There seems to be a lot of confusions surrounding gallery representation and what it means to be a gallery represented artist. How involved is the gallery? Do they have any say in your work? What are your responsibilities? What are theirs? Who would benefit from having a gallery rep? Who should avoid it? The artist gallery relationship was never really explained well in school and I want to clear up some of the basics before we dive deeper into specific aspects in later posts.
First and foremost, while there are some commonalities between galleries, no two galleries operate the same way. I can only speak from my own limited experience and what I’ve heard from friends who are also represented. In this post I want to focus on who is responsible for what in the gallery/artist relationship and why one might want to seek out a gallery rep.
It’s good to think of a gallery rep as a record label. The gallery manages most of the business activities related to being an artist. The main goal is to sell the artist’s work, but there is more to it than that. A good record label probably isn’t trying to make quick money off their musicians by getting them to perform at a prom or allowing a bad commercial to use their song. They want to build the musician’s name and reputation. Similarly there are galleries that can quickly sell work to whoever walks through the door but you don’t necessarily want that. A great gallery will work to build your reputation in the art world and introduce your work to influential buyers such as museums and known private collections. By signing with a gallery you are entrusting them to manage your career, promote your work well, help you navigate the art world, and make wise decisions about your work.
So the gallery is working hard to promote you, what are the responsibilities on your end? The simple answer is to create new work, but once again there is more to it than that. It’s important to realize that once you sign with a gallery, creating art becomes a job. You have to produce new work consistently and on time. You’ll have to meet deadlines for promos, shows, interviews, etc. You’ll have to talk and write about your work. In a strange way you’ll have to represent the gallery as well.
Who is it for?
While it might seem great to have a gallery rep, the added responsibility and lifestyle of being a working artist isn’t for everyone. I think one needs to have the following before considering approaching galleries for representation.
- A consistent vision and idea of what their work is about and why they’re producing it.
- Interest in growing as an artist over the long-term rather than making quick money.
- Have developed a rhythm and process for creating new work.
- A willingness to trust someone to direct their career.
Please share experiences, you’ve or someone you know has had with galleries, in the comments.
Image from the State Records NSW.