Are Art Galleries Still Relevant?

Amazon forever changed the way books are sold.
iTunes rocked the music world.
There is no doubt that art is sold through different avenues than it was 5 or 10 years ago.
Empty Art Gallery

Deep Thought Thursday

What do the art galleries of the future look like?
What do galleries need to do to stay relevant?
This Deep Thought Thursday was inspired by a question in the Artist Conspiracy from Mary Bentz Gilkerson. Thanks, Mary!

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40 thoughts on “Are Art Galleries Still Relevant?”

  1. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the art gallery world continues to adjust. I don’t think I can add any deep advice, but as long as they embrace they change, they won’t be the Kodak of the art gallery world.

  2. I’d like them to make better efforts at using all the social media available to market the art they have. I’d like to have gallery representation someday, but I often fear that I do better online marketing than many of them do!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Juuri: What kind of online marketing do you think would be effective for galleries?
      I’m thinking blogs and Facebook.

    2. Yes, I think just the standard ones… blogs, Twitter, and FB. A few galleries I see doing an excellent job and are ALWAYS on the social media, keeping things updated. Some other galleries, not so much…

  3. I feel like placing art in ideal environments is under-utilized. Environments that spark the imagination towards the art, whether that means a punk show, night-club, high-end furniture store etc… In town here there are shops of all types that will show art, and while it certainly helps, it’s still a very ‘retail’ space where it doesn’t encroach on your experience, only colors it.
    One great example of what I mean is what Sonic Youth have done with Kim Gordon’s art, having large artworks like set-pieces on stage. Over the course of the night, you really feel like the art is absorbing the music and nostalgia of the experience…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Eric: So you’re saying non-gallery settings are “ideal environments,” yes?
      I wish that site (mentioned in your comment below) had captions with the images so I knew what to look for!

    2. I think it’s probably quite rare that a gallery space is an ideal environment to view the majority of artists work. It’s my understanding that a gallery space is only meant to provide optimal lighting and minimal distracting for viewing visual art.
      But what if the art of an expressionist painter was used in the background of an emotional scene in a movie? Would that not convey the true meaning of the work and create attachment? Is that the goal?
      I’m finding that a lot of art, whether visual or musical, is created for the viewer to interpret as they wish. So, a little bit of guidance as to possible meanings through situations in film, musical accompaniment at a concert, or even placement in certain retail outlets, could be a real benefit.
      Just some ideas. Probably not in line with the thinking/practices of the art establishment.

  4. I would like to see them partner with their artists more… post the website of the artist and send potential clients to see the work. I post their site on mine! I even post their site under the image that is at the gallery. The artist has to be very diligent about asking … if contacted by a potential client … “how did you find me?” Or just make it a policy that no matter, the artwork gets sold through the local gallery.
    I think the gallery needs to send out more e-mails when they receive new work by their artists. Maybe even print a limited amount of nice postcards and “snail mail” them to the clients they think might be most interested in that artist’s particular style or genre. I believe they all have cut back on spending money… but those that do spend “smart” will keep the work selling.
    I think they need to have more “come meet the artist” events. I have just asked my local gallery to schedule a day for me to demo in the gallery. We are discussing potential dates. Maybe they could even schedule a tour of the artist’s studio for some clients… a time to get to know the artist. I know that more people purchase art from artists they get to know and connect with on a personal level. Galleries have shielded their clients from the artist for too long. I know not all do that, but most do.
    When an artist is having a show … not at the gallery …they need to promote it to their clients also. I had one that did not even let my previous patrons at that gallery know I was having a large show in the local Art Association…. even though I made it a point to say they would receive commission from any sale, split with the association. I am no longer in that gallery! The Assoc. was making an effort to put that town on the map as an art destination. The gallery did not want to share sales… they wanted to be the only act in town.
    Just a few personal thoughts and some past experience.

    1. Your comments really caught my eye. You seem to embrace community building, I believe that galleries when done with community as one of the main objectives can serve that need in their neighborhood. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Excellent points, Marsha. I think, in general, that galleries just need to learn much, much more about marketing.

    3. I couldn’t have said it better. I have noticed that many (not all) of the galleries I have shown at are reluctant to have the artist “interfere” in anyway, even when I am offering the sale to the gallery. (This is not true in all cases.)
      I still believe strongly in the gallery model, as I do not want to go on the road or even have my studio open to the public. But even so, the times are changing and with the internet, and the lack of guarantee of income, the gallery’s insistence on exclusivity to that gallery is unsustainable.
      Recently a gallery I had been with for almost 10 years “let me go” as my sales had fallen off. This was with no discussion of how we might work together to improve sales. Do I feel betrayed? you bet.

  5. I think the gallery that is a white walled box with a few pieces of artwork on the walls and a stand-offish person behind a desk will have a hard time in the new social and eocnomic climates that are emerging. They just don’t engage people, and that’s what people look for these days (and what social media reinforces). I look to the museums and art centers for evidence of this – many of them now have interactive and engaging content, whether its as simple as an audio tour or as complex as an interactive exhibition that works with your smartphone. A lot of them also provide other programming, such as lectures and artist talks, public events, theater, etc.
    At the same time, commercially, fine art is also rarely a commodity that works at the same level as a book on Amazon or a song on iTunes – those price points are far below what most would pay for an original work of art. I think most people shy away from art for two reasons: 1) it’s an above average expense that often has no utilitarian component to it and 2) they don’t understand it. You might take a flyer on a book for $20 on Amazon that you don’t quite understand or know much about, or $.99 for a song on iTunes from a band you don’t know, but $500 for a painting? $2000 for a sculpture? Saavy gallery owners are going to have to learn how to educate and market in an iTumazon economy – one of immediate returns and low risk cost. The desire for art and owning unique things will still be there, but I think it’s going to be harder to get to. Galleries are still relevant, and can remain so, by being a place to not just see art, but also learn about it. Give the collector and clientele an experience, not just an expensive item to buy, and they’ll come back (after they blog and post about it as well).

    1. I love “iTumazon economy”! It hits the nail on the head as do your other comments. I think the savvy galleries will figure out how to take a leaf out of the museum’s books and figure out how to market an experience, and/or the artists will do it for themselves.
      Alyson’s sales calls this month addressed the price point issue and that’s something that we artists are going to have to figure out. Whether it’s gift cards or posters or something not yet developed, we’ve got to give people a lower entry point into the experience. It’s the only way to grow future collectors.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Thanks for your insights, as always, Robert. So you see the future of galleries as becoming more experiential. Less white-box.

    3. Exactly – I see galleries becoming more like a destination space that retails instead of just a retail space, to put it in more basic language.

    4. Mary, yes, that’s what I’m talking about. I think some galleries have already started down this road. I’ve seen galleries that are offering small showings/parties that also have someone talk about the current state of the arts, or what to look for when collecting, etc.
      One of the better galleries in my area every year has an event that centers around what is happening with Southern Regionalism. It’s a $10 ticket event, but it has several of the artists (very well established, like William Dunlap and Glenray Tutor) in the show plus usually a curator from a museum like the Ogden that come in and give a talk about Southern Regionalism and what’s happening with it today. The gallery is high-end, but it isn’t just a white-walled box.

    5. Christine Sauer

      Great comments…so true! Marsha’s comments about blogging, newsletters, getting out info about new pieces is also great! Some galleries here do this but not nearly often enough. I have found that as an artist( and I have heard this from other artist friends at other galleries here and in other cities) I have to constantly check that the gallery is doing basic tasks. It’s a little frustrating to do both your job and theirs. I know that gallerists have a lot to do with less $$ but I also believe they have to up their game and their level of professionalism. The internet is helping to make information more transparent thereby there is more accountability.

  6. I believe many gallery owners are still tied to marketing their inventory rather than marketing their artisans. Many people believe that art buyers want to physically see the art rather than shop online. That’s bound to be true for collectors to learn of and appreciate new artists. Perhaps though real collectors will buy new artwork via online resources once they know the gallery and appreciate the artist. I think galleries could do much more for the artists and for themselves. I think they have a lot to gain by expanding the buyer’s experience beyond the physical gallery. And, I’m working on doing just that.

  7. Oh boy, great deep thought Thursday and the comments are pretty terrific too. Paul Proffit nailed it in his first sentence (and the rest of his comment). I’ve been an artist a long time and w a gallery for almost 20 yrs and have seen a major change slowly take place in my own little art world. Buyers may see art on line but to buy it, as Paul says, they want to see it in person. I now sell more art from my studio than I do from the gallery and it’s steadily increasing w my marketing efforts. Sadly I feel my gallery doesn’t do anything to promote individual artists UNLESS they are selling a lot, plus it only pushes certain artists geared to a specific audience. I’ve long thought galleries are a pretty strange business anyways…it’s not like you need something (like clothes, shoes, food etc) so you get mostly “gawkers” as my gallery calls them. I have no idea what galleries of the future will look like but the whole scene is definitely changing. Galleries that see & act on that change will thrive. Individual artists have many more ways of getting their work out there than ever before…it will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Ann: It would be interesting to go through those 20 years and see what changed and when and, perhaps, why.

    2. Ann Marie Scott

      As I think about this more in those 20 years the internet age bloomed and artists found a way to use it, plus I believe artists, due to the internet age, became more empowered in terms of promotion and marketing. Once we got digital cameras, websites, email & blogs there was/is no limit. Alyson you probably had a lot to do w that…just curious, how long have you been doing ArtBiz? Plus I wonder who had the first artist website? We have been slowly moving away from the “middleman” gallery model since we got all our tech goodies. Even tho the galleries use the same tech tools artists use there is still something very different about how artists vs. galleries use them. Altho they will always be necessary because some people just trust that model more than dealing direct w an artist. But galleries absolutely need to change…many people who responded had good ideas about that.

  8. From what I’m seeing, foot traffic and a solid list are the only positives a gallery brings to the middleman table. They will continue disappearing until they learn how to use these advantages effectively. Drawing community to events, raising the bar above expensive commodities, serious relationship building doesn’t feel like today’s gallerista desk employee does it?
    The Internet has changed everything, yet I see a place where collectors continue to buy after seeing the physical work. Connecting these dots is the challenge.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I’m thinking a new paradigm has the potential to emerge and be very meaningful.

  9. i think Robert (above) was right…i think the internet is great for smaller sales but i think there will always be physical galleries where higher price art is sold. i think a lot of the other comments were spot on…a gallery these days has to do more to get the community involved and get potential customers into their gallery, as well as have a larger presence on the internet.

  10. I think galleries will have to become more of a co-operative effort with artists. Less emphasis on what’s in stock, more on their artists and different ways to connect buyers and artists, through websites and/or personal contact. This may require new financial arrangements so that galleries will still get paid for their service. With this kind of arrangement, galleries could represent more artists, showing samples of their work in their gallery and having computer screens available to immediately show an interested party more of that artist’s work. More variety showing in the gallery, more artists represented, can only be good for both the gallery and the artists. Nailing down the financial arrangement will be the challenge.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Suzette: Interesting! New times, new methods of selling require a change in the agreement between gallery and artist. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

  11. An art gallery is not really an art gallery…An art gallery is usually a person…That person is usually the owner…That owner should be someone you like & respect, & also be someone who can teach you things you do not already know…These people are like coaches for your art career…They are not a gallery space…An artist should be looking at the person not the space…Will that person remain relevant in the future? Not the space, the person? In a large gallery or museum it is people, a collection of strong people…

  12. I still believe that the art gallery is a viable avenue for selling artists work but I agree that they have to evolve and change with the times in order to survive. There are alot of galleries out there and alot of us artists. I’m a member of 2 different types of galleries in my local area, one of them being a Co-op Gallery in downtown Greenville, S.C. and the other a commercial frame shop in a neighboring community. Both are quite different but both work, in my opinion.
    The frame shop, who had been primarily JUST a framer for over 20 years, adapted about 3 years ago and created a successful gallery within its walls while still maintaining a strong framing business. The shop uses more traditional print advertising and marketing strategies and hold the normal art openings and receptions. They also hold bi-yearly fundraisers for local charities or organizations in the form of Art Receptions. This is approached in a commercial way; it is not a silent auction where all the artwork is donated. The artists DO receive full commission on works sold. The frame shop/gallery donates a percentage of its proceeds from the sale of artwork. The manager at this venue is VERY involved with her artists, communicates her marketing ideas and is very receptive to feedback though she maintains decision making authority. She expects her artists to actively participate in events and to market her shop in return. I like this “one hand helps the other” approach and I’ve had alot of success selling my work with them. She does not use social media, but her approach works. She has an active client base, plus she continually brings in ‘new’ customers through her fundraising activities.
    The co-op gallery I belong to is totally different. It looks and feels like a traditional gallery if you are to walk inside, which is something I like. (I don’t think we should do away with being able to touch and feel and SEE the actual “hand of the artist”.) For artists who aren’t familiar with a Co-op Gallery, the difference between it and a traditional art gallery is that the artists who are members of the co-op work together in support of the gallery and each others careers; staff our own gallery (every artist works a weekly 4 hour shift), we attend monthly meetings, participate in decision making, take committee jobs (i.e. graphics, marketing, website maintenance, social media updates, guest artist selection, consignment artist management, internal education, class offerings, etc) This approach is very hands on, and I was not sure when I first joined this type of gallery that I would be able to sustain that level of involvment as it does cut into personal and creative time, but I have found there to be more positives than negatives in going this route. I like the energy of being amoungst so many different artists and the exchange of ideas it generates, plus I appreciate the opportunity to interact with potential buyers and collectors..answering their art questions and explaining technique. Visitors to the gallery also seem to enjoy meeting the actual artists and engaging them, often leading to sales based on that interaction.

  13. On account of hearing so many of his tales, one of my best friends convinced me that generally, gallerists are thieves, crooks or just plain ignoramuses. Because he has many more decades of experience than I do, I decided to see what it was like to skip the galleries and produce my own shows.
    My experience so far is that: no, galleries are not relevant to me. Here’s why:
    Generally, people who buy my work know me or are acquainted with someone who does.
    The amount of effort put into an event produced by me, sells my work and I get the entire price of the work minus a small percentage invested in promotion, rental of space, & reception.
    I like to promote my own work. It is another way to stay connected with people.
    There’s the internet. It’s powerful. And promotes my work with minimal physical and financial effort. And I can still be a part-time recluse.
    HOWEVER…I see that one day, I may want a gallery. Particularly if my work moves out of state and I do not already have life-times worth of connections. Recently, I was invited to show in a gallery and decided to put my toes in the water. It was a group show which only required a small number of pieces from me.
    I came away from the event with a wretched taste in my mouth BUT! I now know what I want in a gallery if I choose to go that route in the future!
    Rather than bore you with the details, here’s what I learned:
    My fantasy gallery will have a GALLERIST that:
    -LOVES and KNOWS my work.
    -will respond to my emails.
    -will price the work as agreed.
    -will display the work respectfully.
    -will include and image of my work with my name on all promotional materials for the show.
    -will be honest.
    My experience echos what others have said on this post that the PERSON or PEOPLE behind the gallery is important.

  14. The first time my work got shown, it was in a gallery—it sold within the first forty minutes of the reception AND THEY TOOK IT DOWN to give to the buyer. At that painful moment, I realised that it wasn’t about the money, it was about the experience of having my work where it could be seen that mattered.
    art shows as an experience is a way to keep it relevant in this century. The majority of the population seems to deem art as irrelevant. Are they going to go to galleries where there’s “nothing to do but look at the art?”
    Most galleries in my area are old-fashioned–no digital submissions and self-addressed, stamped envelope to notify me of whether I’ve been accepted or declined. I do not see them using the prevalent social media to promote shows. I do not see them getting the maximum exposure possible for a show (if I google search the gallery, I don’t find recent shows have gotten press online) and I don’t know people that go to them. They aren’t late enough or into the weekends.
    At the end of the day, they’ve charged $20-40 in entry fees, cost me $20+ to frame, and if I’m lucky to have sold, they take a 30% commission. I don’t get my name out there in the virtual world any more than if I hadn’t shown. It leaves me feeling ripped off.
    In Detroit, there’s a lowbrow art culture. Old warehouses have been converted into galleries. There are many successful art shows where they’ve made an event around the art show, with musicians and performers. The entry fees are considerably low and the organizers do a fantastic job of getting the word and the artist’s name out there.
    The Detroit Institute of Art does an excellent job of organizing events to draw people to visit the museum–concerts, films, puppet shows, lectures, creative activities and more. These are often themed around the latest exhibit and serve well to create an experience that will be remembered.
    People will make more connections with art in an atmosphere that encourages them to linger and enjoy themselves. It should be a place people want to revisit again and again.

  15. First, I’m so thankful that I found your site. I’ve gained such insight from both perspectives gallery owner vs. artist which is indispensable. As a retail space, which includes a gallery for the past 1 1/2 which sells locally made home decor, jewelry, artwork, photography, ceramics and more it’s been an interesting journey. I’m trying to find ways to stay alive as a brick n mortar in the day of the “iTumazon economy”. The question is how to be fair to both my makers, some of which rent space vs. those hanging art on the wall, and still stay in business? One thought is have a membership fee for all members of the Collective, others pay rent for space and then higher membership fee with lower commission for artists and photographers. I’m looking for ways to stay in business in 2020, so any suggestions / thoughts are greatly appreciated.

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