Keeping Gallery Relations on the Up-and-Up

In the Pricing Your Art with Confidence program,  Debby Williams and I stressed several times (Debby delivered the drill down) that you should never ever undersell your galleries.

Artist Cherilyn SunRidge, who doesn't currently have gallery representation but is wisely planning for the future, asked for clarification. I thought I'd share my responses here.

Cherilyn SunRidge
©2010 Cherilyn SunRidge, Be Essentially Informed~Crawl on Earth. 25.25 x 39″. Used with permission.

Q: This means that ethically I would not list any works for sale privately if they are actually being housed in a gallery?  Or keep them for sale privately/on my site, and send the traffic and acknowledgement to the gallery?

A: You could list them and say they are available at X gallery. The gallery would appreciate your driving business to them.

If you have consigned work to a gallery, they have the right to sell that work during the consignment period.
I would add that even after the consignment period, if someone comes to you and says they saw the work at X gallery but they want to buy it from you . . . you could do one of two things:

  1. Send them back to the gallery for the sale.
  2. Close the sale yourself (at the SAME gallery-listed price) and give the gallery their commission.

Q: Ethically, could I sell the work and retrieve it from the gallery? (not comfortable with that)

A: NO! You are right to be uncomfortable with this.

Q: If a buyer does not reference having seen the piece in X gallery, this would not apply–correct?

A: If a buyer acts like they've seen the work before, you need to inquire how they heard about you. Ask, “Have you seen my work before?” Buyers can be sneaky! They sometimes circumvent a gallery in hopes of getting a better deal.

Do what you can to keep a squeaky clean ethics trail. You'll sleep better at night when you treat your galleries right – and your galleries will love you right back.

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20 thoughts on “Keeping Gallery Relations on the Up-and-Up”

  1. Very good article. Question I have. How relevant are galleries now? Many artists are completely circumventing the gallery scene opting for online sources.
    Thank you.

    1. My personal opinion is Rob, that they are both relevant and have a place. In some cases, it might only make sense for online sources…in others, a gallery setting.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Rob: I agree with Janice. They are very relevant for many artists who choose that route – artists who are on the “museums track.”
      But they’re not necessary as they have been in the past if your main goal is sales.
      Still, many artists wouldn’t turn down a gallery who was interested. Would you?

  2. I believe one of the best things to do with your galleries and your collectors is assist in any way you can with the sale. Speak with the galleries you are signed with, and let them know what marketing activities you’re undertaking so that you can work together. See where there’s a fit, and identify the marketing conflicts, if any.
    What we are really talking about here is ethics for all parties, and that includes the artist, the gallerist and the collector. Fostering strong relationships with each of these sectors is the best thing for everyone. Having those conversations with your gallery and the collector is important – so have them!
    A relationship is worth way more than a sale. I wrote about how important it is for me to connect with collectors and not stay so very removed from the transaction. I don’t want to just “get a cheque in the mail”. It’s the relationship all around that matters to me including that of the work to me.
    I think it works well for the soul of the cultural industry to work together more in this regard.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Janice: Assist – absolutely! Galleries depend on that and it will strengthen you relationship with your dealers.
      Thank you for sharing your post.

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  4. Just wondering, if one has ‘prints only’ at several different galleries, if an original is sold or commissioned privately, how should that work? I reserve the right to sell originals.

    1. Write your own contract & have the gallery sign it before anything happens…This is essential if you have practices that are not the norm…I follow the Australian standards (because I like how they operate over there), which are: The physical location of the transaction of the sale is of no import-if you are “with” a gallery, they get a commission, no matter what…This clears up the “where did you find out about my work question”- short answer, it doesn’t matter- if you are on contract with a gallery, they get a piece of you, no matter if the collector followed you home, bought a piece & told you a fish story…Which is why I feel one should think carefully about signing with a gallery if one likes to sell directly…It’s like being a little bit pregnant, you either are or you aren’t…If you are with a gallery, be with a gallery & try to understand that this is how they make a living…If you don’t like all the red tape & loss of control, stay free & wild…Putting one foot on the boat & the other on the dock often leads to just falling in…

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Sari: Gosh, I’m having a hard time with this. What if you have more than one gallery? Do you give everyone a piece?

    3. Galleries have territories…Usually, if someone comes to your studio to buy, they are trying to bypass the gallery closest to you…Artists should be extra careful, since galleries & the taxman, will sometimes try to buy directly to see if you are offering deals or not charging or paying sales taxes, or not giving a commission to the gallery…In the case of multiple galleries in multiple locations, I have seen cuts being split amongst them all…If your studio is far enough away from a gallery to be considered a separate territory, then you could claim the whole thing theoretically…But that depends on how far the gallery says their territory comprises- all of the United States?-The world?-Just Colorado…I have had galleries completely ignore me because they assumed I would be selling directly from the studio without giving them a cut…This does need to be hammered out…I don’t work with more than one gallery at a time because most galleries I work with have such large territories that I can barely produce enough for one…But again, I repeat-if a gallery thinks you will be selling direct from your studio(without giving them their piece), while you are represented by them, they may overlook you for an artist who doesn’t…

    4. Ooh…I just want to add…An artist here had his own frame shop…He was selling his own paintings from the shop, like a $2000.00 dollar painting a week…A prestigious gallery here, very prestigious, wanted to represent him…But they told him if they did he could no longer sell his own work from his shop…He said no…(I was a little astonished, but he said the direct money was too good to stop…)(career path choices…)

    5. Alyson Stanfield

      Kathy: I agree with Sari that you need a good contract. Do you have one? It should state that you sell originals and galleries sell multiples.

    6. Ok…I pulled a comment by Edward Winkelman on multiple galleries…He says that often an artist has a “primary” gallery, & if so, that gallery takes usually a 10% commission on sales from other galleries outside that city, & up to 20-30% commission on sales by galleries in the same city as the primary…But each case is different…I am monogamous when it comes to galleries, plus I figure if Cy Twombly can just have the Gagosian gallery, then who am I to have more than one? (I never give more than 1/3 total, so I think Edward Winkelman’s numbers are steep, but the principle is sound)…

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  7. I think it depends. If I’ve signed an exclusive contract with a gallery, I want the territory clearly defined, and that will have to include online sales with people who have contacted me through my website. I’d be ok with sending local people to the gallery, but international collectors, especially if they’ve purchased from me prior to my gallery contract, I’m not sure. Anyone who found me through the gallery’s site, well, it’s the gallery’s sale.
    My present representation is a non-exclusive contract through a furniture store. If the work is physically there, they get the sale; ditto if I’ve promised it to them. If not and people are taking the time to track me down then I have sold directly to them (at the same price). So far this has only included work that the store doesn’t want — they aren’t interested in drawings, for example — or wouldn’t have gotten anyway. I did once retrieve a piece that had been there long past the consignment agreement…but it went to Australia & the store doesn’t sell internationally. And I am doing all the work of framing/delivering/shipping. But it’s an entirely different relationship than I would have with a gallery: my work is treated exactly as if it were furniture or a lamp.

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