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Marni Muir
Art Dealer/Buyer/Rep/Writer/Interior Designer
Edmonds/Seattle, Washington
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Gallery Representation Vs. Artist Representation

Are you an artist that envisions yourself as a full time artist? This article is for the serious artist who hopes to find ways to market their art by way of the consideration of artist or gallery representation.
Written Jan 20, 2009, read 17946 times since then.
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The big question of whether or not to get involved with traditional galleries or seek artist representation is a decision that only you can make. This article will weigh the pros and cons of each.

Problems with going it alone are that you have no third parties pitching your art to museums, major collectors, corporations, and other groups or individuals that you can't easily access on your own.  This is particularly difficult for most artists as the motivation is to create art not market it.  Most artists find marketing their own art next to impossible and very time consuming, thus the prospect of possible artist representation could be a beginning solution.

Establishing a resale or secondary market for your art is also difficult because public sales venues like resale galleries and auction houses don't know who you are. Keep in mind, however, that many artists make good incomes outside of the mainstream and are quite happy living with none of the above perks.

If you decide to go with the galleries, you have to make one major sacrifice-- share your profits. Dealers get paid for services rendered, normally 40-60% of retail gallery prices, which means that you're either going to have to substantially raise your selling prices or, more likely, keep them about where they are now and subtract a gallery commission whenever something sells.  Artist representation is not such a large outlay of profit, however, you are being guided through your own marketing process.  Even your collectors may have to buy through whatever galleries represent you, depending on your contractual arrangements. You'll be trading a percentage of your current gross income for potential future fame, fortune, and a robust secondary market for your art.

If you decide to pursue artist representation the pro side of this choice vs gallery representation is more for the emerging artist which gives the artist a chance to build a visible reputation and opportunity to self expand whereas in the gallery arena, basically a gallery 'owns' you - there are benefits to both.  As far as compensation for artist representation, it is either based on a stipend (based on sales) or the majority of artist representives charge a monthly fee for services.  Things to seriously consider when choosing representation.

Also be prepared to lose a certain amount of your autonomy because you'll be entering into a world structured not so much by you, but rather by whomever you contract with to sell your art. If you try to lay down the law or insist on continuing to operate entirely on your own terms, you'll stand little or no chance of getting gallery representation. For the first time in your career, someone else will be telling you what you may or may not do. If you can live with the above compromises, then gallery representation may work for you.

Getting shows at established galleries won't be easy. You have to start out pretty much as a beginner and make a good case for yourself and your art. You'll also have some explaining to do when dealers ask why you've avoided doing business with them for so long. The last thing dealers want is to enter into relationships with artists, only to have them fall apart a short time later. They'll want to feel relatively confident that if initial shows do well, good, solid, long-term working arrangements will evolve.

Your big advantage over less successful artists or artists who are just starting out is that you come to dealers with a pre-established collector base. Art dealers like knowing that when they have shows, they're going to sell art and make money. Make sure to present them with a list of people and institutions, both public and private, who own your art. The more high-profile names you've sold to, the greater your chances of getting shows. An impressive client list is a great ally. Gallery representation will more than likely enhance your resume, increase your visibility in the art community, and provide you with greater financial security in the future. As long as you're willing to accept a temporary pay-cut and let art dealers have a certain amount of control over your career, you'll stand a much better chance of succeeding in the long run. Galleries love to handle artists who sell.

Learn more about the author, Marni Muir.

Comment on this article

  • Fine Art and Illustration 
Seattle, Washington 
Amy Huddleston
    Posted by Amy Huddleston, Seattle, Washington | Mar 12, 2009

    Good article. That is it in a nutshell. Crazy business.

  • Artist Sculptor 
East Wenatchee, Washington 
Lance Dooley
    Posted by Lance Dooley, East Wenatchee, Washington | Mar 26, 2009

    Yah, this is good stuff. Tells it like it is. Q: If a gallery "owns" you as you stated ... how long is their leash? To the state line, 1,000 miles or edge of the country - this is probably case by case and a spoken/written contract I assume.

  • Artist 
High Point, North Carolina 
Zulma Brooks
    Posted by Zulma Brooks, High Point, North Carolina | Aug 05, 2009

    I really got depressed and dissapointed in the art industry because my experience was that my art wasn't the A typical works that are popular. Its a lot like fashion, if your not the hottests or latest thing out, your a nobody. I had been painting from 1995 and it wasnt until 2005 when I had my first self produced solo show, sold two pieces and that was it. I lost the passion for it but some how if I could just sell the rest of what I have (I havent created anything new because I havent sold what I have to get new supplies or even lease a space for a studio) I could renew the passion for it. I have a site: www.soulbrushartsstudio.com where my work is for sale. It wasn't selling way before the recession and now art seems to be not so important unless its going to a hospital wing or corporate office created by someone famous. I am fed up with "Art" it let me down or I wasn't ambitious enough etc. After trying very hard: (for example: I sent a good number of my works to a gallery in Kansas who expressed interest but after two years, they didnt showcase it properly and the management had dissagreements and I ended up getting my work back after all that waiting, they are closed now.) I tried lots of venues too long to list but my art doesnt seem good enough for anyone. Its collecting dust in garbage bags stored in a closet. I cry sometimes thinking about how it all could of made me money and how my life could of been so great and prosperous if people saw and bought it. I dont want to end up a dead artist whose work is suddenly "discovered" and sold for millions. I want to enjoy it while I am alive. I have lots of tales of woe but now Im trying to get on all of these business networking sites to promote my new wholesale distribution company to see if I can find a few retail discount stores to sell to. http://www.caravandistribution.dollardays.com if you have a retail variety store or know someone who does, please let me know. Ive got to do what I can to survive, Ive been unemployed for two years this month and its been rough, but i know Im not the only "broke" story out here. Thanks for your advice, suggestions, comments and moral support lol.

  • artist, teacher, skilled laborer 
Bellingham, Washington 
brett cleveland
    Posted by brett cleveland, Bellingham, Washington | Jan 19, 2013

    Good Article!

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