Running an Art Gallery

Last year I made a post about starting an art gallery, where I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for gallery owners and the hard work that they do. Here’s part of what I said..

“I used to have romantic ideas of what it would be like to own an art gallery. To be surrounded with great art everyday, to work with artists I love, and to sell art to people that love art as much as me. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.I haven’t owned an art gallery or worked at one, but I have had an exhibition at an artist run gallery. Which took all of the romanticism out of the idea.
There’s marketing, hanging, organizing the opening, smooching, and when it’s all up and running, it’s just like looking after a shop. I know an artist run gallery is a bit different to a commercial gallery, but setting up and looking after my own exhibition gave me a lot more respect for what gallery owners do. It almost justified the large percentage of the sale price they take from artists.”

Anyway, occasionally a gallery owner or an artist makes a comment on the post, so I thought I would share a few interesting ones..

Paula says “I am a small art gallery owner in Columbia, SC – I am going on my 2nd year in business and it has been a “roller coaster ride” thus far! It does take more money than I ever dreamed – I can say, that without determination and a drive to survive in this business, it (the stress) can gobble you up. I am often quite surprised at the attitudes of artists that come in and think that what I do is so “easy” – their thoughts are that I am surrounded by art on the walls, I get to meet people (different artists), and I get to make all this money off of their art,,, that is not the way it goes! The business of it all is quite stressful if you let it get to you – how do you pay your bills month to month, taxes, advertising, etc, etc….I do not have a “financial backer”, just my own savings – and as an artist myself, those savings were almost non-existant! All artists should have this experience at least once to know both sides of the gallery. It is not easy and it is definitley not cheap! Be kind to your gallery owners, especially if they have been good to you – it can be a thankless job with no paycheck for a long while!

Anonymous says “I am an artist that also runs my own studio and gallery. Because I am in the business of “selling” art, I do have to appeal to the masses if I want to make a sale. That is not to say that I don’t do work that I have fun making. I sell a lot of the traditional “over the sofa” type stuff, but I sell quite a bit of the edgier stuff as well. It is just a matter of finding that niche. I have a client list that shows a picture of what that person has bought in the past. If another piece is completed that I think may appeal to that client, (based on their past purchase) I give them a call or drop them a note. Sometimes (more than not) it pays off. To be an artist for art’s sake is one thing, but being an artist to make a living takes flexibility and smart tactics in marketing and salesmanship.”

Arthur Browning says “Yes, it’s tough to sell art to people that have no taste or no money. It takes a lot of money to do the real thing, and connections with wealthy buyers who also have taste. For the poor and the tasteless we have poster stores with “archival matting and framing” shticks. Online art, or the neighborhood artists’ league are the only hope for people without real money. But, if it’s any consolation, many of our museums show atrocities that will only be remembered in their own archives (blessed be the “deaccessioning”).”

KJ says “My experience as a part time assistant in a commercial gallery many years ago really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes. I even began to understand why artists checks were sometimes late (I understand, not approved.) All artists should strive for some little bit of experience like this… it’s a real education not obtained elsewhere.”

Starting an Art Gallery

Over at ArtInfo.com they have attempted to outline what it takes to start an art gallery and why you should start an art gallery.
I used to have romantic ideas of what it would be like to own an art gallery. To be surrounded with great art everyday, to work with artists I love, and to sell art to people that love art as much as me. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
I haven’t owned an art gallery or worked at one, but I have had an exhibition at an artist run gallery. Which took all of the romanticism out of the idea.
There’s marketing, hanging, organizing the opening, smooching, and when it’s all up and running, it’s just like looking after a shop. I know an artist run gallery is a bit different to a commercial gallery, but setting up and looking after my own exhibition gave me a lot more respect for what gallery owners do. It almost justified the large percentage of the sale price they take from artists.

Anyway, in part one of “Opening your own gallery” there’s this comment..
“The best dealers are not salesmen in the classic sense of the word. Their passion and their connoisseurship and their knowledge have to combine to convince someone to acquire something that has no ostensible function in life, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. It is distinct from the normal business world because of that.”

And in part two there’s these great tips for starting a gallery (go to the ArtInfo page to see more on each tip).

  • If your motivation is purely financial, forget it.
  • Those without prior experience need not apply.
  • You have to be passionate about it. The “merely interested’ won’t cut it.
  • You have to have a precise focus.
  • In New York City, you have to be equally certain of where you should set up shop.
  • You need a lot of experience in business.
  • Just as important, you need a lot of experience with, and knowledge of, art.
  • You have to have the ability to make both artists and collectors comfortable with you.
  • Then, if there is a secret ingredient, here it is: You have to have “a good eye.”
  • In conclusion, you need a wide range of skills, you need to work hard, and you can’t imagine for a moment that this going to be easy.

See more on Running an art gallery here.