Monday, September 17, 2007

A Reader Asks

A blogger named tantrumette left a question on the 50/50 split thread we had a while back. In response to this item:
"Some artists don't have a primary gallery, per se, and therefore sales are not split between their galleries."
tantrumette asks:
I have been showing with two galleries, one in New York, one in my home state, for 15 years. The New York gallery relationship just evolved over the years with no contract. At the same time, the in-state gallery became quite successful showing my work, and despite two shows in New York, sales there were minimal.

Recently the New York gallerist became aware that I have been sending new work to the instate gallery - I had pretty much lost confidence in the New York gallery, and was continuing the relationship largely for the glamour it added to my cv. Now New York is insisting that I should show all new work to them first, so they can have first choice. (The gallerist seems to think that they are my "primary" gallery, though the results would not bear that out.) I am unwilling to do this, I never agreed to anything of the sort, and it would not be fair to my other gallery. Yet I am reluctant to end the relationship; I assume if I found another gallery they would impose the same sort of conditions. I want to be fair to both galleries, but am in a quandary about how to deal with this. Any ideas?
There's not a one-size-fits-all answer to the overarching question here to my mind, but I appreciate (as a gallerist) that tantrumette wants to be fair to both galleries. In general, I think it's always appropriate for any artist to request a meeting to discuss the often-unsaid (let alone unwritten) assumptions both parties have in the artist-gallery relationship, though, and this would be a very good example of when such a meeting could help avoid any future miscommunication/anger/etc. I don't know the galleries in question here, and I see that tantrumette is unwilling to let the New York gallery be his/her primary gallery, but I do want to elaborate a bit on the thinking here so that tantrumette can approach the New York gallery with as full an understanding of their probable thoughts on the matter in order to help, hopefully, find a solution that suits everyone.

What I think I'm hearing between the lines in this account is that tantrumette feels more aligned with the non-New York gallery (i.e., more inclined to make them the primary gallery) because they're selling more of his/her work. Also, because they're a local gallery, the bond is likely stronger due to proximity (i.e., easier access to build that kind of relationship). That's totally understandable, but it's not the bigger picture in full.

It's perhaps a questionable action on the part of many New York galleries to assume without asking that they are the primary gallery for the artists they represent, but it's good to keep in mind when agreeing to be represented by one that many do indeed assume just that. The cost of running a gallery in New York, the glamour (as tantrumette calls it [although, I would say "prestige" and note that goes hand in hand with the resulting attractiveness of one's art outside New York for being recognized as valuable in such a fiercely competitive market as New York]) it affords its artists, and the fact that the New York gallery took the chance on this work first [update: I only noticed in re-reading that tantrumette did not indicate that his/her work was shown in the New York gallery first...I don't recall what had made me think that, but I'll leave my comments regarding that in just in case that is the chronology here) all contribute to why the New York gallery likely makes this assertion now in good faith.

As I noted in the 50/50 split thread, galleries are often investing in an emerging artist with the knowledge/hope that the work will begin selling strongly only after a sustained marketing/education effort. It's not at all unusual for that effort to pay off first in another location and still take time in the, again, fiercely competitive New York market. If a gallery takes on the additional risk of exhibiting an artist first, then other galleries benefit from the costs that first gallery paid out. Having New York exhibitions on one's resume probably didn't hurt the sales in the non-New York gallery either. Perhaps the New York gallery will never match the level of sales the local gallery can (and the potential reasons for that are too many to list), but the prestige of having the New York gallery, the costs for the exhibitions there, the exposure that brings, etc., etc. should be balanced against sales, IMHO.

Having said all that, I strongly feel an artist should be free to chose their primary gallery (just don't be surprised if the gallery feels so differently it leads to them end the relationship). In this instance, I would suggest asking the New York gallery for a meeting (by phone if more feasible) and in it explain that you would rather have your work sell at the local gallery than sit in storage at the New York gallery. If the New York gallery is asking to view new work, though, it's because they suspect they're not getting the best work to sell (and implied in that is that they feel they could possibly also sell the work the local gallery is selling, and in their mind [true or not] is the assumption that in New York they might sell some of it to more prominent collectors).

Bottom line here though is that it may not be possible to resolve this quandary without upsetting one or the other gallery, and I can't give any concrete advice on how to avoid that. The best I can do is offer information that you can use in trying to get them to agree to what you want.

Keep in mind that galleries need to sell artwork and anything, real or imagined, that hinders them from doing so will be viewed, consciously or not, as a problem to solve. Making sure the New York gallery understands you have some awesome new work for them to offer will go a long way here too, I suspect. I know this shifts the responsibility for being the "adult" in the relationship from where it's generally perceived to be (with the dealer) to the artist, but in a situation where you want to keep the New York gallery, but not let them be the primary gallery, it might take some mature maneuvering to get to that point.



Blogger Kate said...

Thanks again, Ed, for answering some of those sticky questions that no one else dares to tackle.

Having only one gallery, I have always wondered how it is decided "who gets what work" when you have more than one gallery.

I have a friend who shows all her drawings in one gallery and her paintings in another. How common is this? It seems to solve the problem quite nicely.

9/17/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't think it's uncommon to show one body of work in one gallery and another in a different gallery. One of the misperceptions about galleries that I think needs more dialog (and I'm working on a post about it) is the notion that a good dealer can sell any kind of art work (I think this is what leads many artists to mistakenly assume their work belongs in a gallery they know sells when even when nothing else in that gallery is similar to their work). Some are unquestionably better suited to sell certain types of art than are others.

I should note that I made a mistake in my post in asserting that the artist first exhibited in the New York gallery (there is nothing in the original comment that confirms that). I'll correct the post in the moment.

9/17/2007 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Excellent discussion, Ed. I love how carefully and intelligently you outline the question and answer it.

I'd just like to underline something from tantrumette's post. Artists like to talk about "my work" as if all their work is one thing, as if it's all created equal. And of course it isn't. So it's very easy to say that the New York gallery hasn't had much success "selling my work" while the local gallery has -- even though the two galleries are getting different work. So I can easily see the New York gallery thinking they're not "having success selling" because they're not getting the "good" work.

I imagine giving them right of first refusal would, at least, clarify that for them. And for you.

Also, how well can this New York gallery continue to represent you knowing they're your second choice? They might be feeling a bit like your booty call for when your regular boyfriend's out of town.

Anyway, I know you covered these points, Ed; I just wanted to emphasize them a bit more.

9/17/2007 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I second Chris: Thanks, Ed, for bringing up another excellent professional issue.

I would agree that good, open communication is always the best policy between artists and dealers.

The post brings up this related issue: If you are with a NY gallery first, and as a result of that association--the prestigefactor--are able to secure a gallery, or network of galleries around the country, what does the artist owe to the NY gallery even if it was the artist who made all the contacts. I would expect the NY gallery to have right of first refusal? What about a percentage of sales?

Now suppose an artist comes to a NY gallery with a network of galleries firmly in place. Does the NY gallery--who, it is understood, is working hard and paying much in the fiecely competitive market that is NY) still get first refusal? Does the NY get get a percentage of sales from this in-place network?

Without "The Official Guide to Gallery Business for Dealers and Artists, with a Special Appendix for Curators, Consultants, Critics and All of the Above Whose Practice includes One or More of the Other," the rules get made up as we all go along. And the rules are not always uniform from gallery to gallery or city to sity.

I don't expect there are any definitive answers here, but I'm wondering what the range is of particular agreements. This might a good place for anonymous responses.

9/17/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

How annoying of the NYC gallery, I just have to vent that. I was in a similar situation a few years back, and I felt very bullied by my NYC gallery. Why couldn't the dealer just say something more respectful to the artist (and the original, out-of-town gallery!), like, "we love your work, and want to make sure we're seeing the best new stuff you're making. Can we work something out where you make sure to give us half of your new work?" Why do artists always have to be the ones to jump through the hoops? I ended up leaving my NYC gallery, because I didn't want to work with someone who treated me so disrespectfully (there were some other issues going on there, as well). My out-of-town gallery has stuck by my work, taking me to art fairs and giving me regular shows. The bad thing, though, is that I'm unrepresented in NYC. Conundrum time, I guess. i just don't want to be bullied. And NYC galleries aren't the only ones taking risks; for NYC artists, our entire lives are risks.

9/17/2007 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Daniel Sroka said...

Time to do some cost/benefit analysis. The artist needs to determine how much marketing they are getting from having their work in this NYC gallery, and weigh against it the potential lost sales (from art the gallery cannot sell).

Does having the NYC gallery on their CV drive some of their local sales? If so, then the sales they lose by showing art in NYC instead of the local gallery (who can sell it) is a marketing expense. Put that number in your marketing budget, and see if it is worth it.

9/17/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I'm not trying to suggest the artist always has to jump through hoops (how many hoops do you think Damien Hirst has to jump through to get his gallery to keep working with him?), but rather that in the case in point, where the artist doesn't want the NYC gallery to be his/her primary gallery, but does want to keep working with them, it may work out more toward that end if the artist goes in armed with a sense of how the gallery is likely to see it.

Also, don't judge all galleries by the actions of a few.

Joanne, it varies per artist and per gallery. Like I noted I feel strongly an artist should be the one to choose their primary gallery. That doesn't mean the NYC gallery who doesn't get that has to agree and work under conditions they're not happy about though. It cuts both ways. The best way to approach it is to be detailed and honest about what works best for you and see if you have a good (or good enough) match. The important goal is to avoid surprises down the road that can sour an otherwise enjoyable relationship.

9/17/2007 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Ed, I also thank you for answering these questions so clearly. You indirectly saved my behind last week, when a well-meaning friend announced her intention of 'pitching' some galleries in her hometown on my behalf. She is the kind of person who will Do You A Good Deed even when you're screaming 'No! No! Please don't do that!', but will listen to an Expert Opinion. So when I told her, 'Ed Winkleman says that this is very off-putting, from a dealer's perspective,' she backed off at once. Whew.

9/17/2007 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I'm curious about joanne's comment, what about percentages, does an nyc gallery have rights, to say,15 percent of a regional gallery's sales of an artist work?... and why can't an artist not have a primary gallery, and simply work with multiple galleries with the standard artist-gallery 50/50 commision arrangement?... It seems crazy for say, a young nyc gallery, to demand not just first refusual, but 15 percent of sales from a more established regional gallery, one that has developed, over years, relations with museums and top-notch collectors. Look at Chicago or Houston, they have strong, autonomous artworlds... should they cut back 1/3 of their profits to a newbie new york gallery that's only been a around a couple years?

9/17/2007 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous, you took a question and built an entire narrative around it, with percentages and locations and experience levels all slanting one direction. I can't address each of your inventions as a whole (I've never seen them converge quite like you describe), but I will address each separately.

The standard percentages do vary, but most primary galleries I know only ask for 10% for outside New York sales at secondary galleries and 20-30% for inside New York sales (usually for group shows obviously). It should be noted that primary galleries also have additional responsibilities to their artists (and I'm not going to list those now, as it's a long separate topic), so don't look at it as if the New York ones are just flexing their muscle but giving nothing in return. That's not the deal at all. Also, often a New York gallery, because of traffic, density of high quality museums in the area, better press coverage of the arts than most locations, easier access to Europe, etc. etc. etc. is indeed a best choice for one's primary gallery.

If an artist already has a powerful gallery in Chicago or Houston, it's very likely that gallery will know how to negotiate to everyone's benefit with the newbie New York gallery. Ask your nonNew York gallery to call a potential NY gallery if you're afraid of making a mistake in the dealings. Tell your NY gallery that you're doing so because you don't know how to tell the other gallery what the new terms are. Believe me, the nonNY gallery will know how to handle this.

How long a gallery has been in business though is not always a good indication of the owner's experience nor whether an artist should consider accepting primary gallery representation from them. Many galleries in New York are opened by the former directors of quite powerful older galleries and they have the connections already to make it worth an artist's while to consider accepting the deal.

All of these are things you should feel it's appropriate for you to ask a gallery asking to represent you.

9/17/2007 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Gee, Ed, now all you need to do is give me the name of the Right Gallery and the number of the person I should call and I'll be set for life.

Don't tell me that finding the Right Gallery is the hard part!

9/17/2007 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tantrumette:

Do they get you shows in museums and stuff? Do curators see your work there? Are you sure? Articles and reviews? Good fairs? Otherwise, keep moving and look for another g. Don't sweat it. Get out there and push your work... .

You can always:
Do a test; give them some of your best work for a season. If they sell it then split the best among the two. Most NY galleries don't sell much anyways and most of the time they expect the artist to bring the clients.

9/18/2007 03:08:00 AM  
Blogger tantrumette said...

Thanks Ed, for your insight and perspective. And additional thanks to others, especially anonymous, who seem to have a clear picture of some of the issues.

I have an email sitting in my drafts folder to the NY gallerist, in which I point out that I want to be fair to both galleries. I also have stacks of slides on my desk to send to new galleries, since this person has a history of going ballistic over small problems, and has been known to dump an artist over the phone and hang up on them. So I approach this with trepidation.

To clarify, the NY gallery approached me after I had been showing in my home state for a couple years. Both galleries work hard to market and sell my work. It is true that some good things have developed from the NY exposure; inclusion in a national show, a small review in a journal. But sales have been abysmal, and I would say I have been sending 75% of my new paintings. That may not be enough to offset the demand to see everything new, which seems excessive. After two years of very few sales I made a decision to offer most of my new and larger paintings to the instate gallery, where they have continued to sell well. Basically, how can the NY gallery expect me to make a living on the tiny sales made there? And my past experience belies their position that if they had every new painting they would make more sales for me. I can't afford to send my best work into a dark hole for a couple years, and then have them ask for a 10% commission after I have paid for shipping both ways as well.

Hmmm- I was swayed by Ed's overview of the New York advantages, but having put all this into print, I see the New York gallery has become an exercise in diminishing returns.

Thanks everyone for their thoughts, I appreciate how much thought was put into the responses, and the new perspectives you have given me. I'll send an update, in this continuing saga.

9/18/2007 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Best of luck, Tantrumette. If I might suggest though, call the gallery rather than end it by email. You'll be happier you did, even as stressful as that might be, because you'll have taken the higher road in terms of interpersonal expectations and they'll respect you more (and say nicer things about you) than if you do it by email.

Anonymous does ask some pertinent questions, but offers a bit of hyperbole tinged with bitterness I would alert folks to:

Most NY galleries don't sell much anyways and most of the time they expect the artist to bring the clients.

This kind of sweeping generalization should be backed up with reliable statistics or never offered, IMO.

9/18/2007 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger tantrumette said...

Actually, judging by the content, I think there were two "anonymous" writers, with different points of view. Thanks again, Ed, I'm still trying to come up with the right tactful things to say, so that we communicate thoughtfully instead of with emotionally.

9/18/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to have questions somewhat similar to tantrumette's. I finally realized that for me, dealing with the particular galleries that I had, it was better for me to say as little to possible to one gallery about what I was doing with another gallery (what I was sending them, how much they were selling, etc.). I don't like to suggest this as a tactic, because in general I believe that being open and honest with all participants is the preferred way to do business, but when I had questions or issues, nobody at the respective galleries really answered them definitively and just asking seemed to make everyone kind of uptight and then things wouldn't get done. I let several good opportunities slip away because I wasn't sure which gallery should handle them, which left me resentful. I found that it worked best when I handled as many things as I could myself. This included dealings with museums and sometimes even with collectors. I know it sounds wierd, but when I called one gallery and said, this curator is interested in my work, who should handle it?, they said we will, and then did nothing, whereas I could have made something happen on my own. When I tell people about this particular incident, they say, drop that gallery, but I get many tangible benfits from being associated with them. I find that the personalities of all my dealers (1 in NY, 2 in Calif) are all kind of quirky and just have to be worked around. They are all long-established and respected, but don't always function logically.

another anon

9/18/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, sorry that was so long, but I thought it was pertinent.

another anon

9/18/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You did good. Great way to handle things.

You have to be sure about those "good and many" tangibles otherwise you might find yourself one day with a little career and no gallery anywhere.

Galleries should build your career and sell your work, unless you have both keep looking and keep changing the gallery.

9/18/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Galleries should build your career and sell your work, unless you have both keep looking and keep changing the gallery.

I agree with the premise but not the conclusion here. I'd recommend at least considering the value of investing in a gallery if you feel they're making a good faith effort to build your career and sell your work. You will, of course, be the best judge of when enough is enough, but starting afresh won't necessarily get you any further faster (because you'll have lost some momentum), and if you become known as a gallery hopper, you'll find it increasingly difficult to convince a gallery you'll stick around with them (and so then why should they invest in you?).

Also, don't be afraid to consider the possibility that your gallery is run by humans, as prone to mistakes and likely improving every day as are artists. Liking your gallery (and the notion that gallerists are "all kind of quirky" [although true, we're all freaks] made me chuckle...can I get any artist a mirror?) is no small matter from what my artist friends tell me.

9/18/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed W. said:

"I agree with the premise but not the conclusion here."

+Ok. Let's see....

"I'd recommend at least considering the value of investing in a gallery if you feel they're making a good faith effort to build your career and sell your work."

+Good effort is and should get results. No results? Waste of time.

"You will, of course, be the best judge of when enough is enough, but starting afresh won't necessarily get you any further faster (because you'll have lost some momentum),"

+This is a myth. Momentum is making great art and having a good career. You as an artist should have something always going...shows, lectures, fellowships, everything out there. Your CV gives you all the momentum you need anywhere you go.

"and if you become known as a gallery hopper, you'll find it increasingly difficult to convince a gallery you'll stick around with them (and so then why should they invest in you?)."

+There is no such thing as "gallery hopping sin". If you have a good career any gallery will show you. Most big galleries in NY don't even have contracts with their artists. You should always look for a better gallery.

"Also, don't be afraid to consider the possibility that your gallery is run by humans, as prone to mistakes and likely improving every day as are artists."

+It is a business relationship, period. Like a doctor or accountant, mystakes can cost you dearly. Don't allow them.

"Liking your gallery (and the notion that gallerists are "all kind of quirky" [although true, we're all freaks] made me chuckle...can I get any artist a mirror?) is no small matter from what my artist friends tell me.

+A dealer should be a sensitive business-person, anything else leave it for Conney Island, not Chelsea. Even freaky artists are a thing of the past. You are a pro artist contantly learning and using your brain, period. Flower people should paint flowers on weekends.

9/18/2007 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Perhaps you'd be so kind as to share your expertise on this matter in the form of your name, Anonymous. I don't disagree with the gist of most of your comments, but the tone suggests an adversarial stance that I imagine pisses off most dealers you work with, if indeed those exist.

If you have a good career any gallery will show you.

That, by the way, is patently untrue. I know artists with very good careers who cannot show at any gallery they want (it's not like galleries have endless resources to represent an endless number of artists). Stop spreading myths like that, please, you're only going to stir up self-doubt and resentment and cause artists to waste their time when what they should be doing is approaching the right galleries, not "any gallery."

9/18/2007 06:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I disagree...

Showing/exhibits, representation, selling, projects, all are separate things. Artists know when they have a good career...and they should be doing all of these.


9/18/2007 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

still waiting to hear from what vantage/experience point you disagree...

9/18/2007 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous anonorama said...

there's something to be said about loyalty -don't be so arrogant to think anyone will show you if your career is good-if your an ass to deal with-it won't likely happen as easily as you think and if I had a NYC gallery they'd immediately be my primary.

9/18/2007 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have been following this thread and we strongly disagree with most of the advice you have been dishing out. First of all the gallery hoppers are people most dealers will avoid even if they love their work. The difference between a gallery and an accountant and a doctor is that you pay for those services upfront regardless of the outcome. There are no guarantees that we will ever make a profit from a relationship with an artist. Our best experiences with artists is when we are both on the same page, working towards the same goals and we both believe we will get there together. It is a relationship built on trust and is best when it is a long term commitment between gallery and artist. An artist with your attitude would be our worst nightmare.
Lisa Schroeder & Sara Jo Romero

9/18/2007 07:57:00 PM  
Anonymous anonorama said...

or are you a shill, anon?

getting our goat

perhaps having a laugh?

9/18/2007 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

I don't know about others, but I'm getting a bit confused about which Anonymous commenter is disagreeing with which Anonymous commenter.

Let me suggest that when referencing an anonymous post that you include the time of the posting...

For example, anonorama seems to be suggesting that Anonymous at 7:57pm is a shill (do I have that right?), but since that Anonymous actually signed their post, I think we can reasonably credit it as being from real people who have the courage of their convictions.

9/18/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Thats why just ignore anonymous comments, like I do.
If anonymous person is not brave enough to stand up for own opinion and speak up own name, why bother spend time to arguee and talk with someone, who is not sure if he/she believes what he/she is saying, because of keeping own name secret.

9/19/2007 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would like to clarify my position on anonymous comments. There are two things about it that present confusion/problems to my mind.

First is simply keeping them straight. I understand the Blogger system is annoying for some browsers, making "Anonymous" the most agreeable option, but it's easy enough to sign a comment with initials or a psuedonym or an emoticon or anything that distinguishes one "Anonymous" from the others.

Second though is, when an anonymous commenter is offering their opinion in a hostile or agressive tone, I feel it's fair to own up to such feedback, even if psuedonomously, so that other readers can make a mental note of what was offered (and how) and then hold that commenter to such statements in other contexts. I would prefer anyone who offers comments in a hostile manner to have the courage of their convictions and sign their name, but I realize that's asking for the sky.

Still, signing with some marker seems the least a commenter who snarkily disagrees with other comments or the main post should do, in my opinion. Anyone can rail against honest advice, but the other readers deserve some indication of where that disagreement is coming from, even if they have to piece it together by being able to track a psuedonymous commenters advice over time.

Drive-by dissent is virtually useless for everyone involved and does come across as designed merely to piss all over the ongoing party.

9/19/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous anonorama said...


I was refering to 9/18/2007 @ 6:08pm and 7:11pm Anon

Just wondering where this person is coming from.

9/19/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Hi, Ed--
I'm coming late to this discussion (re anonymous posters)because I've been out of town, but I have to tell you that "drive by dissent" is a brilliant phrase.
Best (from Montana this week),

9/20/2007 08:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Tantrumette, really, why complicate your life?

You don't have to choose. Just go by calendar. Show the very latest work any time you have a show, period.

I should always be the best of your latest work, so you most probably have time between two shows at different places to create new good work can you?

You should not have to choose between good or bad individual works, you should be thinking about how you want a whole exhibit to be set up and what you wish be included in it. In that way you surely will always include some good work.

If the gallery is on the verge to drop you that's not a good sign. They probably also think that you are not selling (and don't account the fact that there is way too many galleries in New York that they can all survive). Why suffer? Hopping a gallery is bad if they do tons of great work for you but...In these conditions and feelings you describe? Your gallerist thinking only a little percentage of what you do is good ?? Hmmm...

New York might not sell but it is likely more people will see the work. How many art lovers will take the detour to see your art in your hometown? Do you only care to sell or do you want the most people possible to see the work?

I find it so sad when artists only think of who and where the work sells. Why should I, as a viewer, be bothered by going to see that art?

Cedric Caspesyan

9/23/2007 10:32:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home