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.

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.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    The biggest thing to running an art gallery…the politics. If you have any sponsors whatsoever, then you are not entirely in control of who you show. I work at a small gallery as the Asst. Dir and Curator. I thought it would be great, get to pick all these artists I really like. Not so when the people paying the lease, and my salary, are only interested in seeing Sunday Watercolors. It’s a fine balance between appeasing the bill payers and showing contemporary art.

  2. 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.

  3. I think you have to have a lot of money before starting a gallery, rather than starting a gallery to make a lot of money. That way you can afford to show art that might be more daring and less commercial.

    And yeah, it’s not as easy as some artists think (running a gallery).

  4. great post and information and spot on.

  5. I think a good way to start is associating with an owned public space, some free walls in a trendy café, bar, theatre, centre, whatever to give you the experience of running it and working with artists…and some owners would even let you do it for free.
    Look up in history at the Dada group that started in a small café and ended up as a huge Art movement with The Cabare.

  6. Just a few moments ago I was looking at the website of a gallery in Chelsea, NYC,which is having an exhibition on Coney Island, one of the places the Mohawks SAC hung out about 60 some odd years ago. To the point of this discussion, curious about their artist list, I looked at the samples shown for each. There were 25 names, only one of which I have encountered in museum exhibitions or general publicity.I understand that there are about 200 galleries in the Chelsea section of NYC alone. In addition, to the several other sections packed with galleries in the borough of Manhattan, The City, to New Yorkers, there are a number of sections of Brooklyn which appear to be attracting numbers of galleries as the rents in The City increase with the building of condominium apartments and other luxury resources in what were once low rent districts.
    How many of these make money? I am told, I have no personal knowledge, by people in the business that most are constantly on the verge of closing for lack of rent money. How many of the artists earn sufficient income from their sales to live on their art alone. Despite the considerable wealth being invested in fine arts these days, and the considerable wealth accumulated by the successful objects of investor pursuit, one would guess that a large majority of those people who call themselves artists are working at jobs other that do not involve their serious dedication to fine art objects.
    Why this apparent glut of labor relative to possible full time employment in this occupational category? We are getting an ever greater flow of research from sociologists, economists and art historians who are grounded in social science concepts and methodology which is adding more refined knowledge to the often fine anecdotal evidence available in the art literature.
    I offer one not very sophisticated hypothesis for consideration. Premise: we have far more artists than employment opportunities warrant. Hypothesis: this is due to the fact that the job title “artist” can be acquired by anyone with any training or no training who calls himself an artist or is called by others an artist. No diploma, no degree, no length or quality of apprenticeship necessary. One can simply hang up a shingle labelling oneself, “artist” or have some critic, curator, gallery owner call one an artist, and there you are.
    In the words of Jean Paul Sartre referring to a very different type of membership in a book written immediately after WW2, in behavioral terms, we can say that an artist is anyone who calls himself an artist or is called by anyone else an artist.
    Frequently in the past art communities have developed solutions to this “problem”, if problem it is; my own prediction would be increasing development of artist limiting definitions by the American art community in the relatively near future. I would prefer not to speculate on what these will be. I do not, repeat do not, say that I would support such measure nor think that they are in the best interest of the fine arts in America. I simply say that my view of the developing American society and the rapidly changing art market situation lead me to the prediction I made.

    irv

  7. Irv, your post reminded me of a quote I just recently read by Bill Viola..

    “Technology’s not going to change the number of geniuses in the world, but there has been a whole middle zone of quite talented people who don’t have that superhuman gift. Some of the lounge pianists I’ve heard are pretty good. They’re not going to play Carnegie Hall, but they’re pretty good.”

    I know a glut in painters isnt caused by technology, but I’m sure a lot of young painters working today will be working in offices 10 years from now.

    I’ve also seen artists with degrees that deserve the title of “artist”, while others with no education should have the word “artist” tattooed on their forehead. So before we start culling artists based on education, we should see what they can create.

    Hard times will sort out those that don’t deserve the title of artist. When/if the money dissapears, the dilettantes will also vanish.

  8. 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”). These big organizations seem to be bent on abusing the attention of the public in the name of educating them. To what – conceptual morass? Arcane details of the otherwise unremarkable or overexposed? NO, they are just following the crowd of other groupies to show overrated but well packaged crap. For instance, Dale Chihuly, a likeable guy with a big rep. But come on – he’s over-rated. He fills up space in public areas that need “something different”. What does a guy with 10 assistants have to show for his endless and repetitive production of mildly ornamental forms in glass? Some money – but his portfolio is run down to the level of draperies or furniture from any mid-level design house. Is that what America wants? Do we get a choice? He’s shown in 12 venues at the same time – covered endlessly by papers and public service TV etc. Chihuly has some good things but they are buried beneath the storm of mediocrity that he gets paid to ship and install.
    So show me the ART!!

  9. As an artist with a Bachelor of Creative Arts[hons] I run a small private gallery and display artworks by many local artists. I also deal with the many types of art related problems ie- from helping students with their artworks to curatorial and art managment for collectors. Over the years I have heard many people say ‘thats not art’…. what I would like to know is ‘What Is Art’?… arthuntaustralia.com

  10. i do believe there is too many ‘artists’ and not enough room. there is a dilution of art due to too much crap out there for the masses to digest. however, having recently graduated with a post graduate degree from a ‘top’ london art school, i can say that art schools are merely banking on their name and cashing in on over crowding art programs, particularly aquiring international students. having a degree does not mean you have the knowledge or even the passion to be an artist.

  11. I own a 1350 Sq Gallery in Richmond Va I’m new to this game and I’m not wealthy…yet…but I’ll let you know when I get there!

  12. I liked your response “What is art?” to the comment “That is not art”…

    Recently I had one of my “Off the Wall Series” wall sculptures at an exhibit in Vero Beach, Florida. A couple (around age 60)was looking at this piece ( title: “Burnt not Bitter”). I was across the room observing their reaction. The male looked kind of excited about it… and was talking to his wife
    while not taking his eyes off of it. I thought maybe he was trying to talk her into buying it. Then they both turned… the woman glancing toward me with a glare on her face… and they both pitched their cups into the garbage can…and walked out. I figure they had come into the exhibit looking for a typical “sweet painting of a sailboat tied up to a dock in a gold frame to hang above their sofa”. Instead they were hit with an urban looking wall sculpture that has textures, an electrical wall socket and extension cords attached! They did not see the meaning or creativity. I imagine they may have been thinking… “That’s not Art”. I wish I would have had a chance to speak to them. I would have liked to have asked them “What is ART?!!!!!!!!”.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It has been interesting reading everyone’s comments on the subject of “what is art?” I am an artist that also runs my own studio and gallery. Because I am in the busines 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 stuf, but I sell quite a bit of the edgier stuf 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 salemanship.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Im a 21 year old art student. I have started and run my own art gallery and co-op. I had no experence with this before. Things are going great. I have been getting amaing artist, the openings are great and everything is going well. I think your wrong about all your things you need to start. All i had was a little money and a goal. I worked hard and i did research and i figured it out.

  15. 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 definatley 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!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I am an artist who also had my own gallery in Maryland for years. To make it short, it was such a headache to manage. recently, I just started selling my art and license my images to online sites like artrev.com and art.com. My experience with running a gallery has been great in other ways. I gained a lot of contacts and built a decent client list…

  17. 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. http://www.mt-magda.org/index.html 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 http://www.ohrmannmuseum.com 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.
    http://eubank.home.bresnan.net 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!?

  18. Anonymous says:

    I am trying to start me own gallery and wondered what is the most difficult part of starting the gallery…ie is it designing the space, aquiring the artist…how do you get the artist and basically where do you start???

  19. can any gallery owners expand on where to find good art (meaning art that translates into sales) when starting a gallery? i’m interested in starting a gallery and finding that to be the most challenging part. thank you!

  20. I just started to work in a small gallery in paris and i really dont have idea of what i should really do, nobody around me tells me (because i think no one has done this before) and if any one with more experience could hive me a hint or just some advise it would be great….
    Christy

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have a dream of having my own art gallery. I am currently an elementary school substitute teacher and it is my big dream to move from that to having my own gallery.

    as any business it is never without hard work. My father had his own business in auto aftermarket. He made good money, but like art in a way, it was a competitive business.. it was not without some blood and sweat either.. but to him it was worth it and he always said it is better to be your own boss if you can be.

    my dream is to develop a unique concept art gallery which centres on my art as well as representing others .. I am brainstorming up another element to add to my concept to make it unique. I don’t have to be rich.. just make a living and be happy.

    There is a gallery I’ve seen in a small town which is a family run operation, a small gallery that does everything from emerging to recognized international artists and they seem to do it as a labor of love.. that is where I’m aimed..

    I think it is good to think outside the box. after all that is what we do when we create an art concept or painting, sculpture .. so why not think of creating a gallery in the same way..

    the post from the artist running one’s own gallery without much experience or money and is happy so far.. that sounds so inspiring.. I hope I can find some more good advice here.

    Is it necessary to be open every weekend to be successful? I want to have a concept which allows me to still have a balanced life.

  22. The most important thing when establishing an art gallery is to be patient.
    It is a business that takes time to flourish. You need time to establish connections with various art collectors, to market the gallery and find really good art that actually sells. A lot of it apart from running the actual ‘shop’ and having to deal with the day to day organisation / management side of it, is PR. You have to devote quite a chunk of your time to PR the gallery. You could do it yourself or employ someone who could do it for you. Most importantly, the location of the gallery will be the determining factor in how well it will do. Before you set up shop look around you to see who you would be attracting (both artists and buyers) at the chosen location. Think target market! http://www.SILKSGALLERY.com

  23. Anonymous says:

    I think the difficulties in either being an artist, starting an art gallery or just being an employee is not to stress. Life is worrying and laughing at the same time, the more you brush the frustrations over the more people want to be around you.

    Ive read so many people complaining about bits and pieces and you must be positive with everything.

    Art is art, its just like every other mystery in life as to why it is what it is and with all the issues and opinions people give, unless they’re positive they are time wasting.

    For those of you who are just starting off, figure out what makes you happy first. Do not walk into someone’s art gallery who is over stressed and think that it will be you. Make your own happiness, its as simple as reading what ive just written.

    Good luck.

  24. Garrett McCarthy says:

    I just found your site and the comments are definitely an eye-opener. My goal is to start an art gallery in upstate New York in a seasonal village along the shore of Lake Ontario. After years of chasing commissions ( the brutal 101 course in dealing with business and people), The name of the game is to get ahead of the curve and build an inventory of artwork you enjoyed creating. It doesn’t FEEL like work when it’s your own. I just want to have my small affordable paintings readied and on display in my own little work studio which is close to pedestrian traffic of summer tourists…while giving art instruction and house paint on the side – (the bread & Butter jobs).
    Garrett McCarthy
    Artist/Muralist
    http://www.garrettmccarthy.com

  25. Anonymous says:

    I have to say as an “Artist” myself who are people to say others are not artist? Professional artist from here and then have drawn, painted, sculpted and etc. amazing pieces so called by the people which my six year old little brother could have made a kindergarden. I say no matter how good or bad a person is at art someone out their is bound to appreciate it and with time comes wisdom of what you are doing. An artist is someone who appreciates art and making art for just that reason. “ART” And hell if you have the dedication to open and run your own gallery you can. It has nothing to do with impossibility but everything to do with learning how and taking a life lesson out of it. Just do your research and you can accomplish running your own art gallery. No one ever said it would be easy frankly life isn’t supposed to be easy.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Can someone help? We have a large collection of artwork and are looking to open an art gallery. (We already have a very small private one and are looking to open one to the public). My problem is finding a suitable way to label each piece of artwork. I have found brass plaques to mount underneath each piece of art but really do not want to do that since we tend to move art around quite a bit. Does anyone know of plaques or labels to place on the frame, we want small labels just to denote a numbering system, nothing else. ???? Thanks for the help.

  27. Anonymous says:

    well, I am one of those Saps who opened his own art gallery. I started my gallery out of the back of my car then we went through the bar scene and then we finally wrote some outstanding grants which got us a three story building in the Pittsburgh Art scene. All is going well in Pittsburgh. Many galleries started the same time as me but only a hand ful are left.. here is the KEY.. own your building… this proves your loyalty to art and seperates yourself from the others.. so wonderful! then don’t listen to what artists have to say about them having to bear the burden of the costs.. 2 reasons… first. artists (exspecially abstract painters) are a dime a dozen. second.. it is an artists job to spend money on their lifestyle… so if you were a full time snowboarder, it would cost you equipment, lift tickets,gas to get there, lifestyle clothing, etc..so, being an artist costs, frames, paint, entry fees and The Burden of dealing with art gallery divas like myself

  28. Many of these threads were very useful and informative. The one thing not mentioned, and I am embracing, is STAYING PUT. Everyone I ever knew who started a studio/gallery, over time, became a part of their community both serving them and being served by them. Longevity will establish your reputation before your profit. Once reputable, talked about, fun to visit, admirable – you can leverage that into collectors and sales. Good Luck everyone. I’m staying put.

  29. if I wanted to a thousand reason why not to open a gallery I would start here.

  30. Mr. Miner says:

    There’s NO MONEY in the gallery business.

    If a gallery asks you to contribute more than $1,000 for opening/printing costs, it means they are barely scrapping by and don’t have the highest connections.

    If a gallery has a wealthy benefactor, they WILL NOT show work by an UNKNOWN artist. Their money is made in the back room selling Dali’s, Picasso’s, etc. Your shitty portraits or landscapes are worthless.

    BUT if you’re a wealthy artist, you can pay off the right gallery owners and curators to buy your way into the limelight.

    Bottom line is, art has become a commodity and you need money to run your own gallery, and you need even more money to make it to the level where you’re able to sell one $3,000 paintig a month. Welcome to the art world, tied to the “umbilical cord of gold.”

  31. Hey Anonymous Pittsburg Gallery Owner Guy, talk to me. What type of grant did you get to buy the building? Did you hire a grantwriter or do it yourself?

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