Tuesday, May 26, 2009

About Galleries

Sir Thomas Lawrence 1769-1830, the Calmady children

I am going to carry on with the fashionable 18th and early 19th century portrait painters to illustrate tonights post. The images are, of course, from Artrenewal.ortg.

Well, I have hit on a subject everybody wants to hear about. As it happens I have long experience in dealing with galleries so, I will write about that scene for a while.
I have been in dozens of galleries over the years. I am in a gallery now that I have been in twenty years or so, and I am going into a new gallery this year. I hear about artists who are in a single gallery for most of their career. That certainly has not been my experience. Galleries come and go, dealers retire or die. Sometimes they stop selling my work, or figure out they don't like me, or even decide that I can be replaced with three amateur still life painters.

All of you readers out there who are obsessing about what gallery to be in, I suggest you pick one and try to get your work in it, if they don't take your art, try another. You will probably be in lots of galleries if you spend your life painting. I have heard that employed people trade through jobs a lot these days, it must be like that. Either way you are overthinking this thing.

OK, first, here's how I look at the relationship, it is a symbiotic partnership, I DON'T WORK FOR THEM! In fact if anybody works for anybody, THEY WORK FOR ME! They are a salesman, I am a manufacturer, I fill their pushcart or sample case for them and then turn them loose. They don't own the wares, I do. If they don't sell, I can fire them. Or they can quit. If they don't sell, I don't pay them, its a straight commission job. They are a manufacturers rep, they may represent a number of other manufacturers besides me, so they are employed by those guys also. An independent contractor, like a retail department store owns their merchandise, they are not a rep for the company that makes the merchandise. If I come into a gallery and reclaim the merchandise I own, I have fired them. They may continue to work for other artists but they no longer work for me. Now that puts a different spin on things doesn't it?

It is in our mutual interest to work together and look out for each other. In the last post I spelled out what I expect from a gallery, I am willing to do all I can to help them sell art. I am not real well organized and I don't produce enough to meet the demand from the dealers who would like to have my art but I do my best.I don't try to go around them and sell to their clients keeping them out of the deal

If someone calls me from their area who is probably one of their clients trying to get a better deal, I make a point of telling that client the painting will be the same price from me, as it is in the gallery, so they should buy from the gallery, who will give them good service and advice. I am not going to endanger every sale that a gallery could make for me for the single sale a customer might offer me. I don't show in another gallery within their area. I list their gallery on my web site and I often include their names in my advertising. I will send buyers to them that are from that area. I will do my best to give them enough paintings if they are selling them, and I will make a reasonable effort to make paintings that are of their part of the country as I am a landscape painter. Dealers who sell a painting, get put to the head of the line, they get the next painting I make, that I can give them. Those who pay me immediately, I try to treat with particular dispatch, I always take the best care of them. They are looking out for me, so I try to keep them happy.

Most of the dealers with whom I have done well , have become friends . We talk on the phone and discuss things other than just the business we are doing together. I have been quite close with several of my dealers over the years. Those who have sold well for me, had already become my friends as well as my dealers. This is my own system, There are big dealers who handle lots of artists who haven't got the time for that sort of thing, but I would guess that although they have a lot of artists in their stables, they probably have become friends with their best selling artists. So when I am hunting dealers I look for some one I want to have for a friend. Again this is how I do things, other artists have their own and different ways. So if I walk into the gallery and the dealer is surely or nasty looking or intimidating etc. I take that into account. That doesn't necessarily mean I cross them off my list, but I certainly take it into account.

Some artists have a problem with 50% commissions. While I like a gallery that gets less, I feel that a 50% commission incentivizes a dealer to sell my work. Besides, I don't pay the commission When was it ever my money? It belonged to the client, they handed it to the dealer, he took it from them, bought the painting from me, and handed it to the customer. I had the painting, the sale was what the dealer brought to the transaction. In my opinion selling the art is half the work, and I owned a gallery for about fifteen years, so I have seen both sides of the equation.

I know a few artists who are in such demand that they can negotiate a lower commission from their dealers, and the dealers know that the trick to selling that artists work is getting it. I have had a few dealers go down 5% for me. But I want to move paintings. I tell the dealers "just sell em, I'll make more!" I like to pay commissions, by getting the gallery paid, I get paid. My job is to help them make money. I work at being good at that. Rather than maximize the profit on each piece, I prefer to have both of us moving the art out and making good money. If I only made a few paintings a year I probably couldn't afford this attitude, but I make lots of paintings.

In one of the comments a visitor mentioned some galleries that want a percentage of every sale you make, even if they don't participate in it. I would simply answer," I am in half a dozen galleries, sometimes more, how could I make a living if they all wanted those terms?" But the answer is really this, In a business proposition both parties have to agree on what the terms of the relationship are going to be. There are deal killers for me. I won't enter into a deal like that, so what they want is irrelevant. If a gallery sends me a contract that reads differently than what we have agreed to, I call them up and tell them what I have a problem with, and ask them if I can scratch out part of the contract and return it to them. If we can reach an agreement we both like, we continue in our collaboration. If not, I call ahead and ask them to assemble my work and I go and politely pick it up, I try to be as cheerful and courteous as I can and I shake hands with them, and thank them for their efforts on my behalf. Usually they are pleasant enough as soon as they figure out you are not going to go weird on them. Lots of artists do, and gallery's dread it. Sometimes a year down the road your phone will ring and they will say "we just had Joe Baggadonuts in here, he bought one of your paintings from us last year and we were wondering if you have anything we can show him. Since you were professional in your last dealings with them they will not hesitate to call you. When you walk through their door next, the whole contract negotiation begins again and you hold more cards. They also now look at you as a professional who is pleasant to deal with.

Almost all of the undesirable things that a gallery might want you to do, they will ask you to agree to up front. If you don't like their deal, make a counteroffer, if they don't take it, move on. There are lots of galleries. There didn't used to be, but there sure are now.

Send me your art for the the next reader critique my e-mail is stapletonkearns@gmail.com. If I use your art I will photoshop your signature off of it and I will tell no one whose art I am critiquing.


Unknown said...

For newer artists, such as myself, this whole gallery thing is difficult. Two of the galleries in which I had art, have closed in the last six months. Other galleries
seem to be experiencing similar difficult times and are not overly anxious to bring on additional artists. No question it's a difficult economy in which to sell art.
I've sold pieces directly from my website, but I still think that gallery representation is the best way to get your art "out there".
But maybe you can comment on approaching new galleries. What is the most productive way to
contact new galleries? The whole "business" side of art is one that I don't enjoy at all...

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will attack these questions tonight. Of course you don't like the art business! Your losing!
After you have a few wins, you will like it a lot better. I will try to talk about how you might get some.
Art business is never as much fun as painting, that's for sure.

Unknown said...

You make a good point; just being a reasonable person leads you quite a ways towards success.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am not a reasonable person, but I can mimic one for short periods of time. Even then, really straight people are suspicious.