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How to deal with Galleries as an Artist

How to deal with Galleries as an Artist

In the past, I had the privilege of owning my own art gallery and co-managing a commercial art gallery for several years. During this time, I established contracts and systems for artists to exhibit their work and implemented an art hiring scheme.

My commitment to supporting emerging artists led me to manage a separate space within the original gallery, providing a platform for those just starting in the art world. Over the years, I assisted other local galleries independently and within mentoring schemes. Recently, I've collaborated with a group organising pop-up gallery spaces, capitalising on our town's numerous vacant spaces for temporary yet impactful group shows.
In today's blog, I aim to shed light on the dynamics of dealing with a gallery, offering insights from both the artist's perspective and the operational side of gallery management.


The gallery I owned operated as a cooperative, designed to accommodate a collective of artists and establish an art space in a small city lacking such venues. Organising a cooperative requires substantial coordination, especially considering artists' diverse and sometimes challenging temperaments. Despite generating significant sales and garnering interest, interpersonal conflicts arose, prompting my departure after six months. Regrettably, the cooperative folded soon after. This experience became a valuable lesson, influencing my subsequent approach to selecting business partners with greater discernment.

Why Don't You Always Hear Back?

Artists consistently expressed interest in exhibiting their work, a trend that continued in various roles I undertook. Quantifying the exact number of applicants proves challenging; it sometimes reaches up to 30 applicants per week. Managing an art gallery demands considerable effort behind the scenes, encompassing paperwork, curation and hanging of shows, organisation of advertising, framing coordination, and addressing employee matters.

Dealing with customer inquiries, home previews, and acquiring new customers further adds to the workload, making reviewing artist portfolios a substantial challenge, with numbers exceeding 120 in a month.

Each submission undergoes scrutiny regarding artist portfolios to assess their suitability for the gallery's clientele. Rejection doesn't necessarily reflect negatively on an artist's work; it may simply be due to an oversaturation of similar styles or a lack of alignment with the gallery's market. With thousands of artists and limited gallery spaces, not every artist can secure representation. Rejections are part of the process, and understanding that, on average, one acceptance may come after about 100 rejections is crucial for maintaining resilience.

Professionalism and a high standard of portfolio content hold greater weight than the presentation itself. Galleries are focused on the substance of the artwork, and a well-prepared portfolio may not guarantee attention. Since gallery professionals have a demanding schedule, artists are advised to avoid a spontaneous "walk-in" approach and instead be prepared to leave behind artwork, additional photos, artist information, and contact details for a thorough review.

Drawing from my experiences both as an artist and a gallery professional, I strive to maintain an approachable and understanding demeanour, recognising the challenges faced by both parties involved in gallery interactions.

So, let's sum this all up:

  1. If you simply send in a portfolio, it may get ignored, at least for a long time.
  2. If you just walk in - you're risking interrupting or upsetting someone....at the very least, you'll put the person in the wrong frame of mind to look at your work!
  3. Email is unlikely to upset anyone, but it's really super easy to ignore and hit "delete."
  4. The best solution (Well here in New Zealand anyway.) is to phone ahead and book a time to come in and show them your work, or call in and ask when would be the best time to bring your portfolio in. If you strike lucky they may say now would be good, so always make sure you have something to show them even if it’s sitting in your car outside so you can grab it out quickly.

Once you have been accepted into a gallery, you need to work with the gallery and respect their rules and regulations. Each gallery will have a contract, most are standard, although some might have unusual clauses, either way, read it before signing it.

Tips For Artists

Commission’s rates vary but for most galleries in NZ it averages out around 40% of the selling price, so if a painting sold for $1000 you would get $600 and the gallery would get $400. Some artists grumble about this figure, but try selling your work yourself from home.

Most buyers will go to a gallery before anywhere else, it’s an obvious destination if you are looking for art. Galleries have huge overheads to cover, there is rent, power, phone, advertising, wages etc to cover. Most will have an extensive client list that they show your work to and they will be working hard to get sales for you. It’s not simply a hop with hooks on the wall!

If art doesn’t sell fast like during a recession it can make things difficult. Iv’e seen some galleries charge a hanging fee so the artist pays something towards cost if their work doesn’t sell and therefore the gallery covers some of their costs regardless. You will find most though wont charge you anything unless your work sells so it’s a ‘win win‘ situation if you really look at it.

It’s a good idea to keep in regular contact with your galleries and to keep your records up to date. I’ve seen artists change their address or bank details etc without letting us know; only to end up fuming when their work sells and they didn’t get paid for it. Keeping your phone number up to date also helps. I’ve had artists miss out on commission work because they didn’t do so and I couldn’t get in touch with them.

A simple phone-call every month or so to say hello and ask about any sales or to update your records is a good idea, however don’t harass the gallery staff by expecting to chat for ages or ringing too often as remember they have other work to do.

Expecting special treatment won’t go down too well either. Most well known artists don’t behave like Divas, so why should those of us who are new to the art world. Artists are a funny breed and we all can have odd personalities, in a business situation its best to keep that in check. Trust me on this one!

Main photo is of the Auckland Art Gallery, a must visit place to view (not to apply to show your work....just saying!) 


Posted: Saturday 2 January 2010


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Don't forget to take a look at more of New Zealand contemporary artist's work in Collette's Online Galleries