Saturday, February 24, 2007

Art galleries and artists: a business-like relationship

Bart's Lily (8" x 11" coloured pencil on paper)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Have you ever wondered what art galleries can do for an artist? Or how to present your work to an art gallery? Or how to 'do business' with one? One of Maggie Stiefvater's galleries is Chasen Galleries in Richmond Virginia and Andrew Chasen, the owner, recently kindly agreed to let Maggie interview him for her blog.

You can see the first half which concerned how galleries can provide their clients with a good service on Maggie's blog here. It's a good read for those who've not bought from galleries before.

I've reproduced the second half below. This focuses on the relationship between artists and galleries and provides some information which readers contemplating gallery representation might find very useful. I think it's really great that Andrew has taken the time out to provide a very helpful perspective on how galleries like to do business with artists.

[Maggie suggested I give it a 'Tyrrell touch' - hence my comments on Andrew's very helpful responses. These are the italics bit in square brackets - like this. These comments are very much generic though and do not refer to Chasen Galleries unless indicated].
1. Traditionally artists have been told to approach galleries with informational packets and portfolios, but of course the Internet and sheer number of artists out there has changed things. How do you find most of the artists that you represent?

Artists contact us via the Internet as well as through US Mail. The Internet has truly simplified the process and I prefer receiving initial photos via email. If there is question about actual quality, then I may ask to see the artwork in person. I have also sought artists I have read about.
[Read Andrew's instructions for artist submissions to his own gallery here. Not all galleries do this. If they don't provide advice then it's generally a good idea to give galleries a ring and ask what is their preferred way of artists approaching them. If a gallery isn't happy about using computers and the internet then expect to spend a lot of time wordprocessing letters and using the post. Remember also it's quite likely that this will also be the way that this gallery will be contacting their clients. Pause for thought...........]
2. What is the biggest mistake you see emerging artists make when approaching you? Is there anything in particular that screams "don't take me!"?

I think the biggest mistake emerging artists make is to not have enough of their artwork for me to judge. Another error is to have too many different styles or techniques to choose from.

Too big an ego is also a turn-off. When an artist guarantees me their artwork will sell, I am scared off. I do not care how successful an artist has been selling their work. What matters to me is how effective I feel we can be in selling their artwork.
[Comments about a body of work follow. Being clear with galleries about what sort of work has sold and for what sort of prices is something most galleries will want to know about.]
3. On the flip side, what makes an artist attractive to a gallery?

Showing me a concise yet appropriate body of quality artwork makes me take notice. Something new and different is always intriguing.
[A lot of galleries now also take a look at an artist's website before seeing them - but won't necessarily announce this to you. Just expect them to check you out - just as their internet savvy clients might. Does your website present your work as if it were on a gallery wall - is it coherent and co-ordinated? Are themes clear?]
4. How many pieces should an artist have before looking at gallery representation? Framed? Unframed? Is "gallery wrapped" canvas the new black?

The number of pieces an artist has depends on how many galleries they want to approach. I will take on a new artist who has at least 5 or 6 pieces I can display. Art buyers want a choice, they want to see what the artist can do. They want to see consistency in style and technique and they want to see variety of imagery.
I prefer framed artwork for the gallery, however, it has been my experience that most artists are unwilling to spend enough on the framing. Artwork in unattractive frames makes the artwork look cheap. If you won't spend the money on good looking frames, then consider the gallery wrap. A gallery wrap gives the art buyer the choice of framing the painting or leaving it as it is with no further expense. The gallery wrap, while appropriate for some artwork, is not necessarily the look that a very traditional client will appreciate.
[Remember that "at least five to six pieces" that can be displayed does not mean a gallery will love everything you show them. Give them a choice. You'll need more than five to six of one theme!

Getting a good fit between how you like to frame and what the galleries likes to hang can be important. Make a note of what they like and/or get their advice about what would display your work to best advantage. Costs can be reduced and artwork can still be presented in good quality frames if you to work to frames in standard sizes. That way you can swop art in and out of frames and recut mats to fit. Metal frames are often unacceptable. Projections on the back of frames are outlawed by many galleries to avoid damage to other stock when not on the wall.]
5. Do you think the gallery scene has changed in the last five years? Ten years? Do you think it will change substantially in the near future?

The gallery scene is definitely changing. While limited editions (giclees and serigraphs) on canvas have been extremely popular, the trend now is toward original paintings. The art industry,not unlike other industries, goes through cycles. The print buyers of the last several years and newer collectors now want moderately priced original paintings.
[When scouting out a gallery, check the price range they sell in. Also check what artwork similar to yours sells for. Remember that gallery artists who are popular and have a track record of good sales will sell for higher prices than emerging artists. Bear in mind that if your work is similar to an existing gallery artist, the chances are that a gallery won't want to show you since they need to keep existing gallery artists happy as well as clients!]
6. What should an artist expect from a gallery, marketing and sales wise? And conversely, what does a gallery expect from an artist? Is there a period of time after which you decide to drop a non-selling artist?

An artist should expect the gallery to present and display their artwork in a professional, expert manner. The gallery should be able to speak easily and convincingly about the artist and their background.

The gallery expects the artist to provide artwork on a continual basis as needed. If the flow is disrupted, it is possible to lose the momentum the gallery has worked so hard to develop.
[Probably the most important thing to test before approaching a gallery is to see whether you can keep producing work in a steady way irrespective of 'artistic block' and domestic and/or family crises. Do you have or can you make the time to build up stock to keep galleries fed with a steady flow of work should your work sell?]
7. Tell me about medium. Oil has traditionally been king of the hill. Do galleries prefer oil? What about more "fragile" media that have to go behind glass: pastel, colored pencil, watercolor?
Oils and acrylics are treated almost equally. Some purists only will buy an oil, but that is rare. I have avoided other media on paper. My preference is artwork without glass so as to avoid and, therefore, eliminate any difficulty with glare.
[Galleries seem to fall into two camps - those that sell work behind glass and those that don't. If like me you draw and/or work in media which needs to be glazed for protection then this automatically limits the galleries you can approach. However it's worth exploring ways in which you can present work eg pastels without a mat.]
8. Artist-Gallery contracts – good thing? Bad thing? Necessary thing?

Any business relationship should have a reliable source of information in case of dispute. Hence, the artist-gallery contract. Although I have rarely had to refer to a contract due to a dispute with an artist, it is a safety precaution nonetheless.
[This is a business relationship and needs to be business-like. Check that any contract stipulates what the gallery pays for and does for the artist and what the artist pays for and does for the gallery - and what sort of costs might be involved. It goes without saying don't sign it if you've not read it thoroughly and are happy with it.]
9. If an artist markets themself well, what's the advantage to the artist of having gallery representation? In other words, what can galleries offer an artist for the commission they extract?

For an artist to make major marketing impact, they need gallery representation to enable exposure to a wider audience. They need to deal with reputable, established gallerists. How long have they been in business? What is the gallery reputation? Ask around. Ask artists who have exhibited in the gallery.
[Make sure you know what the commission rate is - it can and does vary! If seeking gallery representation, try asking a gallery about how many people they typically invite to private views and what proportion they expect to come from their client list and what proportion from those people (ie potential buyers) that you send invites to. Successful galleries will always have an extensive client list and they'll also expect you to have one. They build good relationships with their clients through events and good communication (eg the electronic newsletters of Chasen Galleries). Check if galleries will share the names and addresses of people who bought your work with you - many won't if it's one of their clients.]
10. I see a lot of big name artists with multiple galleries representing them. How many galleries should an artist have, anyway?

There is always the danger of having too many galleries represent an artist. If an artist cannot keep up with the demand (not necessarily a desirable problem), then it is time to begin reassessing which galleries are working best. It may also be a time to consider raising prices. There is also the danger of diluting the artist's work by seeing it everywhere. It can kill the demand for the work. Thomas Kinkade is a good example of this marketing over-saturation. How many Kinkade galleries are still around?!!
[Some galleries may well expect an exclusive deal for a specified geographic area around their gallery. However, galleries in different parts of the country are generally not competing to interest the same clientele.]
11. Describe your perfect artist. How many pieces, what sort of style, what sort of behavior they exhibit – what does this perfect artist do to make your life as a gallery owner easier?

My "ideal" artist would have a style with broad appeal (does anyone really know what that might be??), and should be eager to provide us with new, updated work when necessary. The artist should also be open to suggestions from the gallery and its clientele. An artist who can speak with clients and promote their own artwork in a gallery show setting is always a plus. Buyers like to meet the artist and learn more about the artwork and the methods. An artist who provides marketing materials is also extremely helpful to the gallery by providing information for their collectors and prospective buyers.
[I recently suggested that a blog can be rather like what you do as an artist at a private view. You talk about your work - what inspired it, how you created it etc. It can also tell readers where your art for sale is located. Galleries may also read them prior to making a decision about you.

Some galleries will expect artists to fund the marketing material for exhibitions but may get very nervous of using any marketing material which includes information (eg website address and/or e-mail address) which means that their clients can contact you independently. They take the view that clients visiting a gallery are clients of the gallery not the artist. Business-like artists know that their gallery representation will be very short-lived if they don't immediately refer any gallery clients who contact them back to the gallery. At the same time it's good to do business with a gallery which recognises that its clients are perfectly capable of googling an artist's name even if a website address is not publicised within a gallery.]
12. And finally, every artist has a dream gallery they'd love to represent them one day. Do you have a dream artist that you would love to represent?

It would be my dream to represent the work of Wayne Thiebaud. I have always loved his work. My clientele, however, may not appreciate his prices!

Art is a passion for Andrew Chasen. He started collecting art as a child, began selling posters out of his car in 1983 and eventually quit his job to start selling art wholesale. He opened his first gallery in 1994. Chasen Galleries - in Richmond, Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina - now represent artists, sculptors and glass artisans from around the world. Andrew aims to provide high quality original artwork and an unprecedented customer service for his clients.

Links: Chasen Galleries,
3554 West Cary Street, Richmond, Virginia 23221

Technorati tags: art, art blogs, art business, art galleries, art marketing, art websites, artist weblogs


Maggie Stiefvater said...

See, I told you the Tyrrell Touch would add a lot! Great notes on the interview, Katherine.

Laureline said...

Oh my, Katherine--that lily is breathtaking. What a lovely use of color and texture. You are one of the finest colored pencil artists I've ever seen. While I can appreciate the technique of the uber-realists among colored pencillists, their work leaves me tepid, I'm afraid. But yours is fresh and vital and intimate all at once. I could spot your work a mile away.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Maggie - glad you like it!

Thanks Laura - that's such a nice comment - and is much appreciated.

I was very pleased with this one and it deserved another outing. Bet you'd be even more impressed if you knew that it was mostly all done while sitting in a bed in Bart's Hospital after an operation to remove my thyroid! The only problem was avoiding anything getting tangled with the drip and stopping the pencils falling off the bed. And I lasted about a day after the operation before "he who must not be bored while I sketch" was asked to bring in the electric sharpener for my pencils!

Stacy said...

Katherine, when I opened your blog today that lily took my breath away. It is stunning!!
Then I read your post. Although I had already read the interview in Maggie's blog, it was worth another read especially with the additional comments you added. Information like this is invaluable for artists who are just starting out. Thank you for all the information you provide here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Katherine, another example of your beautiful work. I want to touch this lily's petals!

And a great post too ... very interesting and informative.

You are a fine resource for other artists.

Peter Yesis said...

Thanks for such an informative and interesting post. You asked all the right questions. This is the type of blogging that keeps me coming back for more!

Unknown said...

Beautiful lily...very striking.

The gallery interview was very enlightening and helpful. I need to make that next step into gallery representation, but going about it...or rather, finding the time to go about it has always been my stumbling block.

Thank you for giving me some free insight.

Jana Bouc said...

Wow! The colors and light in this painting are amazing--just stunning! And you did it in a hospital bed!!!! What an inspiration! The information is really interesting about the galleries too.

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