A few years ago a brick & mortar gallery contacted me to let me know they were interested in exhibiting my paintings. I was delighted since they were only about a 5 hour drive from my home. Sending the paintings by FedEx was expensive especially the larger ones, so my husband Don offered to drive there and deliver the rest the following week.
When he arrived, the owners a married couple gave him a cool welcome. The lady was on a computer and hardly glanced at him, just waved her hand. Her husband didn’t seem pleased to see him after Don introduced himself and mentioned he had my paintings in his car.
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“Put the paintings over there,” he said pointing at the wall. “Let me show you around,” he added as he led Don to a second floor. In a small room/closet were stacks of paintings from artists all over the world who thought they were exhibiting in a first class gallery after paying a fee of over a thousand dollars per year. Will they get a showing or will their paintings stay in that little closet for the year?
If you can’t show up in person or have a friend who could you will never know. I did have a showing months later for two weeks—they sent me a photo of my work hanging in a small cubicle.
Was it a phony setup just to please me? I really don’t know.
Another gallery I was in for 8 months was slightly better and closer to home. After being featured up front for about two weeks I was moved to the back of the gallery. I was miserable, knowing my paintings weren’t being seen.
This particular gallery was run by a family who didn’t know too much about advertising. (Every gallery should advertise, by the way! It costs dollars to let people know you have a business, and to encourage people to show up and buy.)
After only selling one small painting my last month there—and getting paid 2 months later—I felt it was time to leave. Giving the directors a week’s notice, Don and I packed my paintings into our car and saying good-bye, we left.
On the way home I looked in the trunk and noticed my largest painting was missing! We turned around and drove back. The director helped us look around the gallery and it was gone. Was it stolen?
“Let me call my partner,” she said. “Maybe he can help.”
And he did. . . in fact, HE was the one who had removed it without telling anyone and delivered it to a bar down the street. It was just hanging there. I told the director who was with us that her partner was unprofessional, and she could tell him I said that.
A week later I received an e-mail from the culprit, which stated in no unclear terms that he’d be telling any future gallery owner horrible things about me.
So what did I learn about choosing galleries?
1. Request a contract that spells out what the gallery looks for and what they expect from you the artist.
2. See if the staff or owners greet you cordially and are knowledgeable about art, advertising, and running a gallery
3. Ask the gallery director how they plan to promote your work. Do they send out flyers, send press releases, invitations to everyone on their mailing list?
4. Don’t be afraid to open your mouth when things aren’t right. All they can do is ask you to leave and take your art with you.
Here are a few alternative places to sell art
As a result of those poor experiences, I haven’t sold in galleries for many years. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sell! I sold art in a yoga studio, a small museum of art which was a music studio, a bar, a shoe store, and a major family store no longer in business.
I’ve also sold directly to businesses—one was a beauty salon which bought about 20 small abstracts and installed them on their front desk. They also purchased several large ones that were put up as fancy dividers for customers.
Some of those venues I reached out to, others heard about me by word-of-mouth. But the truth is, you can sell almost anywhere, if you’re just willing to look around and talk with people.
Special thanks to Rusty Wahl for sharing her tips on avoiding the wrong kinds of art galleries! To learn more about Rusty or her abstract paintings, please visit her website.