Sunday, June 17, 2007

How Long Do You Stay?

Backyards, 2007, Oil on Panel, 12x16
I thought I'd write a few posts this week concerning gallery relationships. Generally I don't discuss the specifics of this topic publicly, but there have been a few developments on this matter for me recently and since most artists will deal with these things at one time or another, I thought I'd finally go through some of it. Without naming names of course. Heh.

If one were to look at the list of galleries that represent my work on my sidebar or on my website, it might look as if I am very successful based on having seven (it was nine at one point) galleries showing my work. While I am doing pretty good all things considered, the list IS a bit misleading. One gallery is only open during the summer. And several galleries actually sell very little of my work, for various reasons, that I don't really think are related to me.

However, I have left two galleries in the last year. One was a co-op gallery in a very small town, requiring a small fee to be paid each month. This was one of the first galleries that asked me to join them and they actually sold a number of my pieces at first. After awhile though, sales dropped off and after looking at my records, I found that I was only making a very small profit there. I might have stuck with it except for the other work that they showed declined in quality which was frustrating as I wanted to be included in a better group of artists, not worse. And the real clincher was a very poorly organized group show that I found myself embarrassed to be included in.

The other gallery was in a large city and I really wanted to stay with them. The director had come across my work on the internet and contacted me. How great is that? They sold a few things, then it just dropped off. We tried different things, imagery, colors, scale, but my work just never really took off there and I don't know if it was the gallery or the city. I stayed for a long time (two years) because I liked the director and they were so good to work with. They paid in a timely manner and very carefully packed paintings that were shipped back to me. But finally after a year without one single sale or being included in any events in the gallery (such as group shows), I finally decided I should leave. It was all amicable; after all, what gallery wants a non selling artist around anyway?

To be honest, I still have a few galleries that represent me, who don't really sell too much of my work on a regular basis. But a sale here and a sale there and things add up to a half decent income. And so far, each of them offers me a good reason to stay, whether it's an opportunity to participate in a group or solo show, or to be included in a particularly challenging event such as a themed show. I also feel some loyalty to them because they all gave me a shot when I was trying to get started. And the local, seasonal gallery really doesn't sell much at all, but I like to support them by participating. Plus they have given me a listing in the annual Art in America gallery guide for two years now. Heck, I'd probably sleep with someone for that!

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing some of your experiences regarding how long and why an artist should stay with a gallery if sales are lackluster.


vivien said...

one of my bad gallery experiences was finding out that yes, my work was hung, some of it IN THE OWNERS HOUSE! he tried to say that 'important people' came to dinner - mmmmmmm - more like a nice cheap way to have paintings! like the gallery you mention, I felt that the quality of work had gone down and I pulled my work out. I had to be politely and quietly VERY insistent to get it back as well, there were all sorts of problems put in the way of me collecting it.

I was so cross that it gave me the courage to approach a much better gallery nearby though - and i was accepted :)

Another gallery wanted to show my work but wanted to frame it (they do framing) - and their costs were not good and they didn't have the frames I like so I didn't take up their offer.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Ugh! That's awful! I could see if it were for one single event and that you know about it in advance and agreed to it, but more than that is just wrong. Good for you leaving them AND getting your work back. I have been lucky in that I haven't had problems getting work back but it is always a worry.

You were wise to turn down the offer from the other one that wanted to frame your work. I think that is type of thing usually ends up badly for the artist.

Karen Jacobs said...

Think of galleries as an ongoing experience. At first you are more than happy just to get wall space, then you flip over a few sales, then you start making excuses for the gallery re: not getting good wall space, not paying on time, not communicating... etc.

So you "hang" with them until you make some new connections. Nothing was ever truer than the eggs and baskets analogy (which you should know full well ;-) You want as many reps as you can find but like looking for a new job, it's easier when you already have one.

I've had quite a lot of representation over the years, but there are only a few that were real keepers. Gotta kiss a lot of frogs, etc... geeze... that's my LAST analogy, I promise! KJ

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone! I'm a long-time lurker (sorry Tracy) but love your blog. Love your willingness to talk about things just like this post. I'm in one gallery, am experiencing very fortunate sales, love the director..yadda yadda. My question to all of you, when did you determine you needed a second gallery...or a third, etc? Was it too much work sitting around your studio or an extra marketing effort that then required more work? Thanks! Jen

Tracy Helgeson said...

You are right Karen, good analysis of the gallery/artist relationship. All of these situations have been good learning experiences and I am very glad that none of them ended badly.

Hi Jen, I love it when a lurker comes out of the closet:)

My answer to your question is that it is not a good idea to have all of your eggs in one basket (thanks Karen) and so if you think you can provide another gallery with enough work, then start looking. If you are worried about that, then look for a seasonal or tourist area gallery so that you'll know when they will need new work.

Melody said...

I was with a gallery a while back who did sell work for me off and on. I found out later (from an employee who left) that if it didn't sell in two weeks they would put it in the back room. I believe this to be true as I did drop in once unexpectedly and my work was not up. Needless to say I am not with them anymore but "wow" if you can find a gallery in which you can have a fabulous relationship consider yourself lucky.