Should I or shouldn’t I?

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Dear Artist,

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:

Dear _____________,

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.)

Kind regards,

(Full name, title and contact information)

claire-sower_Leave-it-Behind

Leave it Behind, 24 x 24 inches, acrylic on canvas by Claire Sower

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.

claire-sower_flowers

Roses in White Vase, 20 x 24 inches, acrylic on canvas by Claire Sower

Sincerely,

Sara

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.

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35 Comments

    • I am not sure that you should. You are paying 47 bucks just for them to have a look at your portfolio. No guarantee that you will be one of the 20 selected artists to go on the Group-show Exhibition.

    • The reason I did not go for it was a trusted bit of advice from a local gallery owner who suggested artists should not pay to have their work exhibited… That being said, I am not represented locally either. Sigh.

    • I laughed so hard, my coffee came out of my nose on that one! Actually, there is one, sorta. University of Southern California’s Norris Cancer Center has a venue for artists who are also survivors. (My exhibit is scheduled for March 2016).
      Bet you didn’t expect that answer, and yes, I shamelessly promote myself.

    • Lol! And this–I had in mind a soul who, after studying an online edition of Grey’s Anatomy, after participating in workshops (weekend polyp primers), after having ventured under the skins of lesser relatives–they’d naturally want their name in lights. Where, then, are the vanity hospitals willing to give (for a fee of course) those fine folks an operating theatre?

      p.s. I rather like the survivor exhibition :)

  1. Dear Sara:

    Thank you for this letter and insight . I received this letter a year or so ago and communicated with the gallery .

    I decided not to submit at the time and this was my rationale – as an emerging artist I am still trying to find my own style and to reach a place where I am happy with my technical proficiency. I decided instead to sign up to receive Agora’s newsletters and to follow the Gallery to see what kind of art is being accepted and shown in their space. In other words, I wanted to follow the New York market to gain an understanding of the current market . I have also signed up for various other galleries in various markets . It is an excellent learning tool for any artist wanting to develop a ” marketing” strategy . But I must admit I would love to be able to see my work on a gallery wall …… in the meantime I just keep painting .. All the best

    • The thing is, when you add this “vanity” show to your CV, everyone knows what it is, and knows it isn’t a white box “real” gallery with gallerists who are very selective about their stable.

      • Dear Susan- Screw ‘white box real galleries’ really. I’m a working fiber artist- and there are no galleries for my medium. There have been- but they come and go even more quickly than the ones your work must be hanging in. Some of us artists just have to get up every day and make opportunities for ourselves HAPPEN. And after a lifetime of working and more than 60 juried shows- including some international ones- and a string of awards and a whole bunch of other self-produced exhibits- and a bunch of newspaper/magazine articles as well as things being published in actual hard-bound books- there still aren’t any galleries that want to handle my work.
        So sorry- if my vanity gets in your way. I’m sure my attitude would get in your way too. You’re a pompous ass. Way too selective for me.

  2. I too have been approached by Agora and ultimately hit on the delete button after a few moments of consideration. Like Robin, I look and learn while striving to make the best art I can and, in my case simply wrap my head around my own unique (goofy) creativity. I suspect that it is virtually impossible to break into the NYC art scene without living there. Perhaps though, we are all just six degrees of separation from Larry Gagosian, fame and fortune.

  3. I, too, received a ‘solicitation’ from Agora. The one (and perhaps only) thing that impressed me was the depth of their ‘mining team’ who found me in a remote albeit small resort town in the boonies of Alberta. This is (partially) what I wrote back:

    Dear _____________,

    Thank-you for your time and interest. If I thought that you had really perused the artwork on my website, and if I thought that you thought my work was really worth a ‘shot in the big time’, then I would be interested. But at this point, it is too much of a financial risk for an entry-level artist. I started painting in 2007 as a retiree so compared to the talent and work that you see, I am pretty small peanuts. Moreover, from looking at your website, I see that the type of art I create is not something that you necessarily are interested in for your gallery needs.

    Blah blah blah blah…..

    i received a nice open-ended ‘standard’ response and that was the end of it. Can you imagine the amount of do-re-mi Agora must be raking in while pandering to the more naiive crowd who actually believe they have been singled out because of their talent and unique art???

    Anyhow, why didn’t I think of that concept? :-)

    Cheers,

    Verna

  4. Reading these comments, I can quite truly say they all resonate. I did not find signing with the Agora an easy decision to make- but in the end it comes down to what you’re personally comfortable with. For me, it has been worthwhile on many levels, perhaps most importantly because it has broadened my experience and provided greater context within which to place my own work and professional goals. And – as an artist – I would rather have shown my work than not.

    • You Go Girl! More power to you for your willingness to take the risk to market your own artwork. It takes courage to do what you did. Your still life “Roses in white vase ” is lovely.
      Thank You for sharing your experience. I’m inspired. Blessings,

  5. I succumbed to Agora’s lure before I knew what a vanity gallery was, and was not disappointed in the experience. I just wrote a long epistle on what I went through, but it disappeared…darn. I say, go for what interests you and turn something like this into a part of your art education. There are many lessons and they will all resonate in the future and you will have a great trip to the Big Apple, if you haven’t already. One thing I didn’t do, though, was mention it on my CV, once I learned that paying to be in an exhibition was not PC for artists who want to become known. Smile.

  6. Agora approached me some time ago, but I am older and wiser and needful.
    I did not like the sales reports and I am widowed. If I show I must sell….not a game.

    10% of the works in any decently-promoted show are supposed to sell , or better.

    Today’s galleries have been “getting away with it” – they charge more in fees and commissions and do less, re: achieving sales for their artists.

    NO.

    I am enjoying developing it better, I hope.

    Truly

    Elle Smith Fagan

  7. Gabriella Morrison on

    I get this yearly solicitation from Agora gallery, yearly, and my website has been defunct for three years now. It gets the deep six hit right away. I look around my apartment and take in a ten foot stretch of wall space – not quite large enough to put up one large and three medium sized works. However one might be able to put up a nice little mini-show. Why do not painters ask friends with huge houses to host a show for them on a large wall? It may be only Podunk, not New York, but one could have a fun weekend vernissage among friends, old and new. Cost? Negligible and affordable for many.

  8. I am now an elderly artist with many years of exploring art.. I was told many years ago that to show in a “Vanity Gallery” was the kiss of death for any artist who wants real prime time. In this age of cell phones , more visual ways can show your art. My website can be shown to anyone who asks by the flip of my phone. I have been fortunate to show in local Galleries and once in Boston, big time…quite a few years ago. No big sales but great exposure. My website is diverse in the use of materials, but the overlying spirit is the same.

  9. I too received an offer from Agora and at first I thought how great! Then it dawned on me that I would be paying a gallery to show my work up front????…then they get a hefty commission to boot! There’s shipping, insurance, and all the other incidental costs. Somehow I saw a lot of dollars going out but little coming in. Perhaps one could look at this opportunity as a PR event to further one’s work…and that’s fine. If you have a few thousand sitting around…go for it! But, has anyone found that after going through the Agora process it actually put dollars in their pocket? Would be glad to hear. Thanks.

  10. Agora may be charlatans. Dare I say that they are, in my personal view (hopefully their thought police are not subscribers). However, what is commendable is Claire’s bravery, putting herself “out there” as the youngsters like to say. I would not even be game to put a bullet in the chamber let alone fire.

  11. I’ve also been approached several times by Agora. I checked with an artist friend who did go ahead with them and was very disappointed. Having lived in NYC the offer just didn’t seem quite right. I’ve passed on it each time it comes up.

  12. Very interesting information. By coincidence, I was just preparing my images to submit to Julia Adison, at art@intcoartists.com for possible inclusion in an art book by ICA Publishing of New York and Athens, Greece. No cost to submit but if the work is accepted and included in the book, the artist is required to purchase at least $170 worth of books (2 I believe). And I assume one would get only one painting included. Has anyone had any experience with this “offer”?

    • Yes, I have got many many of these offers. Rest assured you will be accepted. It is not skill or good work they are looking for but artist that are able to pay the price. It is vanity publishing. I know the story -the book goes to lots galleries and collectors world-wide!

  13. Hello….. but aren’t all shows vanity shows whether you’ve been confident enough to front up to a ‘real’ gallery or choose to hang in a paid for space? You have to be pretty sure that your art is good before you will be confident (aka vain) enough to show it all. Vanity shows, vanity galleries, hired spaces, artists collectives are all the same in the end. Fashion designers often pay for catwalks to strut their stuff with the hope of attracting buyers. I am sure the producers who hire space on the shelves of Woolworths and big stores are proud of their products so why shouldn’t artists approach their sales in the same way. Many of the select galleries haven’t got enough space or finances to show every artist that comes through their door and often their fees are very high but it doesn’t mean that an artist who chooses to show elsewhere isn’t an excellent artist. History demonstrates that many famous artists starved while they were alive due to lack of representation. I feel artists should believe in themselves and take the opportunities to show their works where and as they can. Believe in yourself and go for it!

    • “I feel artists should believe in themselves and take the opportunities to show their works where and as they can. Believe in yourself and go for it!” Totally agree! It’s all about money; and why not? If one is willing to pay the price, one can exhibit anywhere. :-)

  14. I was approached by Agora many years ago when I had first started painting! The offer seemed incredible but of course expensive especially for an artist in Australia. The whole thing with Agora is that they make money from artists – not sales. If you do the maths it all works out. Perhaps 30 artists showing per month or more and each paying thousands of dollars. A great business model that has nothing to do with sales. It is just there for artists who can afford it.
    I know one Australian artist who thought she had made it big time because she was asked to be in it. She had no idea it was a vanity gallery but I don’t think anyone had the heart to tell her any different. We as artists are ready-made suckers for this kind of thing. The world is full of such schemes with online galleries and vanity book publishing, all designed to fleece artists.

  15. Basically, if I had the money, I would do it, just for the experience. As an artist, I want to experience it all. The good, the bad. The normal, and the out of the box different. If it’s bad for the resume, then I wouldn’t list it. Just do it for the experience.

    If I had the money, that is.

    Of course, if I had the money, I would be driving around in a 380Z car. And if it came down to choosing Agora gallery or the Z – it would be the Z (even tho it is slightly more than Agora! LOL)

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