Gallery Interview: Jay Etkin Gallery

By Carolyn Edlund

A gallery owner’s view on the future of the industry.


Artwork in the Santa Fe Gallery

Artwork in the Santa Fe Gallery


Jay Etkin is the owner of Jay Etkin Gallery, with locations in both Santa Fe, New Mexico and Memphis, Tennessee. Specializing in local, regional, and international contemporary artists and vintage African tribal art, his client base ranges from individual collectors to corporations. We recently spoke about his view on the changing world of gallery sales, based on his experience from forty-plus years of selling art, through economic booms and hard times as well.

Overall, he is very optimistic about selling artwork. But, he also feels that the future of galleries is shifting dramatically. “I’m old-fashioned enough to appreciate a brick and mortar,” he says, “but the way selling is done is changing.”

“One of the major issues that galleries have is that the owners tend to be older folks who can be very stuck in their ways. It’s like the classic definition of insanity. They are doing the same things over and over, expecting different results. They sit there in their galleries, waiting for a miracle to happen. You can no longer do this. You cannot create a business around this model.”


Opening at Jay Etkin Gallery

Visitors attend an opening at Jay Etkin Gallery


What is the key to his continued success? Etkin believes in creating a network. For him that entails getting out of the gallery and on the road, putting thousands of miles each month on his car. He does consulting work for museums, galleries and corporations, connecting with business owners and decision makers. “I never think about finding buyers,” he replies, “I think about building relationships.”

Traveling to meet with private collectors is a priority. “If the client is within a reasonable distance and you have an opportunity to visit, you get a better understanding of them,” he says. “Making a trip can deepen a relationship, and help you to understand their backgrounds and collecting habits.”

Nurturing those relationships is  the key to doing business. He asks, “Would you rather have a person buy one painting from you today, or a client for twenty years? Over the years, we do a lot of repeat business with collectors. This goes for corporate buyers as well.”


African tribal art is a focus at the Jay Etkin Gallery

African tribal art is a focus at the Jay Etkin Gallery


His view of the future? “My business does not begin or end within the gallery walls,” he states. His business model focuses on the work he does with artists, other galleries, corporations, private collectors and other contacts. “It’s all about collaboration. I’m trying to be a part of a healthier new economy, which includes rational buying. The old one won’t be coming back.”

Etkin is an artist as well as a gallery owner. His studio adjoins his gallery space, but his work is not shown front and center. In all the years of exhibitions, only one has featured his art.

What are the biggest mistakes he sees other artists making? He laughs and recites an anecdote. “An artist walked into the gallery without an appointment and said, ‘My work is better than anything in your gallery.’ That’s insulting.”


Jay's Philosophy

Jay’s Philosophy


“Please, make an appointment first. Don’t walk into a gallery opening to pitch your own work. And keep in mind that presentation is key. One artist came in with paintings that had the frames popping off. He had secured them with double-sided tape. That’s unprofessional.”

Another issue he sees is the artist with an inflated sense of the value of their work. He feels that in general, there is way too much artwork out there that is “disconnected to the real world.”

“Get some advice,” he suggests, “Speak to dealers. Educate yourself, and get realistic about the value of your work in the art market. Let go of your ego. Listen and learn.”

Etkin finishes up his interview, ready to walk into another appointment out on the road. One gets the impression that he will continue to do this and build his gallery business for a long time to come.


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  1. Jay Etkin is a renaissance man. He is also the consummate gentleman. Sincere, unassuming, knowledgeable, respectful, talented, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, he has built lasting relationships with clients, both corporate and individual. While he possesses all these admirable qualities, he always has time to mentor young artists who can learn how to follow their own paths. He has represented me for over 20 years in Memphis and also in Santa Fe and I’ve been the grateful recipient of his generosity.

    • Jay Etkin says

      As always, you are most kind. So glad to be a long term friend and advocate. Your work continues to evolve and grows stronger and stronger! On to the next project. Regards, Jay

  2. “I never think about finding buyers,” he replies, “I think about building relationships.” This is a winning philosophy!

    It is also an idea I have heard from development directors at colleges and non-profits: their events were not “fundraisers” but opportunities to make friends.

    I’m involved with a crowd funding project for art and the sponsoring organization made the point that people don’t support art, people support people. The idea being that the majority of your support will come from those that know and care about you, rather than from the thousands who will see your project and be persuaded to contribute.

    Nurture friends! Friends are long term supporters and are fun to be around!

  3. What he really said is; “I sell.” Same as always, people buy from people. This is not new.

    • Jay Etkin says

      Clay, I simply love what I do. My energy and enthusiasm has grown stronger year after year. I have never been stuck…in my studio or in my business. What I do evolves; I see the business as I see the development of a painting. I add and subtract, I move things around…until it works. Retail particularly can be stressful, but I do not find myself stressed. Every art space I’ve created has also been a community gathering place. I spend a lot of time mentoring young artists (old artists, too); I am a community activist and arts advocate. I have spent many years running commercial galleries, yet I have never thought of myself as a “retailer”. I create experiences! New or old doesn’t matter, I just am what I am. My best to you, Jay

  4. Now this is a gallery owner who is working to fight for clients through hard work and relationship building. I would bet he also builds those same relationships with his artists and has a triple bond between himself and the gallery, his clients, and his suppliers (his artists).

    It seems to me we need more of that partnership going on. Instead of artists expecting to drop off art and say, “here you go! GO sell!”, it should be, “how can we all work together for win/win/win?”

    Yes, for premium commissions in representing art on consignment, galleries are obligated to deliver value for the artist, too. But it seems to me that for galleries to thrive and for their represented artist to thrive, there needs to be more harmony and relationship between them as well as partnership in building lasting client value.

    Maybe it is true most artists don’t like to sell and don’t have the skills. But they can help the gallery owner build those relationships by being an active part of the relationship building process.

    Of course, many galleries keep their artists from “stealing” their clients…a funny thing if you ask me.

    More partnership. Modernize, get with the internet times. Build outstanding triple bonds. Fight for the opportunities and build lasting relationships.

    • Jay Etkin says

      Thank you. Yes my philosophy is win/win/win. There is a reason I have artist relationships for ten to twenty plus years. There is trust and mutual support. A very intelligent response. Regards

  5. Such great advice about changing with the times….this piece of advice I am posting on my bathroom mirror: “I never think about finding buyers,” he replies, “I think about building relationships.” So simple and true, yet I do forget it!!! :/

  6. Jay Etkin says

    Thank you Kathryn.


  1. […] Edlund, founder of the Artsy Shark blog and executive director of the Arts Business Institute, interviewed Etkin on the key to his continued success, which entails getting out of the gallery and on the […]

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