I’m just going to come out and say it. From my perspective, the current gallery business model is flawed and becoming increasingly obsolete. Did you know that the average gallery takes a commission of 50 percent of all sales? If you’re an artist, this is common knowledge, but I’m unsure if your average patron is aware of this. So what exactly are they doing to earn this equal portion of our pie? The best-case scenario is: the gallery and the people it employs are representing the artists to the absolute best of their abilities or at the very least available to engage the customer in conversation and answering questions they might have. Hopefully, these representatives are as excited and passionate about the work as the artists themselves.
A gallery like this is, in my opinion, earning their keep, but just barely. Of course, an art gallery isn’t a car lot and visitors shouldn’t be made to feel targeted by the staff. It’s a fine line to walk between Justifying this type of commission and creating a welcoming environment for people to fully experience the works on display. I believe it is the gallery’s role however, to walk this line.
It’s been my experience though, that the average gallery does nothing of the sort. From an artist’s perspective, this is unacceptable. As far as I’m concerned, these people are working for us by proxy and need to recognize that. Otherwise, what are we paying for?
Of course, there is always the worst case scenario as well. Judging by the number of stories I’ve heard (I’ve got a couple of my own), it isn’t completely uncommon for one of these establishments to simply disappear into thin air, artwork and all!
I wonder where the idea of a 50% commission came from in the first place. I imagine (having done exactly zero research on the subject) that there was a time when the greatest artists were represented by the greatest galleries and they worked together in symbiosis. The galleries must have felt justified in asking for half of the sale and the artists probably felt the same. Eventually, this somehow became the standard regardless of the effort put forth by the gallery or the quality of the work on display.
I’m not trying to say that gallery owners are scammers. I’m just suggesting that they ought to try a little harder to own up to their end of the bargain. Some do! I have plenty of friends that are very happy with their representation. They’ve found a relationship that benefits everyone. When it works, it works well. But it isn’t the only way.
Artists: it has never been easier to represent yourself than it is right now. Between affordable, small-scale shows, artist collectives, social networking tools such as Facebook and online shops like Etsy (they only take something like 4% of a sale and all the work is done for you) you need to ask yourself if that shelf in the back of the gallery is really worth half the time and energy you put into your work. If you go with a gallery, make sure they’re doing something for you besides decorating their space! Otherwise, hire a good photographer and you’re off to the races on your own.
Galleries: Step it up! As I said above, it has never been easier for an artist to represent his or herself. Technology is making it increasingly easy for the collectors and fans to communicate directly with the makers. The middle man is becoming less relevant in almost all creative media, it seems. The way I see it, you’re either going to have to find a way to compete with that experience (not easy) or be a little more reasonable with the commission charges. If the line is too fine to walk, I’d suggest making it wider before you fall off altogether.
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