For years, I’ve chatted with many artists who almost always have something to say about art dealers and galleries.
Talk usually settles on representation and fees that many galleries charge (50-60%, ugh!) to represent artists and sell their work, sometimes exclusively. Some of the artists’ comments are about the benefits of having their work hang in galleries that represent them, but many of the comments are tales of horror or woe.
But now … it’s time to turn the tables.
I decided to write this piece due to a few issues that I’ve had with artists myself. First off, let me say that I’m actually talking about gifted and professional artists who know how the art game is played … for the most part.
I say “for the most part” because you know there’s an issue when you use the word “professional” around certain artists. I’ve already written about this and won’t go into it again. I’ll just sum things up and say that if an artist doesn’t understand the word “professional” and the requirements of professionalism, he or she probably isn’t going to make it very far in the art world, let alone the world at large. Enough said.
Given all of that, this piece is meant to HELP artists and not hurt them. God knows, we’ve all got plenty on our plates to bitch about these days. However, I’ve spoken with numerous, respected and reputable art dealers who’ve agreed to express their pet peeves about some artists given the condition of anonymity that I offered to all of them. Sometimes, naming names causes people to focus on the wrong thing and I don’t want that to happen here.
So, from the art dealer’s perspective … What’s up with some artists? Believe me, there was no shortage of passionate responses:
“I just know that like clockwork on opening day of a show, not the day before or the day after, but on OPENING day, I’m going to get a bunch of email or calls from other artists,” one dealer at Frieze New York 2013 told me. “Opening day of a show is not the best time to call me,” the dealer said, referring to artists who are not part of that particular opening. In short, opening day is a huge, busy day for art dealers who need to focus on a million things connected with making that particular show a success. So unless you’re the artist whose show is opening, don’t expect the gallery to drop everything and attend to your needs on that particular day. Contact them later.
We’re just getting warmed up here.
Another art dealer I spoke with sent me a LONG email about their particular pet peeves. Here’s a portion:
“… On my website, I specifically have a page about "Submissions" that details what I am looking for and how I want portfolio submission materials sent. To me, if an artist is willing to take the time to review this and follow the steps, it will be someone I consider for either gallery representation or art consulting projects. I specifically state, "NO EMAIL (unless previous authorization).”
The dealer goes on to say … “I cannot express the number of submissions I get via email. And I delete them all! It says to me that the artist has not taken the time nor given me the proper consideration for me to spend my time looking at their work. I am baffled by the artists that send out a mass email to numerous galleries at the same time (and allow us all to see who is cc'd).”
In short, that art dealer believes that artists and art galleries must be “good fits” and mutual respect is crucial. That dealer also had something to say about artists who visit art fairs …
“Artists do not seem to fully understand that for any gallery to have a booth at an art fair, it takes a tremendous amount of money and energy. Our first priority is to meet with potential collectors, reconnect with current collectors, connect with new design professionals including interior designers, art consultants, stylists (who can create ongoing sources of potential clients); Connect with art media (bloggers, writers, magazines and more). We are there to sell what is on the walls (as well as additional current inventory) and pitch our style and services to paying customers! Our goal is always to at least break even and hopefully do far better. It is not a time for an artist to pitch their work. A brief introduction - a hello - is fine.”
The dealer continues: “What I recommend is for an artist to look around at the art fairs and see which galleries they feel they connect with. There is always such a range and you have to see where you connect and fit. Then you can say a quick hello. Sign up for the gallery newsletter. THEN, in the following week or two, follow up with the gallery (advice: Heed the Submission Policy!) but whatever you do, DO NOT PITCH YOUR ARTWORK at an art fair!
This dealer also has a word or two about artists who don’t take part in “Open Studios.”
“I personally get really angry when I attend Open Studios and find only a small portion of the artists participating. I experienced this last year ... To me, it is selfish and inconsiderate to both the other artists in the space, as well as the attending public. We are all making an effort to be there and support the arts (and it all takes a lot of time, energy and work), and all of the artists should too! I too often hear from artists about how hard it is to be seen or recognized or sell and then I see many of them don't even participate in these types of events. It's baffling to me!”
Well that just about says it all, doesn’t it? Actually, NO.
During another email chat, another art dealer told me about … say it ain’t so … the "egos" of some artists. Really? In this day and age? Have we not evolved past that? Apparently not, according to this dealer. Here’s what this gallery owner told me …
“Most of my artists are very easy to work with and I usually do not have any complains about them BUT, (artists of a certain genre) in general have a higher ego than other artists and I have learned not to let (this particular type of artist) create a piece specifically for a fair or a show before knowing the size, weight and dimension it would be. I have seen myself having to pack and unpack things so large that were covering 90% of the booth surface and at the end was very difficult to sell. As a gallery owner, I know what sells and what won't and I will trust MY instincts first on what to show, to whom and where.”
Here’s what yet another art gallery owner said when asked about pet peeves:
“Artists who constantly ask if something has sold. I never really know if something has sold before I get the check and when I do, the artist is paid immediately. That’s when they know the work is sold,” the dealer said.
Also … “Artists who want to discuss their work before I’ve seen images, especially during business hours. I tell them to just email me images and if I like them, I’ll get back to them and then we can discuss.”
“Artists who finish work for a show at the LAST MINUTE and make it difficult to get photographs. We send out a specific calendar for artists to follow before a show. We need to have the deadlines met!”
What? Even artists must meet deadlines? Absolutely. It’s crucial. If artists don’t meet submission deadlines, galleries can’t meet all of their necessary deadlines to help make the artist’s show a success. Deadlines simply cannot be missed. In fact, if you’re an artist facing a gallery deadline, take this tip from a journalist who has never missed a deadline; get your work in well BEFORE the deadline. I mean like a day or two in advance. I can assure you that you will reap untold benefits from this action alone. Trust me.
Oh, and I totally understand the fact that artists are striving for perfection in their work and cannot be rushed. We ALL feel that way, but the truth is that there is NO perfection in this world. The best that we can achieve in this life is supreme excellence and wholeness. It's a healthier pursuit that we can also apply to our personal and professional relationships and not only in our work. This is the stuff of true masterpieces.
One final thing on the deadline issue. I was recently chatting with someone I know who works in art public relations. When the topic hit on artists and deadlines, here’s what my acquaintance said …
“... Working with artists, I know what you mean about their inability to understand deadlines. It’s almost comical sometimes!”
Before I go on, did you notice that one of those art gallery owners doesn’t like email submissions while the other does accept them? This simply goes to show that you’ve got to be aware of the various submission policies of different galleries. It comes with the gig.
Oh … I literally just got another response from another art dealer. I am not kidding and this one really goes the distance ...
“From my perspective, the most common fault - and most conflicts - from the DEALER side have to do with a lack of understanding as to what an art dealer actually does for the artist and what their exposure is with regard to each show produced,” the art gallery owner stated to me in an email.
This particular dealer went on to tell me that each show in their main gallery costs upwards of $50,000 from start to finish to produce. The dealer adds that must translate into $100,000 in net sales - after any discounts - or the gallery will lose money. Entering the top art fairs alone costs galleries anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000. Expenses include the display booth, shipping, staff, travel and other expenses. Keep in mind that works that don't sell must be shipped back to the gallery and works that do sell - often not many - must be packed and shipped to buyers.
By the way, I can vouch for the expense and sweat that galleries invest in these art fairs. I can often sense their apprehension and uncertainty while chatting with them during my visits. I’ve written about this in the past. I've heard stories about dealers who hope to sell at least ONE thing so they can at least recoup travel expenses. It's NO JOKE.
“Somehow, artists are unaware of the costs and effort associated with promoting and selling their works and what dealers do to earn their commissions on the sales they make,” the art dealer said.
Continuing on, this dealer also mentions the show prep that takes place months in advance, press that usually goes out three months in advance along with previews, general mailings that involve tens of thousands of clients, printing invitations, direct mail campaigns, email campaigns and other details that all involve strict deadlines. In addition, the art dealer says the entire effort usually doesn’t involve current sales, but future sales because it takes so long to establish “emerging artists” in the minds of potential buyers. The hope is that galleries can recoup early investment when (and IF) the demand for an artist’s work later rises along with prices.
“Believe me when I tell you that the gallery and its staff make every possible effort to support an exhibition … and to place as many works as humanly possible,” the dealer said.
In short, selling art ain’t easy and I’ve spoken with several other art dealers in the past who say many artists just don’t understand the work involved.
Again, I took the time to research and write this piece for the purpose of helping artists and dealers. As an art writer, I get swamped with artist email all of the time myself, so I KNOW galleries are overwhelmed.
Keep in mind that this is the very first piece I’ve ever written that gives art dealers a chance to tell THEIR SIDE and vent about SOME artists. Perhaps I’ll write more in the future. Why? Well, can you think of anything worse than playing on a team where there’s no teamwork? It sucks. With all of the challenges out there, the art world needs more teamwork and less snarky attitude.
All I can think right now is … a picture that includes mutual respect, professionalism, diplomacy and maybe a pinch of tough love makes for a great relationship.
Why not paint THAT?