Beware Vanity Galleries

Thinking of turning over big bucks just to add a New York venue to your résumé? Think again. Vanity galleries will suck your wallet and leave you deflated (in more ways than one). Renée Phillips has written a terrific article on vanity galleries (which she also refers to as Vulture galleries) for Art Calendar. Don't miss the sidebar: Preparing for Legitimate Gallery Representation.

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11 thoughts on “Beware Vanity Galleries”

  1. I would definitely watch out for vanity galleries! But, I would offer the same advice about any gallery. Check it out first. These days, many galleries carry work by artists who have websites of their own. If you’re considering a gallery, find an artist whose work they show and do a google search on him/her. Send a polite email and maybe you can get some needed feedback. I was approached by one of the “reputable” NY galleries in The Complete Guide to New York Art Galleries. My own research showed me I was right not to be quick at jumping to show with them. Artists BEWARE! But don’t be fearful…use the resources we now have to the full!

  2. As an addendum to my earlier comment… the NY gallery in question asked me if I would ship work down for further evaluation. Armed with the knowledge I gained from my own research, I told them that I would send a contract for the “Receipt and Holding of Artwork.” They didn’t even wait to get it, but instead told me in an email, “That’s too complicated” and that’s where it ended. “Too complicated” would have been shipping my work to NY while they did anything they pleased with it and I could say nothing about it. I don’t care how “reputable” a gallery is…not when I get my own feedback from other artists beforehand. I might add, the gallery’s terse response and unprofessional actions dovetailed perfectly with the negative comments I already had heard, not only from other artists, but collectors as well. This is the power of the Internet! Sorry if this is off tpic since mine isn’t a true “vanity gallery” story. But I think the advice goes for any artist/gallery situation. Proceed…yes, if you feel the situation is a worthy one. But proceed with caution.

  3. My experience with what I came to realize was a ‘vanity gallery’ was more subtle. The couple who own the gallery contacted me after I had attended a show there on a ‘studio walk night’ in that town. The gallery had framing available which is not an unusual combination. They even attended a group show I was in, and then on another occasion, came to my studio to see my work. They told me they wanted all new work and would expect to frame it at 1/2 price. They needed 30 – 35 pieces. Even if (which would be impossible) each piece were framed for $50, that alone would cost me $1500. They did not want any wrapped canvases (which is one thing I do for some of my work) saying it is not what people want. At any rate, I did the math and saw quickly that it was all MY risk, and none of theirs. They did only the smallest of advertising, wanting me to supply them with 400 cards to mail out, etc. So NO thank you. It is so very important to pay close attention to whatever crosses your path and examine it for how it will work FOR YOU! What we do as artists is the lifeblood of any culture and is precious. Not something to allow to be exploited. So be vigilant and then enjoy yourself!

  4. Interestingly, the majority of galleries in Australia are vanity galleries. you have the rungs, artist run and community galleries (paid for), regular vanity galleries (also paid for) and commercial galleries (usually not paid for). it is expected that you will have spent a few years exhibiting in vanity galleries before gaining representation. the higher end vanity galleries are not only prohibitively expensive but almost as difficult to get into as a commercial representing gallery. they are looked on with respect by the commercial community. the stigma on vanity galleries isn’t the same here as it is in the States, but you still need to be aware of what you are getting for your money. the space, sales and some advertising will be provided by the gallery but usually you have to arrange your own hanging, publicity, opening and often you have to work the room and look for the sales yourself. they will handle the transactions but some will not go out of their way to drum up visitors or sales. I guess it’s part of paying your dues here, a necessary evil.

  5. As a rule of thumb I stay as far away as possible from vanity galleries as I can. The reason being, mainly is not worth it! vanity galleries don’t believe the artist reputation and name brings sales. They charge the artist huge amounts of money (usually a percentage of the number of paintings the artist is required for the show) to cover their commission upfront even though the art might not sell. Because they lack on the ability to promote and sell art or simply because of laziness they depend on the artist to pay their dues upfront and to do their work including sales in most cases. Terrible business practice. Their only scope is to rent the space but you the artist have to do it practically all! 99% of the cases the works don’t sell meaning you don’t see your investment back. To me that’s a high gamble and not worth it especially since the majority of the artists today have a wonderful tool, the internet, to access a global market without even getting dressed or spending incredible amounts of money. As for the galleries in Australia, post made by Jennie, that’s terrible! if I have to pay a gallery and I have to do the real work of the gallery then I rather want to rent a space and fill it with my paintings. What is the scope then for those galleries?? they get their reputation out of the artists’ own marketing and sale techniques rather than their own? If I have to pay a gallery (thing that I don’t do) I expect the gallery to sell my work for me, they are representing me, not the other way around, they will need to send postcards, promote me on newspapers, tv or whatever they commonly use to promote artists and have available a good staff of sale people that will push my art without me moving a finger, I would demand to see results. A gallery can’t exist without artists, and unfortunately so many still think we are second hand and disposable objects… artists these days can truly make it big time without galleries. Some galleries still have not learned the rules have changed in terms of selling art. I sell art to a couple galleries in Australia, they buy upfront at wholesale, so this way of galleries doing business there is completely new to me, but I’m glad I learned this.

  6. Sarah Adams/AV Framing Gallery

    I own a gallery and frame shop in Indianapolis. I would like to respectfully take issue with the post indicating that combination gallery/frames shops are a likely “vanity” gallery. Not so! In my market, and in the current economic uncertainty, my frame shop pays for the gallery doors to remain open. I too offer a very generous framing deal to artists showing in my gallery. They get a frame at 1/2 price, which they must pay for when the framing is completed. The full retail price of the art and frame is on the wall for sale. Upon a sale, I keep the full retail on the frame and remit the 1/2 price investment back to the artist. They wind up spending 0 on the frames that sell, and I just get my cost out of each frame I build. Yes, in some cases, it can be expensive to frame a body of work for a solo show. That’s the nature of works on paper and many on canvas. I do not require all canvases to be framed. I can often get a much more lucrative and creative frame order from an unframed piece. In my gallery, I keep 40% of the art sales (frames notwithstanding). For that 40% my artists get a great deal of promotion, a reception, insurance, credit card fees and sales tax paid, and full-time sales staff for the duration of the show, usually a month. So, absolutely, do your research! Contact artists who have previously shown at the gallery! But please do not look at the surface and assume the worst. We are all quite different!

  7. I will say (further to my earlier comment!) that obviously the level of involvement differs depending on the gallery and it’s reputation. some do do their fair share and really help with the organization. others do almost nothing. the good ones are more expensive but have an existing clientele and draw great crowds and put in a lot of effort. the cheaper ones do next to nothing – relying on the artist do to everything for them. the prices of the vanity galleries are very different to the prices in the US. the notable gallery in chelsea mentioned in the article charges crazy prices! most here are from $200 to $1000 a week with different services offered. I think it’s a very different setup here than in the states.

  8. AnnaMaria Windisch_Hunt

    Having run a not- for- profit for over seven years, I now put all my effort into my own gallery. Here in Miami things are a bit different. I have artists from Latin America walk into my gallery and demand to know how much for that wall. I could not believe my ears. I always make choices via my aesthetics sensibility. Finally I caved in, the artist was a charming low key personality so i just asked her about why she asked how much. She explained that is how it is done in South America. I am tempted to charge but I have always loved all my artists and depend on commissions. Then a Latin Rep came and I asked why should I show his artist. . . . How does she sell? Well she had a fabulous exhibition and sold most of her work. But looking at the list of clients each and everyone of them either needed to do business with her husband or owed a favor, but I digress AnnaMaria Windisch-Hunt

  9. Alyson, Thanks. This was an excellent article on vanity galleries. Do you have any words of advice on co-op galleries? There are a few here in Silicon Valley that have been going for decades, so they must be doing something right. I’d appreciate your advice. thank you! Holly

  10. I received an email asking me if I wanted to participate in an art publication “International Contemporary Artists”. Apparently, it is distributed through large bookstores, e-commerce stores in U.S. and internationally. The email was from:
    I.C.A. Publishing
    US: 380 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, 10168, US
    EU: Athens Towers, 2-4 Messogion Avenue, Athens 115 27, GR

    The cost to the artist is the purchase of two books. Sounds like a scam – anyone heard of them?

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