Thursday, May 28, 2015

Demystifying the Gallery World: Things an Artist Should Know

So this last weekend I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention, which is a medium sized convention located in Kansas City, MO. It's about three years old and spun off of the juried annual Spectrum Fantastic Art. I went mostly to lurk around, see some kickass art, meet amazing artists and run a workshop called "Demystifying the Gallery World".

The gallery world isn't all that mystical, really. It's just a business. Granted, it can be volatile, unpredictable, baffling, but it's really not all that much from any other business in that there are protocols, contracts, agreements and mostly, relationships. Curator, artist, visitor, collector...

I only had 30 minutes to cover an insane amount of information, so I tried my best to hit as many points as I could, using simple slide shows to bullet point. As requested, I am going to list my slides here, in all their glory.

(Want to See the Actual Workshop? Here it is!)

Developing a show with your curator

  •  Working relationship (key word: “relationship”)
  • — Size of show, size of work(s)
  • — Theme or series
  • — Curatorial vision
  • — Communication! Keep it open, even if there is a problem

Contracted obligations for You and the Curator/Gallery

  • — Written agreement stating terms of show
  • Average retail gallery commission: 40 – 50%
  • Exclusivity clause?
  • Artist usually pays for shipping fees to/from gallery
  • Amendments must be discussed, written and signed by both parties to be legal
  • — Insurance, security, damage or loss of art
  • Marketing obligations, if any

Managing the workload between Confirmation and Delivery

  • Mindful of deadlines vs your own work ethic
  • “Buffer days”/”work days”/”potential sick days”/”FAIL days”
  • Last month is devoted to press releases, marketing, documentation, cataloging
  • Unlike some publishing scenarios, gallery openings are “hard openings”!

Preparing to document your work: Photography, Statement

  • WIP photos are great, especially for a unique process 
  • Traditional 2D: good lighting, clear images, true colors (ie, get a professional if you need to) 
  • 3D: multiple angles, detail shots (video is okay too) 
  • DON’T: use cell phone, photograph a piece under glass (unless you have no choice), or overly Photoshop an image 
  • OIL, metallics, and high gloss mediums: mindful of reflections, blowout, moiré 
  • Statement: reflect the theme of your piece/show. Be heartfelt (visitors can read through bullcrap). First person statements are best. If your medium is unique, you may need to explain what it is or why you used it 
  • DON’T: copy from your website

Framing and Display

  • Ask about weight/size limitations, as well as wall hanging options and amount of wall space 
  • Wall space: ask about “usable” vs “total” wall space 
  • 3D: Ask about types displays, surface type, if pieces can be anchored, height of displays 
  • Use framing material that is archival – if it is not, alert gallery owner 
  • Ask about frame options on the gallery end, if you are shipping. Many galleries have inhouse framing or framers that are economical. 
  • Use chipped, broken, scuffed frames 
  • Use glass if you plan to ship the piece. Use plexi or matte acrylic 
  • Use a cheap frame (that clearly looks cheap) for expensive pieces. Customers complain about that. 
  • Use odd colors for mats or frames, they’re a harder sell. Use neutral colors such as white, cream, gray, black, beige. 
  • Use toothed hardware. It tends to come out. Use appropriate d-rings, wire.

Shipping your work

When packing 2D art:
  • Ask gallery if they have packing material requirements (such as “no peanuts”) 
  • Don’t pack glass if at all possible 
  • Use foamcore, hardboard or rigid material to protect front of piece 
  • Don’t tape anything directly to your piece or frame 
  • Paper corners, bubble wrap, paper on corners 
  • Don’t overpack a box. Also, make sure pieces will not shift in transit 
  • Don’t use packing tubes for original art 
  • Insure your package! 
When packing 3D art:
  • Crate larger pieces (have one built or buy one at places like Uline
  • “box in a box”, floated 
  • Complex pieces should be broken down into smaller pieces, boxed individually 
  • Send along assembly information and images, including a repair kit 
  • Insure your package!

Pricing your work

  • Materials, time as a factor (adjust if you tend to work slow or fast) 
  • Take in consideration commission rate 
  • Market value: speak to gallery owner about local retail averages vs global averages (example: Grand Rapids may have a higher price point than Anchorage for art) 
  • You may need to make some adjustment to your pricing (or piece choice) to reflect your new locale 
  • Don’t undervalue: your humble $300 price point for your detailed oil painting may say “there is something wrong with this” or “I’m not worth collecting” to a collector. You don’t want to brand yourself as naïve or desperate. 
  • Don’t flux: Collectors get very frustrated with art that’s re-priced from show to show or month to month. If a piece isn’t moving at a current price, RESEARCH WHY. The results may surprise you. Never drop a price…

Market your show: marketing, opening receptions, and review

  • Branding the Art and Show: from Objects to Experience 
  • Social media/Mailing Lists/Preview Lists 
  • Press Releases and advertising 
  • Opening and Closing receptions 
  • Press and collector parties 
  • Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Nothing At All


  1. This is awesome, great workshop, thank you for sharing! Will you be posting the questions that were asked after the workshop? Also, do you have any advice on where to find a sample artist/gallery contract to review? Thanks so much!!!

  2. I've actually been compiling questions (there was a Q & A portion that wasn't recorded) and will touch on those in an upcoming article. I will be going into detail on some of this in a June 2015 Muddy Colors article. I can probably highlight examples of our own contract - with the exception of some basic elements (commission rate, for example) contracts can be wildly different. Thanks for the feedback!

    1. Fantastic, I can't wait to read the articles! It'd be awesome to see a sample contract and an article on the basics or from the point of view of both the gallery and the artist. Again, thanks for sharing and excited to read future articles!!!