Cutting Ties with a Gallery < Deep Thought Thursday

Holly Wilson, Almost There
Holly Wilson, Almost There. Bronze and sterling silver, 10.5 x 6 x 3 inches. ©The Artist

How does an artist end a relationship with a gallery if it is not going well?
How do you keep it civil and friendly while looking for another gallery in that same city?
Is there an appropriate waiting period between leaving one gallery and signing on with another gallery in the same city?
What’s your experience?

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19 thoughts on “Cutting Ties with a Gallery < Deep Thought Thursday”

  1. I would think that some gallery contracts would have a period of time written in that clearly states a period of time (say 30 days, 60 days) that an artist must notify the gallery of termination of his or her contract (and leaving the gallery). You can always just wait until the expiration of your contract as well (which gives you a set amount of time to plan for your career post-gallery).
    As far as an appropriate waiting time after leaving a gallery – why should there be a waiting time? If a manufacturer, say Coca Cola, leaves it’s distributor in a city, does it wait thirty days before finding another one? How much money would it lose if it did that? I understand not wanting to seem like an ass, but once the contract is over, you have your business to think of and you can’t worry about the gallery you just left.

  2. Excellent question Alyson – I’ll be very interested to see what replies you get.
    I think the trick with this is to tease out the differences between contractual obligations – for both parties – and the nuances of what is acceptable behaviour – again by both parties.
    As an artist you MUST observe the terms of any contract – including whatever it says about dealings with other galleries within a specific distance and/or time period of the gallery with whom the artist has a contract for representation.
    However if things are not OK, then the question must be asked whether the gallery has already breached the terms of contract – and whether that then means it has been rendered null and void. I’m assuming if things are not going well then it’s possible that might have happened. How you act if a contract has already been breached is different from if the gallery is fulfilling its side of the bargain.
    Then there’s the issue of whether or not the Gallery is going under or not. If it looks as if things are getting very difficult (eg no spend on marketing) you can always ask to be released from your contract as you need to find another Gallery. Any honourable Gallery would understand why you ask – even if they don’t like it.

  3. Did you know that you can become black listed amoung galleries if you approach another gallery for representation while you are still with another? Of course this only applies to galleries that share the same market.
    Really it’s true. Galleries are a small tight knit community and apparently they talk to each other. So if you want to move to Gallery A from Gallery B the unwritten rule is that you have to give up your current representation first.
    It’s kind of like quitting your day job before you have a new one. Unless you find yourself in intolerable working conditions you just don’t up and quit unless you have something else to go to. Isn’t that cutting off your nose to spite your face?
    I operated an Interior Design firm for 17 years. Employees come and go it is part of business. But with a gallery you are not an employee, you don’t get a regular pay check, there are not health benefits, not even vacation pay. Your work is there on consignment. You are self employed providing work on contract (hopefully you have a contract).

  4. So many scenarios.
    To question one: By not going well, I am guessing there is a lack of sales? If that is the case, then I think you try to help illuminate the sellers and put the owner on “notice” that you need to see better sales or you will need to look for a better match for your work. If “not going well” means late payments, or other mis-handling of your income or inventory, then you have a bigger issue: You must get paid and then pull out – or pull out and risk not getting paid. So at the very least you should get something signed that states what they owe and when they will pay before you take your work. Even work out a payment program if that will help.
    Question two seems to indicate that you have been mistreated? Or feel that you will be? Or that they will be hurt or feel mistreated or? It seems obvious that if things are tense you must move on and the best way is to be “business-like” and bottom-line the issues with as much diplomacy as is possible. TOO many scenarios, but just being truthful and not making it personal is central. Akin to breaking up a relationship that is not a good match. If it’s just not working out that will likely be felt by both parties. But if you are being cheated on (or them not paying for sold items) or being abused – that changes the rules of disengagement, but not the tone. Go, but remain calm. You can even use the same tired line: It’s not you, it’s me. LOL
    Number three will depend again on so many factors. If the gallery is a block away and has a better reputation vs one that is a mile away and tiny and unknown, you will need to consider: your reputation, the ex-gallery’s reputation, and the new location’s reputation and in the end: it’s your livelihood and no one else’s is as important. BUT creating strong long-term relationships is always the most important element for a strong future of sales, so making a move to “see if” the sales will be better and only for that reason, may not serve you. On the other hand, wall space doesn’t come up every day, so if you have a reasonable offer and a good contract, AND you know the reputation will help your career, not only should you not have a waiting period (waiting may not even be an option), but you may want to use this as THE reason for leaving the first gallery. Again….keep it all in the “business is business” model and no need for any animosity. If it is a move up the ladder, gallery one should be happy for you. You could/should be able to move from old to new in one day and invite the old gallery to your first opening!
    Gosh…There are so many ways to answer these questions. Specifics will change the answers, but in general, keep it business – no egos should be crushed.
    If you are above board (easy to do if you have all your money) and keep it business – not personal – this is just another triumph.

  5. I like to have everything in writing. I write a nice letter. “Thank you for your efforts to sell my work. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Rather than tie up my work and your wall space, I’ve decided to market my work elsewhere. Please return my work within 30 days” . That’s a condensed form of the letter. I send it registered mail.
    I also keep in touch with other galleries in the same city. No solicitation, just emails, postcards etc so my name is familiar to them when I need to move on.
    I recently sent an “exit letter” to a gallery and moved to the gallery across the street the next day.

  6. I recently had a difficult breakup with a gallery. Sales had slowed down, so I arranged a pickup of my work. Included with my work was a check for sales that had occurred over a year prior! I was shocked, but not really surprised as delayed payment was one the reasons I wanted to pull out of the gallery.
    My inventory list didn’t match up with what was there at pick up, so I sent an invoice for the missing work. Receipt of the invoice was confirmed and payment promised. Several weeks passed, so I sent another invoice. I got another promise of payment, but didn’t receive anything.
    Two months after my first invoice, I sent a letter to the gallery explaining that I didn’t enjoy feeling like a nag and that I had been more than patient – I expected to be paid for my work. I told them that if they didn’t send payment within the week, then I’d file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Not surprisingly, a check showed up the next day.
    Throughout the situation, I did my best to remain calm and as professional as possible. I’m proud of the way I handled it, although I didn’t enjoy making the threat.

  7. All good comments here. I have recently have experienced both sides of the equation, both leaving a gallery and then being “fired” by another. In the first case, it was because the gallery had gotten into financial difficulties and was not paying their artists. I knew of several artists to whom the gallery owed more than $10,000, so I left, by removing all my work. At the point they stop paying their artists what is owed, they have definitely breached the agreement.
    Then recently a gallery that I’ve been showing with for about 10 years decided to trim their artists and because of poor sales over the last 3 years I was not one of the artists that they kept. It was a shock in some ways because we’ve always had a good relationship, but these days that is not enough. I don’t think she will put any restrictions on me as to where I can show, as she does feel bad about making the decision. I’m hopeful that this will free me up to approach some galleries that will do better for me.

  8. I just got an email from a gallery notifying artists (retroactively) that they were unilaterally increasing their commission by 50% (from 40% to 60%), apparently regardless of what our contract states. I politely responded that since my work was not selling, and some other opportunities were on the horizon, that I wished to remove my work from the gallery. All is well between us, but I was surprised nonetheless by the lack of professionalism. Planning to pick up my work tomorrow….

  9. I’ve ended relationships with several galleries or agents. To be honest, usually I do this at a natural “end point” – when collecting work or a similar point when the person may not have anything on exhibition. (or that’s when they’ve told me)
    When I’ve initiated it I just stay professional and say that I feel the relationship isn’t working for both of us and that I’ve enjoying working together but need to move on. A couple galleries have basically nodded and seemed actually glad that I was saying this. Another was a bit surprised but said it was fine. (I have also still sent other artists to this agent.)
    An important point here is that I would honour *any* contractual obligation afterwards. As an example, if they had exhibited my work and we had an agreement for commission to be paid for a certain time to customers originating from that show (or the agent generally) then I would still pay that within the agreed timeframe.
    I wouldn’t hestitate to look for a new gallery in the same area unless something in the previous contract precluded it. But looking “in the same city” doesn’t really apply here in London unless you’re very well established (ie. with a big name central gallery). In fact most mid-range commercial galleries have a mileage exclusion zone (5 miles is common) rather than all of London – just crossing the river is a world away to most of us! Outside of London it tends to get more city/region based.

  10. I’d like to see another side to this addressed. I recently had work shown in an art show and it wasn’t returned to the pick-up venue when stated. A phone call revealed the work had gotten misplaced, and we worked out that the piece would be mailed. A week later still no artwork, and I emailed privately via Facebook messaging, asking about the status of the work. All very professional, no sarcastic remarks, etc. Was told life got in the way and she would get to it. Three days later I asked that the work be put in the mail by a specific date, as I had a potential buyer, no work to show her, and I had never had a problem with work being returned from shows entered around the country. Again, business-like, including saying I thought the mail option would have been the easiest for her, rather than driving a distance to deliver it. At this point she became quite unpleasant, telling me I was taking myself too seriously, that mistakes happen, and she’d handled 1000s of art pieces with never a problem, and even she had a problem with the Smithsonian returning work on time. The work arrived via certified mail yesterday, but the whole incident has left a very unpleasant taste. When I enter shows, I always read the prospectus carefully, meet every requirement, ship on time, etc. What else would have been an option for handling this? (Driving to get the work was tried…no one at the studio….) Inquiring minds…….

  11. Problems can also include discovering that you’re being charged a higher commission rate than other artists and sneaking feelings that the price that buyers are paying is not what you set your prices at (i.e. higher)…. How do you discover that for sure without asking the buyer directly? It’s simpler to pull your work and hope that the next people you deal with are more honest with you.

  12. I have a question as a gallery owner. We have exhibits, only take a 10% cut if anything sells during the show, pay for everything, do all promo work. However, we only “represent” the artist during the duration of the exhibit, not afterwards or in the traditional sense of gallery representation. I scheduled a show with an artist about 6 months ago. The exhibit was to open in approximately 2 months from now. This artist keeps adding on solo shows at other galleries in the same small city at the same times. In other words the artist exhibit would have opened at my gallery before it even closed at another gallery a mile away. This is a very tight knit art community so I really wasn’t comfortable with that. I told the artist my concerns but realized it was too late to reschedule so we will just stick to the dates we had and hope for the best. He sent me a nasty email and backed out of the exhibit scheduled with my gallery. Did I do something wrong by expressing or even having concerns of his overbooking and double booking exhibits in the same town? My fear was that he would have to be cranking out work which means it may not have the quality expected, in a small city there are only a few people interested in art openings and they may get bored. I find it a little disrespectful to all the galleries involved and think it does both the artist and gallery a disservice. Am I wrong? I would love to hear your honest opinions. Thank you!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nickie: You absolutely did the right thing. As Katherine says below, the artist was unprofessional.
      I know it was probably difficult for you to confront him, but rest assured that you are correct in this instance. He needs to be taught how to behave more professionally.
      In the future, definitely get a contract with these provisions in it. Sit down and discuss what you expect from your artists.
      And I would truly reconsider the 10% thing. With all of the work you do, you deserve more than that.

  13. Hopefully I made sense above. I felt it necessary to let you know that I also am an artist and opened this little gallery connected to my frame shop. The exhibit at my gallery would have been the third solo exhibit this artist would have had this year (and it’s only April 3rd!) in three different galleries in the same small city. I think that is way too much!

  14. Hi Nickie – I think the artist has been unprofessional – but as you are new to the gallery business maybe also you have also been naive about standard stuff in a contract for an artist and an exhibition?
    Galleries which represent artists – in the sense that they give them a solo show – normally have a clause which states that you mustn’t exhibit with another gallery within the vicinity of the gallery – normally stated as within x miles. In effect the gallery erects an exclusion zone so that they can market exclusively within that area. Presumably you didn’t do this? You only really have scope to complain about the artist’s behaviour if they signed up to an agreement which included a clause like that.
    As a new gallery it’s possibly better to put on group shows to start with – which makes you less dependent on one artist and more suitable for a situation where you’re not attempting to represent the artist beyond the duration of the exhibition. You shouldn’t have any difficulty attracting artists with a commission rate as low as 10%!

  15. Aloha Nickie…Well, what a mess, heh? I can only assume that since this is a “small town” that the gossip mill is already in full swing and you are in danger of getting an undeserved reputation as being hard to work with. LOL. You clearly have learned some lessons the hard way. Sorry you are being victimized.
    I have a middle ground thought that might bridge some of the (right or wrong) feeling this artist has generated. I am assuming that since this is a small town, you very likely know the other gallery that would have been still exhibiting while you were to begin your exhibit? If so or even if not, I think this as a GREAT opportunity for your small community to consider creating a league or some other kind of unifying group of gallery owners. Each gallery owner should consider the others as partners and even consider doing group events which would/could take the “competition” out of the equation and add a “support of the arts” attitude into a new equation. In such an atmosphere, you and or the other gallery would have been well aware of the dates, the possible conflicts OR (and I really encourage this idea) embraced the timing as a way for both galleries to be known to each other’s client bases as cooperative and supportive of this “artist”. As a framing facility, this could even bring you more business and certainly would endear you to the rest of the community. For example: In the middle 80’s in San Francisco, a fine jewelry store (award winning custom work) that I worked with as a consultant had sudden competition. A nearly mirror image quality shop open across the street. 6 months later another one opened two blocks away. This was a big worry! I put together a plan that involved all three shops sharing mailing lists and putting full page ads in the paper AND sending over-sized post cards quarterly with photos from each designer. That section of San Francisco became “The Place” to go for fine custom made designer jewelry and everyone saw better business and foot traffic.
    Consider calling a meeting with the artist and the other gallery owner. What have you got to lose? Looking like you want a reasonable and open conversation can only put you in a better light. If the artist decides not to be in the meeting – well – you are still looking like the reasonable person and hopefully you and the other gallery (and perhaps the other one he showed with earlier in the year) can at least have a talk about protocols. The artist will be “on record” as being the one who created the need for this action and if he doesn’t even show up… just saying…
    As for the small town getting bored: I must say that most small towns are always bored, yes? So the more “stuff to do” on a Friday night the better! They might get bored with this artist, but if he is popular (and 3 shows so far this year says he must have some appeal) and selling, that is probably not the case.
    When I sold fine art years ago, we told people where they could find other galleries who also had Calder or O’Keefe or whomever they professed an interest. That made the art more important than a sale and that opened doors for trust and led to great long-term relationships. You have a lot to gain by increasing the communications around and about this person and these issues.
    Hope this helps.

  16. Thanks so much to all of you for your response and suggestions!! Truth is we are not necessarily new, the frame shop has been in business under a different owner for 25 years. My business partner and I both worked for the shop for many years before we purchased it and opened the gallery about five years ago. It’s still a never ending learning process though! : ) We are in more of a small city than small town that has a small, intimate art scene. We do all know each other and try to keep a good communication going. Incidentally, the artist did not tell the other gallery about his show here either. I agree with Katherine that we should have a formal contract, it was silly of me to assume every artist (he is a university art professor though) would know the unwritten rules. I think I was just taken aback by how unprofessional and nasty he was about it. As an artist myself I would never back out of a show on such short notice. I am really learning a lot how to handle my own artwork from dealing with the gallery. However, I pretty much think it’s impossible to run a frame shop, work on my own artwork, curate other artist shows in the gallery. It’s just too much. I have decided our next show which will be extended into the artist’s time who backed out will be our last. I really need to concentrate on my own work and getting it out there. Perhaps this artist was the straw that broke the camels back. I’m worn out! Anyhow, I’m soooooo happy I found this blog!! I think I am really going to learn a lot while exploring the site. Again, I soooo appreciate all of your smart words, advice and suggestions! Nickie.

  17. Katherine Tyrrell

    Nickie – It’s such a pity to lose a gallery space when galleries are closing all over the place
    Have you thought of an alternative option – which might help both you and other artists?
    Why not rent out your space to artists who want to run their own shows? That way they have a place to show their work, you get an income from the space – and more people might buy a frame from you!
    I’m sure you could work out a package for artists who might want to rent the space eg
    $ = artist rents the space and organises and pays for everything
    $$ = artist rents space and you contribute some help which it’s easy for you to provide (eg handling sales)
    $$$ = artist rents space and buys a package of support from you at a realistic cost+ price
    It may be that there’s an artists’ co-operative in town who could run the gallery for you.
    Anyway I hope this gives you some food for thought.
    (PS Sorry, I misread the comment and only realised after I had posted that you were not new to this)

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