Checklist for Working with a Gallery

by Carolyn Edlund

Interested in gallery representation? Use these guidelines to set up a professional working relationship that is mutually beneficial.

 

Brenda McMahon Art gallery in Gulfport, FL

Brenda MacMahon Gallery in Gulfport, Florida

 

There are many sales channels available for artists to sell their work, and gallery representation is one of them. Use these tips to locate, approach, negotiate and work successfully with a gallery of your choice.

Finding the Right Gallery

There are many art galleries out there. Each has it’s own look, style, and target audience. When you begin to consider different gallery venues, make sure you select those that are a natural match for your art.

Starting out in your local area is a good idea, for several reasons. You can literally visit the gallery yourself before you contact them. Pick up and delivery of work is convenient and less costly. It’s easy to attend openings and functions, or make an artist appearance. And you can keep an eye on their efforts to promote you and your artwork by simply dropping by from time to time.

Do your research on galleries you identify as good prospects, and look at the artwork they feature and sell. Are the a good fit for your style, medium and price points? Visit their website and social profiles, and look at their marketing and events to get a sense of their brand and their collector base.

Since you will want to connect with reputable galleries, a good way to find out is by asking other artists for feedback about their experience. If you know an artist who is represented, you may get an introduction, which is one of the very best ways to get into a gallery.

If you don’t have a connection, check the gallery website to see if they accept submissions from artists. Or, inquire to learn whether you can send in your materials. Keep in mind that galleries are often besieged with artist emails, which are often simply deleted. A personal introduction is always best, but there are other strategies to gain consideration. Check our article on the Top 10 Ways Galleries Find Artists for more ideas.

Plan Your Presentation

Before you land an appointment with gallery staff, be prepared with professional level collateral. Excellent portfolio photos, a complete artist bio, CV and artist statement are a good start.

You should also anticipate their questions and needs, and be ready with answers. Do they work with commercial clients? Do they need artists who will accept commissions and deliver on a tight deadline? Are they seasonal and need artwork at particular times of the year? The more you learn about them upfront, the more prepared you will be.

It’s important to have your work priced correctly and be able to present a list of retail prices for your art. Your prices should be consistent across the board, so that you are not undercutting the gallery. If you are unsure about pricing, check our handy guide here or consider our comprehensive online Pricing Strategies course. You should have confidence in your prices and be able to defend them when you sit down to talk. And when your meeting happens, be ready to…

Discuss the Details

In your meeting with the gallery owner or manager, get plenty of information from them. Who pays for shipping or transport? What is their commission rate? When do they pay artists for sales? What about discounts; do they take a percentage off for regular collectors, or negotiate, and who bears the cost?

Find out whether the gallery is looking for exclusive representation, and the geographical area they require. Will your art be featured regularly in their gallery space, or could it end up in the back room? If work is not actively being marketed, can you remove it from the gallery? How often do they like to receive new work from artists? Does that work for you?

Other topics of discussion may include whether they are willing to broker commissions for you, and if they will share the names of collectors who have purchased your work.

Keep in mind that you are not just auditioning for the gallery; they must also prove that they will work hard for you. These days, smart gallerists know that times have changed, and their role has evolved. Successful galleries are truly partners with their artists. The combined efforts of both parties result in the greatest number of sales.

Get it in Writing

If you come to an agreement, make sure you have a contract that spells out all terms. Read it carefully so you understand everything, and if you disagree with any contract clause, request a change. Make sure the contract states that your artwork is your property, so it cannot be sold to clear the gallery’s debts in the event of bankruptcy. Learn whether their contract has an end date, or is ongoing. And, importantly, make sure the gallery maintains insurance for your art while it is in their possession.

Other essential paperwork includes packing lists and receipts for artwork delivered to the gallery. Keep records up to date so you know where your inventory is at all times (Artwork Archive is a good online tool for tracking this). And take note when you are notified of sales and receive payment, to make sure these are done on a timely basis.

Be a Good Partner

Entering a relationship with a gallery means working together to gain exposure and sell your art. The more information and assistance you provide, the better able the gallery staff will be to speak confidently about your work with collectors. When you are willing to make an appearance, provide collateral for advertising or accommodate special requests, you become more valuable.

On your website and in conversation, let people know about the gallery that represents you. Send business their way so they can make sales for you. And, if you make a private sale due to a referral or promotion from the gallery, send them a check for their commission to show that you honor your relationship with them.

Artists and galleries can work together successfully and profitably in an alliance built on trust and mutual respect. Begin your gallery search with this attitude, and you will more likely to find that perfect partnership.

 

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