Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Communication Needs

Tuesday's Aside, a (somewhat) weekly post in which I will try to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Anonymous writes:
Please help me with your insight on a situation.

Since working with a gallery over the last 2 years, I am finding that communication is not meeting my needs or expectations. I'm not one to call frequently or take up someone's time needlessly. But when I do call my dealer, it often takes over a month to get a call returned. This is the case even when the agenda is to discuss details for a solo show. I've tried email instead of the telephone, and these also go unanswered.

Is this the norm in the industry? Do dealers typically blow off their artists in such fashion? And if its not the norm, how can I hit the 'restart' button? Or am I best off switching to another gallery?
I can picture any of our artists reading this, thinking "Go on Buster...worm your way out of this one."

The truth of the matter is that there is no norm I know of regarding frequency of communication between artists and their dealers. Those dealers who contact each of their artists daily (believe it or not, some claim to do so) or weekly seem to always be the ones interviewed on the matter, making those of us with less frequent touching-base policies feel like slackers. (B*astards!)

The issue, as you note, though, is meeting your needs. If you need information or confirmation or action taken, and your dealer is taking as long as month (really?) to get back to you, that does represent a problem to my mind. Of course, there are needs and then there are wants. If, for example, you'd like a non-urgent check-in studio visit but that's not convenient for a month or so, especially when the exhibition schedule is full and other artists need the dealer's time, then I'd say perhaps be a bit patient. Of course that should still be communicated to you.

Because each situation is different it's probably not that productive to discuss norms for expectations that might warrant finding another gallery.
As I'm sure you know, most dealers have many artist-clients to attend to (some who want more attention than others) and collector-clients to attend to (some who want more attention than others) but the same number of hours in a week as everyone else, which is no excuse for blatant over-the-top avoidance, especially when you need to discuss the agenda for a show, but each dealer will have their own way of balancing everything on their plate. As in all matters in the partnership, finding a gallery that's a good match for you is the key (some artists would be annoyed to be called everyday, I'm sure, and others would be pleased)...finding a personality and approach that feels right for you.

I'm impressed by your approach, though, looking first for a way to hit the 'restart' button. I know of artists who regularly called their gallery 5 or more times a day (even long before a show) and led their dealers to hit the restart button as well, so it's not an issue that singles out either side in particular.

My advice is to first focus on your actual needs. Reflect on that before setting any ultimatums. But once you're sure you know what you need to feel the partnership is working for you, ask your dealer for a short meeting preferably over coffee or something similarly out of the gallery context. This generally gets anyone's full attention and prompts a bit of pre-meeting reflection on their part as well.

Then at this meeting explain your frustration calmly, professionally (you are seeking a professional response), and firmly. Frame the conversations in terms of your needs, but be honest with yourself about what those are in the context of the dealer's other obligations to other artists, collectors, etc. (i.e., if what you "need" would require the dealer to spend more time or money than could be shared relatively equally with other gallery artists, you probably do have the wrong gallery, because obviously that's not possible). Expect to learn something about the dealer's point of view on this and be willing to listen as well.

I'm going out of my way to emphasize this because I've heard artist-friends insist that constant communication was a "need" when I was fairly sure it was more a want. You don't sound like that's anywhere near the situation for you though, so I'd recommend using exactly the language you're using here. Tell your dealer you'd like to start afresh in how you both communicate, that you feel the partnership has gotten off on a bad foot, developed a few unproductive habits, or however you get the point across without putting the dealer entirely on the defensive.

Then, put them on the hook, subtlely. Ask which means of communication is best, what kind of turnaround you should expect on your questions/requests, and what you should do when that's not going to be good enough. (This obligates them to consider how they communicate and, while giving them latitude, will push them to solve the issue to your satisfaction. Each of the answers to those questions, if direct and honest, doubles as a future commitment.)

If they manage to deflect that approach, then make other recommendations: Can another gallery employee be assigned handling some of your minor needs? Can you schedule a weekly check-in leading up to a show and then perhaps a monthly check-in in between shows (or whatever seems necessary, keeping in mind, again, that by focusing on actual needs you'll make a stronger case)?

Don't insist on any of these ideas. The goal isn't to box your dealer in, but to demonstrate that you're trying to do what you can to feel less frustrated about the communications. Ask your dealer if he/she has any recommendations toward that end. Then assess whether that is good enough.

Good luck.



Blogger Mark said...

Rude, is this gallery in another city? If you can't get a response within a day or 3 at most, drop by the gallery and reintroduce yourself.

If you can't get a response before the show, how difficult will it be when you want to get paid?

9/23/2008 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm hoping this can be more of a productive (rather than antagonistic) thread, Mark. We have only one side of the story from an anonymous source. While there's no reason to doubt the accuracy of the statement, we don't have the other point of view and so in addressing this dealer's frustrating communication style I think beginning with charges of rudeness (and unfounded projections tying that to one's payment schedule) will not be as likely to result in an improved situation (really, like you would try to shame or badger him/her into changing...that alone is indication you're in the wrong gallery) as would simply asking how to improve the situation.

9/23/2008 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

its like a married couple and sex, you guys are both busy so just go ahead and try and schedule it in. But every once and a while a drop in isn't bad either.(a quickie) ha-ha. Sorry couldn't help but use that analogy.
I have done a lot of freelance graphics work and little experience with galleries but really I see it as any symbiotic relationship, you are providing something for them as well as them with you, however they are providing that same service to many others, sometimes its not all about you and I would imagine , not making any excuses for either side here, the artist might have to be a little more flexible and work a little harder?
I see both sides, because galleries are nothing without the artists and the level of respect should be given however not everything can be taken personally.

9/23/2008 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Galleries are like people - some communicate better and more frequently than others. It isn't necessarily a reflection on the status of the artist within the gallery. We all have a tendency to think it's something we've done or said, or some sort of slight. The gallerist may just not be good at managing his/her time. A lot of us bite off more than we can chew.

9/23/2008 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Damn, you always right! The length of time in this case is, if we can accept it as true, a "month" without a return call-is rude and would be a concern going forward in all respects.

How long did it take to get started with this gallery in the first place. There must be some kind of history, similar behavior.

Assess the benefits, do they meet your needs over all? I've never gone that long without a response from anyone I'm doing business with.

9/23/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Assess the benefits, do they meet your needs over all? I've never gone that long without a response from anyone I'm doing business with.

And that seems to be the crux of the matter here. Letting "business" sit that long is truly unacceptable. Anonymous is not talking about not being able to get something done within a month (that would be understandable at times)...but rather not communicating anything within a month when the request is specific. That is extreme. Then again, things fall between cracks at time, so it all depends on whether this chronic or not.

How specific is the request is always another consideration, as well though. An email saying "we should set up a studio visit some time soon" might understandably be something a dealer forgets to respond to for quite sometime if it comes during an installation week for another artist, around the time of an art fair, or when the dealer is trying to take that one-week vacation. Not responding is not very efficient communication obviously...but not, as anonymous above noted "a reflection on the status of the artist within the gallery."

9/23/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Off subject but... you were mentioned briefly regarding your editorial oversight policy here: http://brooklynrail.org/2008/09/artseen/brooklyn-dispatches-virtually-overwhelmed

9/23/2008 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in almost the same situation here at my Gallery in Germany. Luckily I was about to fire off an E-Mail to my Gallerist asking him to come by my studio as I feel lost and need some perspective, just before I did I read this blog and I gained some good advice. I think I'll restructure my E-mail a bit now and then send it off.

9/23/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...


Well written and quite true about the Rome is burning, but I would imagine people are not just going to go down into the basement and pop those cyanide pills they hide in there lockets. People still have jobs and concerns and decadent as it may be art is life for a lot of people, i don't make any money at it but I love to talk about it and learn about it. I am sure a lot of people feel that way. Like I said it is not without its flaws but just because capitalism is failing before our eyes doesn't mean you would stop discussing who has a better solo on Sonny Side Up: Dizzy or Rollins...no? If anything I am going to cling to what I love even more...

9/23/2008 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sorry to leave your comment hanging like that Brandon, but I keep my word about deleting comments from folks asked to leave. You can find that poster on multiple other sites. Just not this one.

9/23/2008 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the original poster, did he/she just contact the gallery once? Sometimes a follow up e-mail or 2 can quash the whole problem. If those are ignored, then I would definitely suggest that sit down chat.

9/23/2008 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Something that the requester isn't saying is: 1) if she or he's getting tones of solo shows. 2) if her or his work sell very well.

If the gallerist don't return calls because he's too busy selling your art or preparing your shows, than who cares. Go seek mother-child relationship elsewhere. But if work isn't done at all in your favor, hmmm.... Is it possible that a gallerist won't tell the artist that they want to drop them, and just keep them hanging? Maybe they just think the art needs a break?

When I was at U, my art always received excellent grades. Yet I couldn't make any friends. Sometimes people appreciate what you do but think you're much to annoying a person to hang out with (haha). So...Know yourself. Maybe you're doomed to become an artist nobody wants to have a conversation on the phone with. How is your art received? That is the issue that is important, or even moreso, if you yourself are satisfied with it.

Cedric Caspesyan

9/23/2008 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

Communication is tough one in any relationship, business or otherwise. The gallery/art business takes flexibility. A: Don't send hot-headed emails. B:Keep it simple. C: Prioritize what is REALLY vital info you need. D: Understand that often these people are very busy with a roster of other artists and clients. E: E is for everybody deserves respect - if you feel that you are outright being disrespected... a professional conversation is in order. Don't jet just yet.

Most of all though. Breathe, Relax - enjoy the fact that you are making a career out of making art.
It ain't so bad!

9/23/2008 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be that the anonymous artist keeps anyone on the phone for hours and hours?

9/23/2008 09:06:00 PM  
Blogger artmarketblog.com said...

I personally find communication by any means other than face to face is far from ideal. If you can, meeting with the dealer face to face would in my opinion be the best way of creating a relationship that would encourage the dealer to be more communicative and respond quicker.
I would also be asking why the dealer is not getting back to me in a reasonable period of time?
I presume that there are also other pros and cons to weigh up such as the number of sales, exhibition promotion etc.

9/23/2008 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

Ed, No problem, I knew no one was fooled, I just thought that level of disdain needed to be addressed, regardless.

stop artist on artist violence right? :)

9/24/2008 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Just an observation... but it sounds like the classic sign of a vanity gallery. Once they get their pay day they end up not being very responsive most of the time because they know there are a dozen other artists they can dupe into buying a slot.

Could be an exaggeration as well. I had a question from an artist recently who claimed her gallery demanded 70% commission. She was upset with a few others things as well--mainly the fact that she was not selected for a fair--, but the commission stuck out in my mind. After a few discussions she came clean with the fact that they only asked 35%. I think she thought I would name drop on the post… I don’t do that.

9/24/2008 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Alika Cooper said...

i have had troubles with slow responses with most of the galleries i work with. i think its very important to not take it personally. ive learned to pick my battles. if its really urgent, ill make a fuss (by fuss, i mean just make a greater effort, call multiple times, stop by, etc).

2/03/2009 09:19:00 PM  

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