And now for something completely different. After last weeks’ walk in the mystery of morphic fields and the remarkable letters that followed, I was left with the creepy feeling that there is nothing new under the sun. What I want to talk about today is a practical aspect of professional success — dealer loyalty.
It’s important to match the artist with his market through the careful choice of a stable of dealers. I say stable because I believe it’s important to have more than one dealer. Something I’ve learned is that when one dealer is pulling on the oars another will be laying back on them. In these times when world athletes are trying for their personal best — it’s good to keep in mind that we artists generally need more than one partnership to share our unique magic with the fans who make it all possible.
It has surprised me over the years how changeable are the dealers themselves. An artist’s middle name is often “change,” but one might think dealers to be paragons of constancy. Not so. Gallery priorities shift, fashions fluctuate and dealers follow. Sometimes they lose interest, get tired, jealous, even too rich. Often the artist is the last to know because the dealer wants to preserve a sense of continuity as well as move into the trend he sees as lucrative. After all, dealers have rent, overhead, and staff. It’s a fact of life that formerly prestigious dealers fall by the wayside as hot new dealers, often in modest premises, steal their thunder. If you subscribe, as I do, to the notion that you just want it all to continue so that you can get on with your first love, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a good hard look at your traditional relationships.
The best dealers build circles of friendship among their clients. They keep their friends. A new dealer gives the advantage of introducing an artist’s work to a new set of friends. And those friends become your friends — not that you have them over for tea — but they look at your personal best every day — and get to know and love you well.
PS: “Yes’m, old friends is always best, ‘less you can catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of.” (Sarah Orne Jewett, 1896)
Esoterica: Paul Durand-Ruel,(1831-1922) the best known of a family of French picture dealers was a loyal champion of the early impressionists. His passion was legendary. At times risking bankruptcy he formed both personal and financial alliances with Monet, Pissarro and others, talking them up to anyone who would listen, eventually seeding love for their work in the US.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities Thank you for writing.
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville FL, USA
I have always had a problem with the big-city high-powered galleries demanding exclusivity when they represent me. They use that as a bargaining chip when we talk about the possibility of a one-man show. I have always refused to sign those contracts. My argument is; if you want to be the only agent who sells my work, you must guarantee me a minimum annual income. So far, no one has been willing to do that. But my work is popular, so they end up representing me anyway. I try to avoid using agents that are too close to one another geographically. The agents who sincerely like my work are the ones that sell it best. And what other retail business gets inventory supplied for free?
Load of rubbish
by William Gilhooley
Most artists love to sell their work but also need praise and encouragement. Even the good ones need this but not so much that it leads to arrogance. This does easily happen. I do not feel that galleries or art shows should direct the trends as this often leads to the breakdown of sound teaching methods in schools and academy’s in their desire for monetry gain. We know they are in the game for that, but should listen to public response to art. Many, and I am not going to call them uninformed buyers, are often frightened away because of critics and galleries who usually talk a load of rubbish while sipping the sherry and eating savouries while posing, hoping that someone will think they are knowledgeable and with it. I can go on in anger about this and what I feel the effect is on the honest artist be he brilliant or like the majority, just enjoying his or her passion for art.
Nation of shopkeepers
by P. S. Sharp, UK
The important thing for artists to remember is not to be intimidated by galleries or their owners. They are for the most part, shopkeepers, who merely look to the bottom line, and hang the stuff like meat on hooks. The passionate, committed and loyal dealer exists, but is the exception, rather than the rule.
The food chain
by Pip, Los Angeles, CA, USA
We artists must realize that we are the bonito on which the sharks feed. Without us, no shops or sites would be fed a thing. Look sharp. Jump!
by James Hewton
Most of the dealers I work with I have been with for more than ten years. Some gallery owners have become my good friends. Relationships between small galleries run by honest, decent dealers and quality artists are sweet. As opposed to the big chains and one-artist galleries which are promotion oriented, the better informed clientele intuitively and through experience know that there are true treasures to be had in these pressureless galleries.
by Peter Shulman, New York, USA
Of the 1453 paintings I have sold to date all but a very few were sold through dealers. My 72 solo shows have been at 24 different galleries and when you add in an additional 250 or so group shows you can see that I have had a lot of dealings with dealers. First let me say that art dealers are simply retailers whether they are the elitists in NYC that think they run the art world or the owners of the local frame shop. I do three shows a year and refuse to let any dealer show me more than once every 3 years. This is the way to keep getting to new groups of dealers “friends”. A tip for new artists trying to get dealers to show their work; remember going in that they are retailers and have to make money to survive. I always tell dealers that I don’t care if they like my work — the fact is that it sells and they can make money! MONEY is the magic word to an art dealer. I also recommend getting your dealers in widely separated locations. The publicity isn’t redundant that way. In 1999 I did my shows with galleries in Rome, South Beach and NYC. This year I have already done Prague and am preparing work for Chicago and Santa Barbara, CA. The other important thing is to check with your dealer regularly. The advantages are multiple, first you can develop a friendship which will make the dealer work harder to move your work, second you can find out whether anything has sold (dealers have a disturbing habit of not paying the artist until they have to) and third you can get feedback about your prices (always set your own and keep them inline with the level of a specific gallery) or which of your subjects are getting the best reaction.
No place like home
by Chris Rose, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
During my days of great delusions I had my stuff in four galleries. These galleries were all well established and recognized with the exception of one that was a co-operative effort.
(1) The Co-operative Community Galleries:
Two sculptures were exhibited and both sculptures were stolen, however, the insurance covered half of the value of the sculptures. Thus one might describe this as positive experience. Unfortunately one sculpture was not for sale and belonged to my daughter, therefore it was a little bit of a personal loss.
(2) Commercial Gallery in a big city:
This gallery took all my sculptures that I could produce and kept soaking them up. They were always very friendly, They managed to sell one piece and after that they did only show one piece while keeping 6 – 7 others in the storeroom collecting dust. After a year I was kicked out.
(3) Commercial Gallery in a high Tourist area (skiing, snowboarding, Mt. biking etc):
This gallery showed a number of my snowboarders and mountain bikers, but each time I visited the gallery (unannounced) I was greeted with a big hung and kisses and I was asked why I did not tell them that I was coming. I found not one of my piece on display, this was especially galling during the winter when the gallery showed ballet dancer, while at the same time 20,000 skiers/snowboarders were slizzering down the mountain site. Yes I was asked by the gallery to donate a snowboard sculpture to a benefit auction (it received a bid of $750.-) the gallery took the credit for the donation but not even a ‘thank you’ to me.
(4) Commercial Gallery in a second high Tourist area (skiing, snowboarding, Mt. biking etc):
This gallery had four of my sculptures. When I visited this gallery six month later without prior warning I found one of the sculpture missing. When I asked for the owner, there was a sudden flurry, I was told the sculpture had been sold some month ago: Yes one could say my stuff is not worth looking at it and therefore it did not sell. Or, that I ask too much, however the fact is that after paying for the stone, the burrs, sanding material and other overhead I should go to the labour relation board and complain for not getting minimum wages inspite of the fact that I work very fast once I get going ( I would not like to let any one know how little time it actually takes to do a sculpture).
The Irony is, that once I removed all the sculptures form the various galleries and showed them in my annual “Art in the Garden” show I sold most of them within two days (at gallery prices).
by Linda Timbs, Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
Treat your dealer like a violin, and when his tune turns sour, remember you can find another who will play your song, because YOU still hold the bow, and YOU have the wax.
What do you think of a gallery where you state what your price is and he jacks it up and sells it for three times what you get in the end? (Stacy Edmonds)
(RG note) The retail price of a painting should be about the same wherever you sell. Make it clear to your dealers what this price is by giving them a price list. Tell them these prices ought to be honoured or approximated in order to protect your market elsewhere and the investment of others everywhere. If the dealer continues profiteering, throw him out.
How many galleries do you think an artist should have? (Brent Tyler)
(RG note) That depends on your productivity. An active, prolific artist may be able to supply ten or twenty. Slower artists might only be able to supply two or three. Keep them in different geographic areas, protect their territory, and give them time to build you up.
What’s the commission rate these days? (Joan, etc.)
(RG note) It ranges from 25 percent to 50 percent. The average is forty/sixty. Generally speaking, if you favor the less expensive galleries with your finest work, your cash flow will go up. With a modest little nudge, quality work sells itself.
What do you do with dealers who take from Peter to pay Paul? (Len L. Francis, San Francisco)
(RG note) Get together with Paul and all the other artists and either get the gallery to fly right or close him down.
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Peter Shulman (letter above) who also wrote, “When I met Picasso in the early 1960s I noticed a sign (in French) over the table on which he kept his materials. I asked for a translation. It was ‘While others talk, I work.’ I have the same sign (in English) over my work table.”