Discounts for Art Dealers?

Worn_but_not_out1Lynnda Tenpenny wrote with this question about relationships with gallery dealers and when to offer them discounts:   

When you have a relationship with a gallery and the gallery owner keeps saying that he/she is really interested in one of your art pieces, what’s the protocol here?
I have this happening at two galleries. One is a frame gallery and if I were to give her the art piece (it is small) or give her a discount, it wouldn’t be a huge loss to me, but it just puts me on the spot. My art goes to the other gallery already framed and the owner keeps saying that he just may have to have this one piece for himself. It’s a huge compliment, but I just don’t know the protocol as to discounting, or offering a small piece as a gift, or what????
I wonder what others have done?

I think this is an excellent question. I am, unfortunately, no expert on this and think I’d like to know more about your relationship with the galleries. In other words, have they sold a bunch of your work? Are they doing a lot of work already to promote your work? Are they asking for you to give it to them or would they be happy to pay you the wholesale price? Without knowing the specifics of the situation, I can see these options:

1. Give them the work in hopes of establishing a better relationship with them.
2. Don’t give them the work because, after all, what have they done for you lately?
3. Offer to trade with them if they have something you might like.
4. (This is my favorite) Tell them, “Well, if you bought it, I know it would have a good home!”

You are certainly under no obligation to give them the work. I know of several dealers who purchase the work of their artists and I’m fairly certain they aren’t getting steep discounts.

What am I missing in this answer? What else should be considered?

Image: Lynnda Tenpenny, Worn, but not out #1. Leaf print, cast paper leaf, collage, 2005, 20 x 14 inches.

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7 comments to Discounts for Art Dealers?

  • The privilege of being the gallery is that they get say 40 percent of the money from a sale of the artist’s work…or, to put it otherwise, the gallery gets a hefty 40 percent discount on any work of art…The gallery also gets first dibs on new work- which can be dangerous- why? because in a collection there are usually a few ‘hit’ singles & the rest is good (but not every piece can be stupendous)…So, by selling, giving, discounting, the artist may be breaking up a collection- which means when you have a show, not enough inventory, or the best pieces are already sold…Also, the problem with offering things for free is that gallery owners, like everyone else, like things that are ‘hard to get’…If it is too available, it becomes devalued- and the artist must remember that the gallery needs to be impressed at all times…make it difficult for the gallery & they make like you more- make it easy, & they may walk all over you…Also, this may be a test- they love to test relationships & business acumen- so be careful…that said- follow your spidey senses- your instinct- your heart, whatever you call it…If you are a good artist, you probably already know what to do…

  • I agree with Sari. The first thing that popped into my mind is that the gallery already gets their percentage as a discount, just as she said. Alyson, I like your fourth answer. Generosity is important but between discounts and auction donations an artist can easily give away too much inventory. Plus, is this really fair to your other collectors?

  • Almost every gallery I’ve ever shown in has bought work for their own collection, and my policy has always been to sell it to them at the wholesale price. After all, I wouldn’t get more than that if they sold it to a customer, but there’s no reason I should get less. Generally, if a gallery owner likes my work enough to own it, I feel secure that they will do their best to represent it to their customers. I make owning a piece *almost* a precondition of a long term relationship with a gallery. I’ll show with anyone who can sell a good deal of work, but I put the most faith in those who are willing to put their own money where their mouth is.

  • I used to own a gallery and I agree with the consensus here. The gallery owner *already* gets a “discount” because he/she can buy the painting at wholesale. I think for any gallery owner to expect more than that is presumptuous. If you really *want* to give the piece to the owner…no problem. But otherwise I would respond with Alyson’s fourth option and add “…plus you get a 40% discount!”

  • Thanks for the input. I was also leaning toward the option that the gallery owner would be getting their discount anyway. Both these gallery owners are enthusiastic about my work and I’d be delighted to have them as owners of my work! I also love Alyson’s last comment – one worth remebering. In one case the owner is also an artist and some sort of swap might be appropriate at some point. Lynnda

  • Matt M

    I have a gallery and I define this issue in the contract so it can be discussed before any work is shown. These things shouldn’t be left until later, neither the artist nor the dealer will be successful if they have an awkward relationship. Your dealer can buy your work like anyone else, but the consensus is right: their discount is the commission and this should be clearly set out in the contract. I agree it is bad form for a dealer to buy prime pieces at the beginning of a show. It actually is a bad idea from a marketing standpoint: prime pieces should be highlighted to sell the show as a whole. The problem is that there is no reasonable contract clause for this issue. Even if you could get someone to agree not to buy any of your work for the first few weeks of a show, an unethical person could de-emphasis the work: not verbally pushing it, hanging it ineffectively, etc. The best thing to do is pay close attention to contracts. If the dealer obeys the contract but behaves unethically, do not continue the business relationship. Remember, creating is art, galleries are businesses. I recommend that all my artists have their consignment contracts reviewed by a lawyer. No matter your income, it is possible. Almost all major cities have lawyers who do pro bono work for the arts (as well as accountants) and artists shouldn’t pass these services by. Now if either of these are non-profit galleries and you are having a solo show, then a gift of a smaller work to either the curator or director is, while optional and voluntary, quite common. Gifts occur on the for profit side but generally in the context of a long-term relationship with the gallery and (presumably) a healthy track record of sales of the artist’s work. Otherwise: 1) no discounts, 2) no give-aways unless you have gotten something in return and want to thank the dealer on your own initiative (for things like commissions, unusual level of promotion or sales, efforts above and beyond – in other words, these are infrequent, special gifts) and 3) settle this upfront in a contract before your work enters the gallery.

  • Greetings, Some galleries in NYC take 50%!Creating sales from a non-profit gallery,The contract is between the Artists & Dealers/Curators..The percentage is also based who is paying for Space…