Lappin
I like this article. It clarifies well enough that galleries are not charity organizations. I am not a charity either. As an artist I want to make my income and sell my works.

I get frustrated when people expect me to give my art for free or they do not get the idea that I am in business. It's like some people still have a problem to grasp that art profession is a profession.

The same with the galleries, they are businesses too and expect to generate income.

If I get in the relationship with a privately owned gallery I should expect the money split coming from the sold paintings. Why would a gallery owner want to sell my art if he wouldn't be able benefit from it?

Even the non-profit art organization sometimes take 40 percent from the sold artworks.

Thank you Howard. That makes SO much sense.

Michael Cardosa

There are a lot of comments here, this definitely touched a nerve.

For my part, being in a gallery is a free choice for the artist, especially today with other means of marketing art. That said, if someone doesn't like the split they have a perfectly good option, don't work through a gallery. Yes, we would all like to make more, the artists and the gallery owner both. I would say that what's more important is finding a gallery that will work with you, do what they say they'll do and treat you honestly and the artist should respond in kind. Let's remember that the gallery doesn't make a cent unless they sell something since they work in a commission only mode. Personally if a gallery owner could do a 50/50 split with me and figure out a way to become rich doing it, I'd love to be part of the plan...

thanks for the interesting post.


Judith Monroe
Thanks for this Brian! I get tired of hearing how bad it is, mostly from artists who undervalue their own work, offering it for sale for too little anyway. I have maintained my own retail space, done the collaborative gallery thing, spent my own cash on rent and worked myself to death... and now will only deal with traditional gallery representation. I want to do the creating and have my galleries do the marketing and selling - the good ones earn their commission and the others lose me as an artist. No complaining or whining, just business and how I choose to do it. Thanks again.

Thomas Hodges
As you rightly state Brian, galleries are an artist's business partner! Another factor not mentioned in your post is the aspect of competing with your gallery. Personally, I make no direct sales, I sell only via one of my representatives (even when dealing with direct enquiries). A gallery is not going to dedicate time, energy and above-all money, if an artist is competing with them in parallel.

Ultimately, it is a commercial decision to be made at the outset. Do you want to market and sell your artworks personally or do you want a business partner in the form of a representative, that will market and sell them for you? Only the individual artist can decide, and make that decision. If the decision is to secure representation, also remember that there are different standards of gallery and thus it follows, different standards of representation. Be selective, don't just fall into bed with the first party that comes along (regardless of the temptation!).

so what is the solution when an artist never gets payed for any work sold,,,and even though a deal was made where the gallery takes 80 percent of the profit,,still the gallery doesn't pay the artists share..........

Brian Sherwin
Inaya -- If all efforts to remedy the solution have been exhausted... the solution is simple -- contact a lawyer. A case like that is fairly 'open and shut'... the gallery will likely take the right steps if it receives a letter from a lawyer stating that further action will be taken if the issue is not resolved.

Depending on the market value of the artwork... the gallery may scoff -- knowing that it will cost you more to pursue the case than what the work is worth. BUT if you win -- and you should in a situation like this -- the gallery will likely have to pay your legal fees and me be at risk of facing other damages.

In either case... I see nothing wrong with exposing the gallery for what it has done. That said, I would make sure to obtain payment -- by legal force if needed -- before 'blasting' the gallery head-on. In other words, you don't want the gallery to claim that your criticism has hurt their business until you can prove, legally, that their practice is unethical. Obviously that means ties to the gallery will forever be severed for the artist.

Trust me, this article was not intended to be a 'get out of jail free' card for poor business behavior. :)

Debbie Hupp
Thank you. I am also a songwriter of forty years. Same thing was true in music...the promotion and mechanics of making a hit record deserves a share. It's quite simple, you can do it all yourself, but...

Lou V.
How does one compute income taxes on the sale of art work? For example, the gallery sells one of my drawings for $100, gives me a statement for a $100 sale and writes on the statement $100 x 60 percent = $60 and gives me a check for $60. Since the 'official' ticket is for $100, is that what I pay income tax on? Or $60? I do not file a separate business return so I do not have any 'official' expenses but it seems unjust to pay tax on money that was never actually in my hand.
Thank you for your input.

Kate Klingensmith
Lou, I only count taxes on the money that I get. So in your example, you would pay taxes on $60. You may want to consider deducting your costs, such as supplies, workshops, etc to reduce your tax burden. Filing a Schedule C with your profits and costs is pretty basic. But if you report losses over several years the IRS will look at your business as a hobby.

Hey, great article and comments... not a professional artist myself (aside from a few oil paintings I sold while getting by BFA in the 90's) but I wouldn't mind getting into selling some of my work... I have access to a storefront location in Brooklyn and have been considering starting a co-operative artist owned gallery. There would be some opportunity to partner with another business to run walk-in sales from a catalog, but I would expect the artist-owners to run their own shows and any specific marketing efforts. Personally, I am happy to pay dues and don't expect to sell much... I'm more interested in a space for events and a few installation shows I'd like to do, but I don't know if this is feasible.

From the comments it seems like some of you have had experience (either good or bad) with co-operative gallery spaces before. If anyone has anything to share, or thinks it sounds like something they'd like to be a part of, let me know! I know this is an old thread, but I see the last comment is just a month old, so I figured I'd take shot :)

Arlene Hayes

If you agree on a 50/50 split with a 10 percent discount to clients and find that every painting that you are paid for has a 10 percent discount attached and other artist in the gallery have a 10 percent discount on every single painting. Does that not seem unreasonable that every client that buys a painting at the gallery ask for a discount. Cheers... A

eun jung keun
I'm Korean people
The English expression is wrong and please understand.
I were collected painting about 33 years foreign.
Jackson Pollock Painting Size Height 64.5cm Length 1m.92cm
The end piece black and white Pollock painting
If you are interested in, we will send you all the scientific evidence

One scientific basis three fully report also currently under debate

Jackson Pollock's painting canvas measuring reports of ownership
Fractal analysis report in the United States owned

The end piece black and white Pollock painting

I would like to emphasize that this is entirely different from the New York scandal.

dear eun

In answer to your question, yes, all of the materials found in the analysis of the paint, both the pigments and the organic binders, it was developed before the 1950s
Mary Jane Walzak
Senior Research Scientist
The University of Western Ontario
Surface Science Western,

I see nothing here that would exclude pollock as the creator of you painting.
peter paul biro
fine art conservation and forensic studies in art

We all know that until Pollock died from a car accident on August 11, 1956, he exchanged his paintings with food to survive due to poverty.

So, I think there are two things we have to make sure. An art forgery often takes place when the painting has high monetary value. However, Pollock's paintings did not have any monetary value up until 1956 and I'm positive that there is not any forgery of his. My painting is completely different from the New York scandal.

I insist that we should all accept that this is Pollock's original painting if we make sure that materials and paints on the canvas were developed bef9ore 1956.

Visual check is old fashioned, and I wanted to prove the painting is real with scientific way. However 000 refused to do it.

I think there is a difference in two different countries and I should admit there are some difficulties in communication. However I really want to get proved that the painting is real. And I can't think of any other way to do it so I am writing this letter to you.

I, now, request for a public appraisal through world famous broadcasting and newspapers. They should know that lie can be the winner of the process but the final winner will be the truth.

My painting is one of Pollock's last works and it is black and white.
The size of the painting is 65 cm in height, 1m 92cm in length.

If you thoroughly review the files I attached to this, you can see that 000 appraisal is not reliable.
Conclusions without you so far in the conflict
Are you painting again be emotional?

PS: Painting emotion can do?
Consulting can do?
Please help me
If help given
Pollock I will send all data files set


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