Recently, Cynthia Reid of Tucson, Arizona wrote, “Six galleries carry my art. Over the past few years I’ve had a number of instances when one gallery’s customer wants a painting that’s at another gallery. My website shows all my current work and their locations. What should an artist do if a person one gallery considers its customer wants to purchase a painting that is currently at another gallery?”
Thanks, Cynthia. This is a growing trend, a pain to some dealers but an indicator of the future. The Internet, when everybody participates, simply offers a smorgasbord never before seen. The operative words in art dealing are moving from “scarcity” to “availability.”
Many collectors have favourite galleries where they tend to buy their art. Other collectors grow to dislike a dealer and prefer to buy somewhere else, even though the art they fancy is right under their noses. It works both ways — many dealers now ship stuff to other galleries and split the commission. Some artists like to get involved, give permission, etc., but not me. I think it’s best for dealers to work out the logistics themselves.
Apart from dealer association and general goodwill, artists can benefit: The artist generally gets paid the same amount as a regular sale and the practice helps stabilize prices from one area to the next. With air express, works can appear on the other side of a vast country in a day. The home dealer may ship unframed, leaving the destination gallery to frame to the collector’s taste. It’s the home dealer who usually pays the artist, although some destination dealers prefer to pay the home dealer in the form of a “kickback.”
Recently, I received an email from a local collector: “We looked everywhere for something good, but the only one we really liked was in Toronto,” she wrote. Her letter made me think my work is 99% substandard, and I only occasionally do half-decent ones. The customer, being always right, received a “thank you.”
PS: “Some galleries are more agreeable to splitting commissions than others. Our gallery will, within reason, in the time-honoured manner of the international galleries, do whatever is necessary to put a collector together with a great work of art, no matter where it may be.” (Gallery owner)
Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from a “Seaside Penitentiary with Sand” at Montego Bay, Jamaica. They give you a wrist bracelet here — and you need to ask for a pass if you want to get beyond the walls for a few hours. It’s a great place for reading, writing and painting, if you like that sort of thing. Many of the inmates are swimming, dancing, playing Scrabble, eating, and jogging to the gym to work it off. Some of them conduct outside business on their cellphones, but not me — I’ve got too much to do trying to shake off the substandard.
by Denise Bezanson, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Being a dealer, I have had this happen to me. The dealers split the commission, which is okay,”Its better than a kick in the pants with a frozen boot.” I also recently had a client, who had bought paintings from my website, ask if she could exchange a painting I had previously, but traded back to the artist, who then gave it to another gallery. She bought it from the other gallery, but then got it and didn’t like it. She looked at my website, saw a painting by the same artist that was the same size and asked if she could trade it, if she paid the shipping costs. So I thought about it, and agreed. She’s promised to buy more from me in the future. We are in a goodwill business. I want her future business, but I like to think that Good Karma comes from helping clients.
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by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA
Most people (buyers), do not know good work from sub-standard. I am sure all of your works — that you allow into galleries — are 100% good. It is just that, “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder,” based upon other folks lifetimes of experiences and circumstances, and that one piece in Toronto “filled their bill…” You create to satisfy yourself, and allow your fickle public to be who they are — ha!
50% for what?
by Deb Strong Napple, Cheltenham, PA, USA
So, if I understand this correctly, the artist is maintaining a website with a current inventory that drives purchasers to her galleries. She makes the art, she maintains the website that promotes the art, she sends the buyers to the galleries to complete the sale.
So just what are these galleries doing to earn a commission? 50% for what?
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Full security experience in Nigeria
by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada
For the full experience try Nigeria. Just got back ten days ago. There is no walking the streets or visiting markets. At the airport you get into a secured vehicle and ride to the hotel. The hotel is surrounded by eight foot concrete walls topped with a coil of razor wire. The entrance gates to the compound are plate steel with guards on the exterior and inside as well. The road leading to the hotel is meandering so no nefarious vehicles get a straight run at the lobby. The entrance to the hotel is protected by concrete blocks that limit the distance vehicles can approach. Once past all of this you have to go through the equivalent of airport security to get into the lobby. Yes, x-rays of baggage, metal detectors and pat downs if you set off the machine.
Travel is in a bus with curtains so that the people on the street cannot see what kind of a kidnapping target there is in the bus. Personally, I think that it is more so that the people in the bus cannot see the way people drive in Abuja and Lagos. Frankly, they would intimidate the most aggressive of Quebec drivers. When you arrive at your destination, it is another walled compound with the same security.
All of that aside, you cannot meet nicer people. They always have a hello, how are you, have a nice day and they will make eye contact with you which I noticed on my return people here seem reluctant to do. My first evening in Abuja, the President of Indonesia was staying at the same hotel. There had to be between 400-500 machine gun toting police in and around the compound. All had smiles and hellos when you passed them. Very different from what you would expect.
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by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Right now, as I am about to open my own exhibition next month, I have a few things you might be able to help me out with. I have been working for a year on this new collection. Wondering about what I am expressing and communicating in my work and will anyone connect and understand what I am painting. I have plastered the city with posters and cards that I produced at my own expense. I have been a media whore and sent out endless press releases in order to garner some media attention. I follow up with each and every one of them too. All the while creating and paying for a web page, linked to my facebook, Facebook-artist page, pinterest, twitter and vimeo. I have followed up with anyone who even sniffs at my work to see if they would be interested in buying one of my pieces.
Meanwhile, four nights a week, I don black pants and a starched white shirt and waiter table just to make sure my bills and rent are paid… When I look at the success of an artist like the one described it is hard to think they might have had to work as hard as some of us do. As this is the REALity of being an artist in 2013.
But yeah, lets make sure that when we all have 1/2 dozen galleries carrying our works that we know the art of the deal and how to appease everyone. I think you have an amazing platform here, Robert, and you reach out to more people than you know. It has also been my experience that an artist does more for a gallery than the gallery does for the artist. Then again, that is just me.
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by Highly successful painter
Whenever any of my galleries have something unique or unusual happening, like discounting or commission splitting, I ask them to share it with me before the fact. This helps me to get an understanding of their situation and what they have to go through when working with me and other artists. Of course there are some difficult dealers, but I soon threw those out. While I know some of my fellow artists are difficult to deal with as well, I try to be easy going and understanding and sometimes I help out where I can. Dealers are only ogres to those who have had little experience with the wonderful work that they do for both the customer and the artist.
Small finder’s fee
by Art gallery owner
As a dealer and storefront gallery we offer a finders fee to other galleries, decorators and other associates and friends — usually 10 percent, who connect new customers to us. We want as many to go fully through us as possible but we do not mind the small percentage. We just cannot make a living on our regular 40% commission with gallery overhead — we have two staff plus rental, etc. Also we do all the advertising and do not charge our artists for shows or wallspace, etc. Genn’s idea is very idealistic but it would not work in this backward town where no one is at all interested in art. We need everything we can get.
Free to paint
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada
I’ve been following this discussion with interest. I’ve also checked out Cynthia Reid’s website, which seems clear and comprehensive. I’m in somewhat similar circumstances: I have work in five galleries in Ontario, Canada. While I don’t don John Ferrie’s waiter outfit to make ends meet, I would say that my five galleries supplement my income, but the work isn’t flying off the walls.
However, I paint what I want, and I paint it as well as I can. Some of it ends on the gallery walls, where it is displayed at no cost to me, in case someone is affected enough by it to part with their hard-earned cash for the pleasure of taking it home.
Until that happens, it is the gallery that pays for the walls that my paintings are hung on. It is the gallery that pays for the lighting, the staff that cajole the buyers, the advertising, the gallery website, etc. I pay for the paint and the canvas, for the ideas that have gestated throughout my lifetime. I consider my relationship with the galleries that represent me a partnership: I am free to paint; I don’t have to schlep paintings from tent show to tent show, do my own advertising, be nice to potential buyers, or keep my studio neat enough to receive guests.
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Art dealers may pool space
by Phil Stanford
A friend in Australia shared this information with me and now I will share it with you:
Sign of the times: Katrina Strickland of the Australian Financial Review wrote last September about two prominent Sydney art dealers negotiating to unite their businesses under one roof in 2013, and she conjectured that this would have a definite affect on the artists, since their numbers would be reduced considerably.
This union has taken place: see Olsen Irwin Contemporary Art Gallery. Rex Irwin, according to the Art Collector told the Australian Financial Review: “We will each drop a few artists and merge our important artists. Well be a bit overstocked with artists initially, but there will be a degree of natural attrition.”
With the continuing trend of art gallery closings, now and in the future, artists may have only the Internet to display their work, denying the public access, not to mention access for serious collectors and curators. Attendance at art fairs for a brief few days may one day become the only actual presence for artists. Our reality is changing, but the reality of seeing an original work of art “face-to-face” and seeing/feeling its large size, texture and emotional expression, i.e., being overwhelmed by the presence of art in a quiet space, may be one of the limitations of the Internet, leaving that experience to the museums.
I can see a time of yearning for the days of brick-and-mortar galleries across our countries, but there is no stopping change.
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Boundaries of the soul
acrylic painting 30 x 36 inches
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Enjoy the past comments below for The new switcheroo…