Saturday, September 27, 2014

Selling Art

Today is Selling Art Saturday.

Do you know how the BIG gallery market works?  Since I will continue to be considered an "emerging artist" for quite some time, perhaps for the rest of my life...this is something Mark and I are still learning.

Today I would like to share with you something I read the other day.  It is from a post written by blogger and gallery owner Edward Winkleman.  His blog is well worth reading whether you are an artist or a collector.  And his gallery?  Well.  Here is (in part) the write up on their gallery website:
We have participated in art fairs such as The Armory Show, SEVEN, Pulse, ARCO, Art Chicago, NADA, INDEPENDENT, and Moving Image. Gallery artists have exhibited in some of the world’s most important venues and biennials, including the Venice Biennale, the Vienna Kunsthalle, The Art Institute in Chicago, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Singapore Biennale, the Sharjah Biennial, and the Whitney Biennial.
Impressive, is all I have to say about that.

One of the artists Winkleman Gallery represents is Shane Hope.  Here is one of his 3-D printed artworks:
Shane Hope "Computronium-Cloud Copyllution" 2013
  Anyway.  Here is Ed's post.  Very educational for me and for you too, I hope.
That Primary Gallery Discussion
Of all the negotiations that an artist has with their dealer, few are as treacherous to navigate as the one concerning the "primary gallery" question. The reason it can be trickier than other issues is because each new potential opportunity to work with another gallery can change the entire landscape. If, for example, you have a primary gallery in City X and then a gallery in City Y wants to work with you, whether the City Y gallery is going to be happy to become your "secondary gallery" will depend on how they feel about both the other gallery and that other city.

In general, it's not to any gallery's advantage to be secondary gallery for any of their artists and it's often to their great advantage to be the primary gallery for all their artists. It's to most artists' benefit to have a primary gallery for some situations and not at all for others. Further, a gallery powerful enough to work out primary gallery status for most of their artists is usually one well worth working with.

So what do we mean by "primary gallery" or "secondary gallery" in this context? We've discussed this before, but an email from an artist struggling with these issues suggests we could flesh out the issues a bit more. I've changed some details to protect the artist's anonymity:
I recently graduated and I was picked up by a gallery soon after in City Q. I wanted to get some clarification about other galleries working with other galleries. Is this a common thing? I am not familiar with this and I have been asking anyone with answers about this. I am allowed to get representation in another gallery in another state, however, I was told that I needed to tell that other gallery they need to split their half of the commission with my gallery. Ex: from the 50%, one gallery gets 30% and the other gets 20%. This was not told to me at the beginning. One, I do not feel comfortable in this position and I don't think it is my duty to do this as the artist. Two, if my gallery is the one to start the relationship, then they can discuss their terms. I have been told it is a rare situation and rarely works out.
Also, are galleries allowed to take a % from every exhibition I participate in? on works that aren't consigned to them? I am a new, young emerging artist and I feel I am being taken advantage of. I feel I am in a situation I don't know how to go about it. If you have any advice/input it would really be helpful.
OK, so let's begin with a frank discussion about why a gallery might insist on this. (And, from what is provided here, I would conclude that this artist is NOT being taken advantage of, but is not being communicated with effectively.)

In the gallery system the term "primary gallery" means an artist's main gallery, or #1 in the pecking order. This is the gallery that maintains his/her master archive, does much of the communications promoting their career (i.e., with institutions planning exhibitions), will work to raise the money to produce most of the work in situations where that's part of the artist's practice, and generally resides in a high-profile market, meaning they get the kind of traffic/critical attention for the artist that other galleries in other locations just can't. In return they may stipulate terms for representation by which their investment in building the markets for their artists is returned to them through commission on sales in other galleries. The thinking here includes the notion that the other galleries (usually in smaller cities) can only command the prices for the work by this artist because of the primary gallery's reputation and hard work in building their market.

Such terms of representation vary widely (including percentages, duration, geographical extent, etc.). Even within most galleries, they are highly negotiable (i.e., Artist G, who is internationally renown and sells work in the 6-digit range, may be able to insist on terms that Artist T, who is fresh out of school and still building a market cannot [nor should, IMHO]).

A "secondary gallery" is any other gallery (within certain geographical restrictions usually, but not necessarily) that an artist who has a primary gallery works with too. You can have many, many secondary galleries, but within any geographical area, you have only one primary gallery. Of course, no gallery would volunteer to be a secondary gallery for their artists, but it's often a small price to pay for the prestige and/or income to be had by working with an artist who already has a strong market built up by another dealer.

Personally, I feel the real "victim" (OK, so it's not truly that dramatic usually) in such situations is the secondary gallery dealer, not the artist, who will still make their 50% of any sale. But I do realize that until all the terms are established, it can be highly uncomfortable for any artist wishing to have other galleries in addition to their primary gallery, so I empathize with this artist.

Having said that, however, discussing---in depth---how any gallery you're considering signing up with works with other galleries is Representation 101. All the anxiety expressed by the artist above can be eliminated through a simple conversation before the fact. Questions I suggest you ask if your potential new (potentially primary) gallery doesn't offer such information upfront include:
  1. Will you see yourself as my "primary gallery"? And if so, what does that mean with regards to services you provide and expectations of working with other galleries?
  2. Do any commissions you expect of secondary galleries expire after a certain period of my working with them?
  3. Where do these terms apply? Are you my primary gallery only in this city/state/country/continent ?
  4. How should I discuss this with a gallery in another city that wants to work with me, but doesn't want to pay commission? Should I ask them to talk with you about it?
  5. Can this be put in writing?
Question 4 is your real tool here to alleviate any frustration/anxiety. Make the galleries duke it out (they will compromise to your benefit usually). Just be aware up front what your first gallery expects before agreeing to representation. The devil truly lurks in the details of this issue. Personalities, grudges, greed...they can all come into play when dealers talk to each other. If you, as the artist, understand the terms up front though, you don't have to suffer through any of that. Nor should you have to. You may need to make some tough decisions at times, but no one can spare you from those, so....
If you are experiencing a growth spurt with gallery representation, I hope you find this useful information.  I know I did.  Hope you are having a great weekend.

'Til tomorrow -


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