Sales from your art gallery are not what you expected or need them to be.
They sold a lot of your work at one point, but sales have dropped off significantly in the past couple of years—especially during the pandemic.
So what now? Do you ask for your work to be returned?
Not quite! Before you take such drastic measures, do the hard, but professional thing. Talk.
Opening a dialogue is your first course of action, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. First things first.
Assess Your Relationship with the Gallery
The conversation you have with your gallerist about slow sales depends on the answers to a number of questions.
- How long have they have represented you?
- How much work have they sold for you in the past?
- What are the terms of your agreement with the gallery?
- What is the nature of your past relationship?
- What is the current state of the gallery's business? How has it been affected by the pandemic?
- What is the demand for your work outside of their venue?
2 Options for Opening a Conversation with Your Gallerist
Based on how you respond to the questions above, consider 2 options for opening a conversation about slow sales from the art gallery.
1. Ask Why.
“You mentioned that people have been saying nice things about my art, but sales have been slim. Do you have any idea why?”
You can actually do this: Come right out and ask!
This is an open-ended question. The response might be that they have no idea, in which case you should reconsider working with that gallery. They should know the market and be analyzing the factors that contribute to sales.
On the other hand, you might discover valuable clues such as:
- The work is too small or too large for what they’re selling right now. Ask if they'd like different sizes.
- Your price point is out of their sweet spot, which has changed since you joined their stable. Ask if they'd like to experiment with different work from your studio.
- Your palette is too green or too pink. Hey, this could be a real possibility. Gallerists know trends.
- Someone close to your gallerist is dealing with an extended illness and they have had to spend time away from their desk. In other words, they haven't had time or energy to promote it. Boy, though, it would have been good if they had told you this.
You might also learn that they aren’t selling a single thing. It’s not just your work that isn’t selling.
Or they are spending a lot of time promoting five new artists they added to their stable, which makes you feel like your work has been banished to the back room.
Knowing these answers will give you valuable insights into what your next step should be.
2. Offer to help.
“How can I help you sell more of my art?”
It’s natural for you to want to ask Why aren’t you selling more of my art? But this doesn’t sound very cooperative, and puts your gallerist on the defensive. (A better way to ask this is under #1 above.)
Remember that you are in a partnership with the gallery. When they do well, you do well. Anything you can do to help increase sales benefits you, too.
By asking this question, you are reaffirming your role as a partner. And you’re confirming that you are professional, cooperative, and helpful.
Another way to put this might be …
“Do you need anything from me that would help you sell more of my art?
Again, this confirms your role as a partner.
You want to help. You might also offer specific actions that could move the work.
Would you like different work? Would you like for me to exchange what you have for new (or larger/smaller, bluer, less expensive) pieces?
Would it help if I updated my artist statement or provided you with additional stories about the work?
What if I made a video for your website?
Would you like to schedule an artist talk? I’d be happy to discuss my work at your next VIP reception.
Only you can decide the best course of action for your relationship with your gallery. But it’s always better to open the conversation than to stew in your unhappiness.
Regardless of the outcome, you will be admired for your professionalism and feel good that you took charge of your career.
This post was originally published on March 23, 2017 and has been updated with comments intact.