Does your commercial gallery charge you a fee?

Hidden9Today’s Art Marketing Action newsletter urges you not to pay to be part of a commercial (non-co-op, non-artist-owned) gallery. Read why.

However, I fully admit that I might not have considered everything. If you have a take on this, I’d love to hear from you. I know others would as well. Please leave your comments below.

Image: Chris Corbett, Fire from Clay. Photograph. (c) The Artist.

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23 comments to Does your commercial gallery charge you a fee?

  • I certainly would pack up my work and take it home. The gallery’s commission taken from sales (usually 40-60%) should cover their costs for running the gallery, including costs of receptions, mailings, etc. I can’t see why they would have a reason to work hard to sell your work if they could just get money from the artists to “hang” their work on their walls. My primary gallery owner/director is working constantly to get her artist’s works out there to be purchased by individuals, corporations as well as design people looking for special original work for their clients.

  • Any gallery worth showing in *should* be selling enough work to turn a handsome profit on their commissions alone. I don’t begrudge paying a percentage to the gallery when they’re selling my work… but I would never even consider shelling out money for the “privilege” of hanging work. It can be tempting for new artists to enter deals like this when they feel that they need more exposure or more shows on their resume/CV… but I strongly recommend against it. The thing is, your CV is more about quality than quantity and galleries should be more about selling your work than exhibiting it. It’s important to remember that there are many so-called opportunities for artists that are really more beneficial to the person making the offer. You should always weigh the cost against the potential return and talk to others who have already used the service in question, whether it’s a gallery, a listing, a publication, a collective website portfolio, etc. There are certainly many services for artists that are worth paying for, but as far as galleries go, I think the commission model is best. It motivates the gallery to actually work on your behalf as they don’t get paid unless you do.

  • My advice to any artist being asked to pay to keep your work in a gallery is to grab your work and run. It sounds like a scam to me, like those contests where you’ve won fabulous prizes which you will receive “free” – IF you agree to pay the exorbitant shipping fee.

  • Perry Thompson

    Many galleries are now charging artists to show their art are scams, but their are some galleries worth paying for to get into. Artists must research each gallery and determine if this gallery is for me. I been approached by a gallery in New York to represent me for two thousand dollars a year. At first I said no way, but I decided to check the gallery out first. Found out this was a first class gallery with professionals and marketing personal. They had a detail contract that spelled out everything in writing. Bottom line is, I’m using this as an opportunity and a chance to meet other collectors and buyers. I use the prestige from this gallery in my marketing of my art. I had several local write ups because of it. Will I sell any art from this gallery, don’t know, but it’s a big plus for using it in my marketing because of the name and location. You really need to investigate the gallery, is this for me, and ask other artists whos been in the gallery before signing up.

  • here are the times when I have made an exception…in 1995 I was sitting on a brand new collection & had just let my studio go…I joined a retail artist’s co-operative with a contract that stated, depending on how many hours a week I worked in the gallery, the commission taken from the sale of my works would drop…the second time I ‘paid’, was in 2000, when again I had a brand new collection and my prospective gallery closed suddenly & I was left without a show…I paid $1,000.00 to a friend of a friend who was a known gallery director & had just started a new venture…I got a solo show within a month & aesthetically it was quite a success for me- the boost to my reputation was crucial & I got several firm offers from that show…that gallery didn’t last but by then I was represented by someone else…once in a blue moon if things are slow I will enter a juried competition-Carfac, the Canadian artist’s representation, frowns upon entrance fees for this sort of thing, so I only break the rules if things are really slow…I try very hard to uphold the not paying for things ethic, which really is the way to go- it’s only when I feel the need to stir up trouble-and trouble it is…

  • Anytime a gallery asks for money on top of the agreed upon commission rate, not only is that a red flag butit tells me that “the barn is on fire”. You should get your work out of that gallery as soon as possible.

  • I sure wish I had seen these comments a few months ago. A funky little shop that had an exclusive of my work was approached by a Gallery owner that wanted a bigger space. She agreed (because of personal reasons) to let him finish off her lease. He has run a successful Gallery in the same town for about 3 years. The terms of hanging in the Gallery are pretty much what everyone has commented on. Monthly fee, 40% commission and pay your fair share of the advertising PLUS another $100 for the web designer to create your page on the Gallery URL. I looked around town for another good fit for my work but couldn’t find anything on the main street area. I didn’t feel good about signing the contract for 6 months and paying out all this money but my clientele was so used to coming to this store to find my work! UGH, I am keeping my fingers crossed this all works out. I have many friends who are in this Gallery and it is a beautiful place and foot traffic is good. In the next town over a new Gallery is opening and she is using a different twist. Artists pay $100 a month, pay 25% commission and work 12-16 hours a month. The day you work you receive 5% commission on anything you sell. Is this a new trend and are we artists going to accept this??!! Some artists felt we have to help Galleries keep their doors open. I personally am against this whole idea, yet here I am, contracted for 6 months.

  • That second deal doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds like more of an ownership or co-op deal than having to pay a 40-50% commission without anything in return. I really look forward to hearing how it works for you, Pat. It sounds like the gallery has been good to you and at least they have put together a sound contract. Let us know!

  • A friend of mine is a glass artists represented by a commercial gallery that will occasionally run an advertisement in a publication that collectors in the area are sure to see. They ask her to split the cost of the ad because it features an image of her work and the goal is to draw the collectors to her show to purchase work. Does that seem like a reasonable request or do you think the gallery should pay for that? If she refuses to pay half, presumably the gallery will not purchase the advertising space.

  • As a gallery owner/artist I would encourage every artist to promote themselves as much as possible, but be very wary of the gallery scams. A few pointers … Always ask what each gallery offers in marketing and promoting. If you have to sign a contract or agreement, make sure its not a death sentence. The shorter term the contract, the better turn around that gallery has on sales. Find out exactly how long that gallery intends to show each item. Many gallerys will take in work and store in the back room with no intent to represent. A good way to find out, ask to see where they store the work when it comes down. To much work in storage will clue you in immediately. This will also give you an idea of how your work will be cared for. At my gallery I offer two choices, a 60/40 split, or a 70/30 split with a 10.00$monthly sitting fee. Each artist agrees to a 3 month contract, this enables me to hang their work for at least 3 months before we rotate out a new body of work. Keeping the work fresh keeps the clientel shopping, so we move the work every month or so to a new location within the gallery, for a fresh perspective. It’s so important for an artists to visit each gallery they are represented in to make sure that gallery is working to represent you as much as themselves. Good luck and Keep creating!

  • I think commercial galleries that charge fees are taking advantage of artists. As I have discovered over the last couple of years, it is SO expensive to be an artist! After you’ve bought materials and spent your valuable time and talent on creating your art, you then have to market it, ship it, photograph it, frame it, store it, enter it into shows, etc. There are plenty of reputable commercial galleries that don’t charge artists to show. I agree with the last comment that artists should research and visit galleries first. Don’t sell yourself short.

  • Noah, I think it’s fairly common practice that galleries and artists split the cost of advertising.

  • Thanks for your insight, Tonia. An interesting choice you give artists. I wonder which is the most popular?

  • Sue Smith

    I have recently decided to take out my own advertising for a new series. Since I believe in the work, as well as my responsibility to build name recognition and direct clients to the gallery where this work is being hung, it seems worth the small investment. I have been working with this gallery for six months now. The gallery director asks for a 50% commission, with an additional 10% to any decorator who is responsible for placing my work. I’ve sold one painting through this gallery,(they actually increased the asking price to cover the 10% decorator commission) and I am hoping the advertising will increase the inquiries specifically about my work. I know there is a body of opinion that states advertising is the gallery’s job, and at the least, splitting the cost, but if the gallery doesn’t promote an artist, doesn’t it fall to the artist to take control of his/her career? When the name recognition and demand for the work is there, you have more leverage.

  • There are galleries and there are galleries. I have run a small gallery where I charged to hang and a percentage. It wasn’t full time for me and I paid as well and also sat 8 days a month while the guest artists didn’t. I provided a space for (mostly women) artists whose work did not fit the birds/barns/boats theme of practically everything that was being shown in the area at that time. We eventually closed because the owner didn’t agree with some of the work. Were the artists we showed happy? Yes, some even took their own space and started their own galleries. Did it blow open the art world a little bit – yes. We now have a very diverse art world here. Do I participate in galleries where I pay a fee ($25 – 30/month)+commission (20 – 25%)? Yes. Am I careful about how I choose them? Yes. Do I pay a higher commission where I don’t pay a fee and don’t sit? yes (40 – 50%). It all works for me. I am happy with a little bit of everything. I don’t advertise. I believe in publicity (the free stuff) which I get a lot of as do the shops and galleries with which I affiliate. Some of them do pay for advertising (I don’t). I think a lot of these decisions have to be based on where you are physically (big town, rural area, something in between) and in your career – and your goals (famous museum pieces or retail sales to make a living). The answers will be as different as each of us.

  • This is a hot topic! I wish, Allison, that you had done a sort of point.counterpoint, to be fair. We are a little under 2 years old, sought by emerging and established artists to show here, and have been resisting the “pay to hang” trend in Denver. I have been talking with many of the local galleries – mostly less than 5 years old, some coops, and NO nonprofit galleries. I have found that we are one of the few hold-outs against hanging fees. My partner nor I want to do this, but frankly, we are in the minority and are likely to follow the others for very good reasons including financial. Financial is obvious – we invest thousands every month in all that goes into the physical location as well as marketing and advertising. But … it is also to begin culling the wheat from the chaff. What we are finding is that the artists without the vita are commonly the most demanding (haven’t figured that one out yet :), and also the least likely to follow our protocols and timelines, making the job of advance marketing and show production more difficult. We want to work with good artists, good people, and at least decent business people. Helping to cover the increasing rents we pay to be in good art anda cultural districts, plus a need to work with professionals… those are two of our reasons for reexamining our business model. Haven’t done it yet, but not saying we won’t. I hope artists begin to see this other side of the coin as well. We have gone far to support our artists, and many of ours have done the same for us. We appreciate them, and want to help them succeed. And we want to succeed as well. Thanks! Trina

  • Thanks Alyson, The 60/40 split is most common with the visual artist,ie: painters. The smaller items like pottery and jewelry, choose the 70/30. This works out great for the artists, it allows them to make more money on lower priced items. If the (70/30) artist doesn’t move work after a few months, they can always switch to the 60/40.

  • RE: Get Uncomfortable: I try to attend events alone. If you go with a friend you hardly ever meet anyone new. I try to find someone else who is alone. That way I meet at least one new person. The people I have met are awesome! I have met an academic dean (very useful person to have known while I was in college), an owner of a diamond mine in Africa (I am a jeweler, after all), a book store owner (who is now a great friend), an admiral of the United States Navy (I befriended his aging mother who was alone at an event, he was most appreciative: my husband was serving in the Navy at that time so it didn’t hurt!), gallery owners and more. Sometimes the person who is “alone” really isn’t, she may be waiting for a friend to show up. Then I am often included in their larger party and make more new friends. The only criteria I look for is someone alone-everyone is interesting and has something to offer in conversation and friendship. When I met the Academic Dean, we were dining in the cafeteria and I met the entire top level of the college-on a first name basis. I was 20 years old and learned a valuable lesson-be friendly and honest! I love meeting new people, but bear in mind I am a terminally shy person. I just try to put myself in the place of the other “lonely” person and start a conversation. The rest is magic.

  • Lauri

    I came across this conversation when searching for information about gallery fees. I am glad I stopped in. I have been designing and selling jewelry since about 1992 but never as a primary source of income. Recently I have decided to follow my heart and go at it full time and open my own jewlery gallery. I am a businees woman with a marketing background so I feel I stand a great chance of success. The space I am negotiating for is in an excellent main street location with great tourist traffic in the summer and close to a major city where I can market to a large number of stylists and decorators. I wanted to take a space large enough to offer space to other jewelry artists and almost any other form of art. The idea of charging a reasonable monthly fee in exchange for reduced commission percentage was the direction I was headed as well. I am suprised to see so many artists wary of this and will be looking for more feedback anywhere I can find it. My nightmare stories were all from straight commission galleries. I personally would be way more inclined to pay a small monthly fee to a gallery with lower commissions and keep more money in my pocket. That is, if I knew the location was great and the owner had a reputation as a strong buisness person and doing the right thing for artist, meaning do more than just hang or display your art and wait for people to walk in. In my plan, I was calculating space rental fees to just cover location rent,utilites, advertising/marketing fees, insurance. I have many benefits to the artist ideas and really hope to build a very special unique spot that artists are lining up to get in and Stylists and designers think of first to come look for their something special for their clients. It never occured to me to require artists to come “Sit” and offer compensation for their time. Doing the math for all the expenses of operating the place, properly marketing and staffing, It costs a lot of money to do it right. I am an artist first, not greedy in the least. My thought about having artists pay reasonable fee for space is good both for the gallery owner and the artist. I thought of it as a win win situation. Artist’s work that is selling keeps more money in the artist pocket, for those that arent having sales, the investment will be relatively small for shorter term space. The benefit to the gallery is artists whos art sells will be compelled to stay and artists whos isnt, wont be compelled to stay. Small monthly fees to the galleries (not greedy ones anyway) will allow consistant money coming in every month and can accuratelty plan and budget their marketing efforts every month which is good for both the artists and the gallery.