Check a Gallery’s Credit Score

Kathy Partridge commented on a previous post about legal issues with galleries and IOctobersgold wanted to make sure others read what she had to say before it got buried:

Having "lost" seven pieces of art to a gallery in NJ (owner refuses to communicate in any way as to the whereabouts of the paintings nor have I been paid), I now have a new rule: I will check any prospective gallery’s credit score. For $10 – $40, anyone can buy a business credit report that gives a pretty good picture of a gallery’s financial situation along with a risk assessment (how likely are you to get paid?). I use SmartBusinessReports.com by Experian (one of the big three credit reporting agencies), but they all offer a similar service.

If I had known I could do this a few years ago, I wouldn’t have touched the NJ gallery with a ten foot pole.

Of the three galleries I’ve searched for on SmartBusinessReports.com two are listed. The third is only about four years old and quite small, so perhaps doesn’t "qualify" yet. I’m sure it’s not foolproof, but it’s better than just sending my work off into the unknown.

Another lesson I’ve learned from this is that you can’t necessarily rely on other artists’ opinions of a gallery. I don’t care how glowing the reports are, in the future I’m also going to check the gallery’s credit score. (See ten foot pole comment above.)

Image: Kathy Partridge, October’s Gold. Acrylic, 18 x 24 inches. (c) The Artist.

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5 comments to Check a Gallery’s Credit Score

  • I had been associated with a gallery for over 30 years – no contracts, just a handshake. Everything seemed fine til about 2 years ago when emailed them to see if they wanted to select new work. (I didn’t phone because it always seemed to be at a “wrong time” – that should have been my first clue). When I didn’t hear for a couple of weeks, I sent a letter requesting the return of work they still had. I namd all the pieces. When I still heard nothing, I contacted the BBB in Michigan and Florida where the galleries are located. Their efforts proved futile – the galleries did not respond after 2 tries, so they put me in their “complaint” file and suggested I contact the attorneys general in both states, which I did. They also were unsuccesful after 2 tries. It was financially ludicrous to hire attorneys in 2 states to pursue this, so I put the file away and vowed to much nore careful and alert the next time.

  • I would not just sit back and let the NJ gallery “have” my paintings if I were you. There are legal avenues to take, not to sue them but to put legal pressure on them to come forward with your paintings or to pay you. There is a great article in the May edition of Art Calendar entitled, “A Voice of Experience: Consignment Contracts.” The author tells of his experience in having a gallery not pay him his share for a painting they sold. It gives detailed steps of actions you can take in order to prevail and get the money (or in your case, the paintings) that are owed you. Don’t be satisfied with things as they are. The author was able eventually to not only get the money owed him but reimbursement for expenses that he incurred in legal pursuit of the money from the gallery. The author also makes excellent points in the need for artists to behave as business people. Read the article for the full story.

  • Check a Gallery’s Credit Score is a great little piece of information. I have been approached by a gallery which, after reading this little piece, immediately clicked on the HML and went to the site. I typed in the gallery’s name and when it came up there is a little piece of information at the bottom of the gallery name with a number. I clicked on the number but did not fully understand the comment that popped up. Does anyone know what that number actually means? Any by the way, $20.00 is not too much to pay to find out who you are dealing with. I have met more con artist in this field than I ever imagined.

  • Greyeagle: The “tradelines” number is the number of creditors who have been doing business with the gallery (or whatever sort of business you’ve searched on). So, for example, if the gallery has been buying frames from XYZ Frames, is the gallery’s account with XYZ up to date, or constantly more than 30 days in arrears? (The report refers to “DBT” or Days Beyond Terms – terms being the standard 30 days.) The more “tradelines” shown, the more accurate the picture. On the other hand, even if there are only a few tradelines shown, but all of them have been turned over to collection agencies…well, that’s not a good sign. :-) I think what happens the majority of the time (all the stories I read/hear are pretty similar), is that a gallery/owner starts out with good intentions but they aren’t good business people, and/or they saturate their available market, and/or the economy heads south…whatever. In any event, to stay afloat, they start robbing Peter to pay Paul – “Hey, the artist is three states away, so he won’t know I sold that painting last week. I’ll pay him just as soon as this tight stretch is over.” Problem is, once they start doing that, the hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper. I’m sure it doesn’t take very long – even if they’re not selling enough to cover their overhead with their commissions – to owe several artists thousands of dollars. Five years down the road, they’d have to win the lottery or something to pay everyone off, yet they keep on keepin’ on. Denial is a powerful thing. On top of that, many (most?) artists keep such lousy records themselves that even if the gallery’s ship DID come in, they wouldn’t have a clue how much they’re owed! Based on my experience, a dead giveaway that things are starting to go sour is when you can’t get the gallery, as Nancy said. They stop answering emails, don’t answer the phone during normal business hours, ignore letters that they had to sign for, etc. In short, they behave with us the way they behave with any other bill collector – we’re no longer artists, just somebody else that wants their money. Not only will I check the credit score of prospective galleries, but if I find one that checks out okay, I will likely recheck the score, say, every 6 – 12 months just to make sure the gallery is still in good financial shape. I’m interested in a mutually beneficial business relationship; I’m not running an entitlement program for dysfunctional art dealers. I’ve posted this information about checking credit scores in a couple of places and so far, I haven’t found any artist(s) that knew we could do this. I stumbled upon it quite by accident while surfing the web one day. You know what they say…knowledge is power!

  • [...] 1. What is the situation? Is this the first time that you haven’t been paid–a more recent phenomenon? Or is the gallery guilty of chronic nonpayment? The former might reveal that the gallery is having financial problems. While this isn’t a good sign, it’s better than the latter. Chronic nonpayment indicates poor business skills and lack of regard for artists. Artist Kathy Partridge recommends checking a gallery’s credit score. [...]