One question arrives in the inbox frequently — it has to do with an email solicitation that some artists receive from a gallery in New York. It looks like this:
I came across your (your medium) on your website while I was doing research online. I wanted to take a minute to introduce you to our gallery, and inform you of our exhibition of (medium and subject matter with a link to the previous year’s online catalogue.)
Agora Gallery has been in business since 1984 and is located in the heart of New York’s famous art district, Chelsea. A well-established gallery, we provide promotional services to talented artists such as yourself, for which we charge an annual promotional fee.
For more information about gallery representation and our services, or to submit your portfolio for review, please visit (a link to their website.)
I would be happy to answer any questions. You can reach me at (phone number) or (email address.)
(Full name, title and contact information)
For an artist seeking a gallery, this message may at first feel like a golden art unicorn falling directly from the sky into her morning oatmeal. But artists are writing to express suspicion towards the catch: a substantial fee for a compulsory 18-month representation contract and accompanying artist promotion package. And while the opportunity to show in New York may be too good to pass up at any price, most are still left wondering, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”
Last Thursday evening, Vancouver painter Claire Sower made her New York debut. With a respectable number of local exhibitions under her belt and her own studio and gallery space in an established Vancouver artist’s district, Claire now stood with her very own 10-linear feet of prime Chelsea real estate. Agora is a generous, polished space broken into smaller exhibition areas over two, elevator-connected floors. A sea of triumphant faces gleamed, with artists’ chests emblazoned with Agora-logoed nametags and hands passing out home-doodled business cards and shiny gallery catalogues. Eyes and mouths motioned for new connections amidst a swell of ballistic gallery goers. Claire and her paintings sparkled in the fray.
When talking later, she confided that, while wary at first, she decided to go for it after consulting a supportive gallerist friend. Her portfolio was reviewed and accepted within four weeks, then promotional materials including a press release and bio were created. Her social media broadened with all the new opportunities to cross-pollinate with Agora’s abundant online content. Claire described a professional and honest team, on-hand to answer questions about shipping and marketing and who’ve promised to provide a list of entities approached regarding her artwork. Claire also has an online profile on Agora’s affiliate site, “ArtMine,” where the gallery can be contacted or the works purchased directly for a 30% commission. Claire told me that while the sale made at her opening was to a client known to her, he was also a New York local who appreciated the opportunity to see her work in person. To her, it’s been a worthwhile adventure. After her 18-month contract is finished, Claire is eligible for a reduced fee upon re-signing with Agora — she’s thinking she should.
PS: “I think if I lived and worked in New York, I would try the more traditional routes first. But gallery space is hard to come by these days — the art world is very competitive, and the old bricks and mortar gallery model is changing.” (Claire Sower)
“Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.” (Ayn Rand)
Esoterica: Vanity galleries made their New York debut in the 1970s when savvy heads noticed an overabundance of eager-to-exhibit artists — many who were women and other under-represented artists unable to break the glass ceiling of an insular art world. Gut instincts and establishment wisdom have historically called this model exploitative — mining artists rather than collectors for profit. And with ready cash being the determining factor for acceptance, standards are diminished. Perhaps our modern times demand that investment at the easel is no longer enough. “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” (Decouvertes)
Beyond Borders: an Exhibition of Fine Art from Canada, featuring the art of Claire Sower and others, is on view at Agora Gallery until October 29, 2015.