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.”

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. great post and nice to hear the viewpoints of gallery owners. The galleries that represent me struggle and so I appreciate they want to represent me considering I am not an easy sell. I think having experience working or helping out in a gallery is very important and/or helpful.

  2. This is a terrific post. More artists should have a mature understanding of business and a better respect for gallery owners. I am a commercial artist selling direct to a niche market. I really admire anyone with the courage and people skills to try and work well with both artists and buyers.

  3. This seems to be a common perception (artist to gallery manager) in any broker situation, the broker appears to take a large chunk for little work. As you’ve discussed there is alot of work that goes into any situation where the for sale becomes sold.

    I am in the process of putting together a one time gallery opening, can anyone recommend a good place on the web to start putting such an event together?

  4. On Art Galleries, Art Museums and Artist Studio/ Galleries,

    I have been fortunate to work in several art museums and have had numerous engagements with art galleries and gallery curators/owners and now have my own Art Studio Gallery. I would offer several words here that may be of benefit to others.

    Let’s start with Art Galleries. The gallery should be prepared to assume a fair share of the burden (the cost of the artist’s exhibit), that would include framing, shipping and promotional expense (catalogs, advertising costs, Press releases and so on) and the hosting and management of exhibits, sales and any patron services provided by the gallery. These may include hanging artwork in the patron’s home or office and the insurance of the work while on exhibit, loan, or transport. For this the gallery receives a commission on Artworks that are sold. Most of the time 50 to 60 percent is what gallery owners charge. The problem is the galleries have become accustomed to have the artist bare the burden of much of this cost complaining that it is expensive for the gallery and costs are high while sales are often slow. I will point out that the cost to the artist is also high and the artist has already paid the cost of material and labor, education and so forth. That is the artist’s part. Now comes the gallery who wants an equal share. A gallery has to be appropriately funded to be successful just like any other business. For a gallery owner to expect that the artists are going to bare the cost of its operations is unrealistic. Most successful and I will use the word, respected galleries do meet their half of the bargain.
    Art Museums– I was the Director of a regional art museum in Montana for five years. Funding was always a struggle and never did we enjoy a Board of Directors with the ability to raise the needed money to operate the museum. That defaulted to me and the other professional staff members. But we were successful and we ran a solid program that still serves the region today as it has for more than 35 years. We did have some real issues when it came to showing living artists new work. The main one was the expense of the exhibition which is costly in a museum setting that has high operating costs where paid staff is obligated to perform all the work. But the question that we asked was (should the artist have to bare some part or all of the cost of the exhibit) after all we were a non-profit that did not sell art for our income. The museum’s income stream comes from donors, grants and admissions. I will tell you that before I came to the museum and before I really looked at the practices, we shifted much of the burden to the artists. How we did this was by charging entry or jury fees to evaluate an artists work. $25.00, $35.00 X several hundred entries adds up to significant income for an organization and not much action for the artist. Then we would ask that the artist prepare the artwork for exhibition, (framing and so forth) then we wanted the artist to pay for shipping to the museum and also return shipping. That meant that the artist also had to package the work. And the final blow was we expected the artist to insure the work while in transit. What we did at the museum was hang the artwork in our gallery, insure it while on our premises, (more so for our benefit than the artists) and promote the exhibit as part of our promotion program to our patrons and then collect money from our multiple funding sources because we showed the artwork in our exhibits. And if we sold the work, we’d collect a percentage from the sale. We charged 30 percent. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? As a group of regional museums we attempted to address these practices through the Montana Art Gallery Directors Association MAGDA. We decided we needed to change how we did business and began looking at out practices. It is my belief that the artist should not bare the cost of an exhibition. But the practical needs of the real world still exist and that is not entirely possible. MAGDA offers the artist venues to tour their work for a fee to museums and galleries that covers the expense of the exhibit that includes all of the costs. Artists still may have to pay costs up front with smaller organizations but larger museums may pay those initial expenses. MAGDA also has attracted patrons or donors that award grants to artists to help with the cost of exhibiting their artworks. It is not fool proof and still has room to grow. The dedication of museum professionals throughout Montana has made this organization an example to follow. I served for several years on the MAGDA board.

    The Artist Studio Gallery– That is where I am now. After tiring of the whole marketing effort, I wanted some control. My friend Bill Ohrmann also tired of the whole touring and looking for a gallery and built his own studio/ museum. What I have found is you do have to spend quite a bit of money, but you also retain control, and when you have a sale you make the profit if there is any. I also will say that you reap the benefits of the tax system and if you operate as a business and you must operate as a business, you will build a successful life for yourself. If you do not have the business background, you can work with the local Small Business Association in your area. Or better yet go to the local community college and take some business classes. Write a business plan, because a good well researched business plan will identify your strengths and your weaknesses as well as your resources– that is the resources in your area. As for aesthetics that is all yours. I do not believe one type of artwork sells better than another, you just have to find your market and that is part of your business plan. And one last note, you the artist should never have to pay to show your work and if we all stuck together on this one issue we could change how business in done. This is my website. Please stop by and take a look! Haven’t gotten rich yet, but maybe because that’s because the dogs chase all the customers off!?

  5. This post has helped me understand a little better the practices involved in starting & running a gallery. I appreciate all the advice these guys have to give!

  6. I’m a gallery owner and get sooooo tired of people asking for a discounted price. Does anyone have any thoughts on how to nicely say “buddy, this is my paycheck you’re asking me to take a cut in”.

  7. What do gallery owners often look for in the Juried process? Even though I do not like the idea of being charged $25-$35, I could justify it only if my fears that:
    I wouldn’t be rejected due to a lack of exhibition history (which seems to appeal to collectors)

    IMO some gallery owners are shady by not providing details of the artists rights UNTIL they pay a jury fee. Also their refusal to sign a agreement stating that if the artists work is mistreated while in their possession they will pay damages.

  8. This seems to be a post about running a business which is not what doing Art is about to the cultured few beings left on this planet .Selling it is another ordeal I am a small non profit business Artist with a venture that holds 2 other people liable /they are my partners .I have hung stuff sold it always a cool deal private sales are the best low overhead ,being lucky at my first few gains I never thought about bigger Galleries .When I found out they took 50 to 60% that means I’ve got to cater to those that can afford me and hike my prices up up up!!Wow plus Galleries expect stuff to be wall hanging perfect .Is the framing more important then the work?What about the picture ?Do I do a recall to my own work according to those that might notice a chip in the wood of a sanded frame .People feed me as I grow do not starve me you do not know how much I love to give what I can do !!But can I afford me at the rate of indecent exposure 60% is this so you can keep your overhead ?Help me understand this will 70% be enough >can you buy me groceries ,gas a decent dwelling? sell the work 30%/40% and keep your shows at a lower cost until you can afford your overhead.Feed the Artist their worth or you will not have their value GB

  9. My husband and I have owned and operated Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, and online since 2001. In fact, we opened September, 10, 2001. The next day, with the horrific events of 9/11, we thought we were gonners. Of course, the economy of then was nothing compared to the difficult times of today. However, our sales are up from last year by 40 percent (2008 being our worst year yet).

    My point in writing this comment is to say we have noticed a dramatic shift since opening in 2001. Back then very few collectors thought to look on the internet for art or artists. Now, it is second nature to go to google for everything, including researching artists. A collector walks through our doors, falls in love with the artist, goes home and googles the artist and then commissions directly from the artist. I’m not saying this happens all the time, but several months ago we, by accident, found out about a $200,000 commission that went directly to the artist after the purchaser had discovered his artwork in our gallery. Rather than become bitter, we got smarter. Why shouldn’t the internet work for both artists and galleries.

    Now, before we represent artists in our Scottsdale gallery, we require they join Xanadu Studios where they show their work online through our site. Every studio artist shows in our bricks-and-mortar gallery on a rotating basis, but only top-selling artists show on an on-going basis and get shows devoted to them. We’re not sure it’s a perfect system yet, but we’re evolving with the times. We’re requiring more from our artists who promote themselves through personal websites and blogs (which, is like all of them).

    I often wonder how other galleries are dealing with artists who have gallery representation but continue to self-promote. I have been known to secret shop gallery represented artists. I contact them through their emails on their personal websites and inquire as to whether they have any studio pieces available. Not once has an artist directed me to his or her galleries for purchases. I fear galleries will dry up if they don’t smarten up. Then where will collectors go to see art in person?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I was just researching when I read Arthur Browning’s comments..sir, you are a pretentious prick! For your information ALL art is subjective!!! Just because you think its art doesn’t make it so!! Its you and people like you that give art a bad name. Just shut the hell up!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    What a great post, my son found it for me as he knows I’m starting the process of putting a business plan together to open a gallery with my partner.
    It is interesting and informative to hear of other people’s experiences. Our philosophy as artists is enthusiasm and love for art, and to bring art to all people, no matter of background or any other factor that Mr Browning seems to hold forth on. The art world would be better off without people who hold such bigoted and narrow views such as his.


  1. [...] and galleries seem to be further apart than I thought. The recent art galleries and Internet post created comments that were anti artist or art gallery. A comment by “anonymous” on [...]

Speak Your Mind