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Behind the Curtain: The Truth About Vanity Galleries and Publications

Behind the Curtain: The Truth About Vanity Galleries and Publications

Along with amny other artists I know, I get emails by the dozen from both vanity galleries and book publishers wanting to exhibit or publish my work. Most of these vanity galleries and publishers charge artists to have their work included in a show or publication and it is very flattering to be asked or at least the first few times it is. 

Vanity galleries and publications get their name because they’re there for you to use so you can say “I’ve exhibited in New York or London, or Im published in this or that art book. So it’s more about show off tactics than actually being discovered and being the next Yayoi Kusama or Damien Hirst.

The exhibition fees for artists to exhibit their work can be astronomical and they will normally charge you a set fee, rather than commissions on sales. Depending on the gallery, they may also include or offer for an extra fee, additional services (Like having someone present at the gallery for possible sales and to answer questions, if the artist can not be present during the entire run of the show). Although vanity galleries are legitimate businesses, many artists avoid them either because they don't come with the prestige of being hand-selected by a gallery owner, or because they have the necessary money or business savvy to make use of the option.

So the galleries do not have an incentive to effectively promote your work since they make their money from these exhibition fees, rather than sales of your art. An art colleague of mine while in New York went to have a look at one of the bigger names in the vanity gallery game and reported back that it was a very non descript building in a back street in a rather dodgy area, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they even open their doors half the time as I expect they don’t get many customers.

Unfortunately in the art world too it doesn’t get you any kudos both in that everyone knows what these galleries are and that you didn’t really exhibit in New York or London. The only benefit you may get is that adding it to your CV makes unaware art buyers think you are sought after because of being internationally recognised.

 The same is true for vanity publications - publishers who charge artists to have their work published. Im not sure how many art books are published each year but you pay a hefty sum to be included and yes you get a page or two of your work in a lovely glossy book of which you have to pay quite a bit of money for your own copy of. A legitimate publication would normally gift you a copy. Its highly unlikely that art buyers will be buying these books so unless you purchase one and put it on your coffee table no one you know is likely to ever see it and just think of the implications if they see another artists work they are suddenly interested in over yours in that very same book.

Vanity Fairs are quite similar to vanity galleries, but are usually big events involving many artists. Again the artists have to pay a fee to cover the cost of exhibiting usually in a booth type situation like the big craft fairs and home shows we have here in NZ. You have to pay for all your own advertising, and often there may be an additional screening process to make sure they only show quality artwork so you may well pay for something that you don’t end up being included in. Vanity Fairs usually have much better success than the vanity publishers and galleries because they usually attract large crowds of people actually interested in the art. Some of these shows will charge an entry fee so often the crowds view it more as a show than a buying opportunity. The shows make a lot of money off these entry fees and the artist rarely ever get a cut of that. Well-known vanity shows include the Florence Biennial of which I have been invited to participate in a few times! You are more likely to have success of direct or indirect sales from these shows, although it usually depends on your ability to sell your own work and your awareness of the art market. If you can’t afford to attend then there is not much point in entering.

I found this site rather interesting in that they responded to some of the emails they get from vanity galleries and have published the responses.


Posted: Saturday 23 January 2010


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