Yesterday, C.J. Fang of Indianapolis, Indiana, asked, “What do you think about the yearly fee of the Agora Gallery in Soho, NYC? It’s a 20-year-old, nice and fast-growing gallery that represents hundreds of artists from all over the world. I was a member in 2000-2001. The member fee was $1000 back then. I had two shows with other artists, but didn’t sell anything. This year they will accept me as a member if I sign the contract and pay the fee. I’m wondering, should I do it? $3000 is big money. I might throw it in water again, or I might get a chance to sell my works at high prices and connect in NY. I need your advice.”
Thanks, C.J. Not surprisingly, this question comes up often. The Agora people are actively canvassing artists to send money. Many artists report no sales with them, although it’s always a possibility. I doubt their figures are that hot. Their system is to charge artists as well as buyers. They rent their walls. Galleries don’t normally charge a wall fee. Agora’s selection process is also suspect — it seems they’ll take anyone with $3000.
As well, the Agora folks fight a stigma. Most potential buyers who go there know that the artists have had to pay to get hung. This knowledge interferes with sales. To borrow a word from my last letter, it’s not a good “context.”
Artists are generally better off in galleries with standard profiles. Mutually agreeable, these galleries believe in the artists they actively represent. Working on consignment with no front-end fees, they take a decent commission for their efforts.
The thing about Agora is that it’s in New York. The “Big Apple” still cuts a lot of cheese. It’s amazing how eyebrows go up when “my New York gallery” is mentioned. People are blown over backwards in Humptulips.
We may be witnessing a trend. With far more artists looking for representation than previously, vanity galleries are on the rise. Exploiting creative people for monetary gain is nothing new. Because of your interest, C.J., I await correspondence from artists who have had success with Agora, and I will personally see that we publish every one of them (see below).
PS: “The fee is a test to see whether or not you’ve got what is needed in the ego and vanity departments. If you are vain and have a big enough ego you will pay the money. Either way, Agora wins and you are the sucker, paying someone to promote you. For that money you could get yourself a state of the art website.” (“St. Germain” opinion in forum — Saatchi Online)
Esoterica: To their credit, Agora Gallery gathers press releases, offers tons of art online, invites connectivity to a few international exhibitions and competitions, and publishes profiles of members and their work in an occasional magazine. A high percentage of members are from countries other than the USA. Openings are lively, optimistic events with emergent artists out in force. It’s a nice looking gallery. As well as the annual fee, they take a 30% percent commission on sales.
Nothing but praise for Agora
by Lynda Pogue, Georgetown, ON, Canada
I have been receiving your ” twice-weekly letters for over a year. I have found most of the info/musings to be great reading and often inspiring… that is until today. Does naming one particular gallery by name and cutting its philosophy to shreds attain your goal? Surely an adult can make their own decision whether to go with a gallery who charges an up-front fee. This happens, in different degrees, in many galleries across the world’s major cities these days. I am one of those “successful artists” who has proudly been associated with the Agora Gallery in Chelsea and I have nothing but the highest praise and respect for all the staff and the gallery itself. They have delivered everything they have promised and then some. I am tremendously insulted by this comment as would be numerous other artists associated with Agora: “Agora’s selection process is also suspect — it seems they’ll take anyone with $3000.” Perhaps your readers might want to peruse the Agora website and make up their own minds.
Lovely experience with Agora
by Terri Amig, Cape May, NJ, USA
I was involved with Agora last year. Unfortunately, my furnace went down and my last payment went for heat so I didn’t show, but my experience with them was lovely. They were encouraging and professional people. I visited twice and found the quality of the work to be fine there is a juried system so your comments weren’t quite fair. If you did sell, you would be spending the same amount as giving other gallery owners and dealers in NY their 60-70%. My thought was I was investing in myself first and felt more involved.
They don’t just rent their walls, they do promote you and, unlike other galleries, send you other opportunities to promote your own work, and do not demand exclusivity so you are free to show anywhere in the city. There is a place for this gallery. The location and actual space are desirable as well. Perhaps you should have done a bit more homework on this one.
Renting adds stigma to resume
by Diana Nicosia, Boston, MA, USA
I am an artist working and showing on Newbury St. in Boston, MA. I have shown in Soho in a commercial gallery. I am familiar with galleries which rent their walls and recommend not using them. Galleries sell art they believe in and have their own developed mailing list. There is no long term support in a vanity gallery. I believe it will add a stigma to one’s resume.
Advice needed on offer
by Clare E. Candelori, Cape Coral, FL, USA
I just received an offer to appear in Who’s Who in Visual Art Vol 2008-2009. The book recommends a selected limited number of visual artists of the media painting, graphic art, sculpture, digital art, and fiber art. The publisher writes that private and public art collectors, galleries, and museum and education professionals find this volume indispensable. The publication is shown in German but will be available in English. I have asked for total cost including shipping if I were to submit payment for a Basic Listing or a Premium Listing. Can you tell me how reliable this is and whether it is worth my while. I do have a website and just received an order for one of my paintings from an International contact, so I am getting some hits, but this would most likely enhance my exposure. I need to accept their offer by July 20th or another artist will be selected.
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA
Several galleries in the Houston area are reduced to wall-renting retailers. I am hugely alarmed at this trend, if it indeed is one, for the very reason listed in your letter. If buyers know that artists pay to be in the gallery, what becomes of gallery judgment and reputation? Only artists who already have money to spare will get into galleries while better artists who can’t afford it yet won’t. Art in general and art buyers lose in the long run. And another aspect of life falls to the money mongers. MBAs will rule.
Vulnerable artists exploited
by Margo Buccini, FL, USA
I almost cried when I read C.J. Fang’s letter, asking if he should invest $3000 to decorate the walls of a gallery which appears to exploit vulnerable artists. In a saner world, CJ would collect $3000 from any place privileged to show his work. Also, in a kinder world, art school graduates, who have spent tens of thousands of dollars receiving their degrees, would have had at least one course in art marketing. C.J. should google all the art galleries in N.Y. and check their websites, then contact the ones with similar work. For $3000, he could travel to New York and check things out. There are many ethical gallery directors looking for good paintings.
NOT how it’s done
by Nancy Wostrel, San Diego, CA, USA
I had a similar experience not with a gallery but with an ‘agent.’ He called and wanted to represent me… went on and on about how wonderful my work was, etc, etc. At first I thought “how great” — I would love to have an agent out there representing me, and then came the kicker. He wanted $3500 up front!! When I replied that agents take a cut after sales he said, “Oh, no, it’s different now, we can’t afford to take on artists free and spend our time trying to promote them.” I told him that if he really believed in an artist that is exactly what he WOULD do and if he was paid up front what would be his incentive!!?? Needless to say I turned him down. When I mentioned this to my dealer in Philadelphia he said, “NEVER pay anyone up front to handle you… IT ISN’T DONE !”
Gallery fee & moderate commission
by Jace Mattson, Denver, CO, USA
The gallery that represents me here in Denver has an excellent system. There is a quarterly fee of $125.00. This fee covers advertising, refreshments at shows, cleaning, etc. Because of these fees the commission taken is a very moderate 25%. The artists represented have 4 shows per year and a space in a back gallery where we always have at least 1 piece hanging. We also have large loose leaf notebooks of our work available for interested buyers. We have many “co-op” galleries here as well but with the dues being upwards of $100.00 per month, only 1 guaranteed show, and locations off the beaten path, I’ll stay where I am, thanks. The thing about big gallery fees is that the art still has to be good enough to warrant big prices in order to be cost effective. I’d say that C.J. Fang should shop her work around to regular galleries. If the work has quality, eventually it’ll get shown!
Co-ops can work
by Kathryn Wiley, Bethesda, MD, USA
For artists who are not ready for the big time — that is, a commercial gallery that wants to represent you, in New York or any other meaningful city — a good interim step could be joining an artists’ cooperative. Of course it’s local, because the artists share in the time and expense of running the gallery, but it gives you good exposure on your home turf, as well as an opportunity to get to know other artists in your area, with the learning opportunities that brings. And it would almost certainly cost a lot less than the $3000 you mention. Perhaps with that additional exposure and networking, your chances of getting real commercial representation will increase. As a member of the Foundry Gallery, an artists’ coop near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, I can recommend this route.
International gallery suspect
by Jack E Dorsey, Camano Island, WA, USA
I had a similar experience when Amsterdam Whitney International Fine Art, Inc. wrote to me stating that a collector had referred me to them. Their letter of inquiry was impressive and personalized and asked me to submit a portfolio for curatorial review. At first I was elated but as time passed with my questions being answered and some phone calls made to the Chelsea and Soho Galleries, I became suspicious that it was not in my interest to pursue showing with them at my cost of $2000.00 plus shipping and 40% commission. When I asked who the collector was they couldn’t give me a name, so I suspect they got it from an ad I had in the Southwest Art magazine. This all started in the Spring of 2006. A wise lady friend and a true “collector” told me not to pursue this gallery and I believe that was the best advice I had received in my deliberations.
Get it in writing
by Todd Reifers, Indianapolis, IN, USA
It is absurd to charge a fee to the artist before anything is sold, unless this money is returned at the end of the year if nothing has moved! It is expensive enough to create good work, frame it and pack/ship it out to the dealers in hope someone sees it and wants to purchase. The art market is flooded with bad art and charging a fee is one more way for the galleries to extract money from the artist who may or may not have marketable work… they would be covering themselves either way and have a healthier bottom line at the end of the year.
Since we work from the creative side of the brain, our sense of business is really weak (on average). Little or no thought of any kind is given to standard business practice. A level playing field for doing business in a partnership is necessary for success to occur and flourish. I am 59 years old and have been in the fine art business for 32 years. I have been taken (as many artists have) by unscrupulous gallery owners for a lot of money in those years and have finally learned to “get it in writing” by signing an artist agreement with the galleries that I do business with (agreement enclosed). I believe all artists should be doing this and if the gallery doesn’t comply… dump them! The agreement is fair to both parties and spells out each one’s obligation to the partnership. There is a good reason why the gallery in Soho is attractive and successful… their profit margin! Where else would a business be able to get product to start and maintain a business without spending a dime on it first, then charge almost as much (and in some cases more) to sell it as the creator? I know wall space in galleries is expensive but so is the part the artist is contributing.
Paid space gets less respect
by Alexander Petti, New York, NY, USA
While Agora is a New York gallery, context is very important. The first thing that separates Agora’s appearance from other galleries is that their exhibits look like something between the old “salon” style exhibits and an open-air arts and crafts market. The walls are crowded with work, while most galleries tend to give works room to “breathe,” and they seem hung very haphazardly. Large works that are best seen from a distance are hung in small crowded corners where you can’t step back to admire the work; small detailed intimate pieces are grouped on huge walls near lots of foot traffic, so they’re both overwhelmed and not easily reached.
Agora’s openings do draw lots of crowds, but in my experience it’s generally artists who are “doing the rounds” of nearby galleries, and stop at Agora for the free cold beers and chilled wines. So again context — will the work be seen? Yes. But by people who aren’t looking to buy and stand in groups chatting and drinking, not looking at work. Anyone who “does the rounds” of NY galleries for openings knows Agora is a “paid space” and so tend to give it less respect.
If the artist is keen to have NY on their resume, I would suggest donating work for charity, at exhibits such as Postcards from the Edge, where established artists donate their work as well as emerging artists, and the gallery names are usually good. The crowds attending there are definitely going with an eye to buy, so the odds of selling are higher too. NYFA has some very good tips — and listing of opportunities.
by Joseph Guggino, Ellensburg, WA, USA
I likewise showed at Agora in ’03. I was juried in and rented wall space for a 3 week group show and likewise didn’t sell a thing. I was also juried in to Viridian Gallery in Chelsea (‘thee’ art area of New York) 2 years in a row by a substantial juror, Robert Rosenblum, the curator of the Guggenheim in NY. The first time it was for second prize and offered me a 2-person show at a later date which I did. I never sold nothin’ at the 2 juried shows or the 2-person show. At least they afforded me some family reunions as I’m from NY but have been living in Washington State for the last 20 years. If you’d like to see the work that didn’t sell — shameless plug — go to my website. Finding how and where to sell art is an art in itself I’ve found out. I’ve been juried into shows all over America, some have won awards, I’ve never sold anything at any of them. They fill up my resume pages. I have had some luck selling through a gallery in Florida, my Pool Step series primarily, but now they’ve gone out of business. It’s tough to sell; it’s tough to keep a gallery going too. This is a luxury business; it’s not like selling bread. Finding what works for you most of the time takes lots of effort over lots of time, and will cost you lots of money. Ultimately we paint because we love to paint and won’t let the business side of it get us down, ’cause it’ll try.
by Jerry Bono, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Ivan Karp is the owner of the OK Harris gallery in SOHO in NY. At one time he was an important part of the historic and famous Leo Castelli Gallery. When Andy Warhol came along, Mr. Karp left Castelli and became Warhol’s manager and representative. He is in his late 80s now, is very fierce, but also very fair, and very open. If this person, who has been ensnarled with Agora, thinks that he is ready, Ivan Karp will probably give you 15 minutes if you drop in around ten a.m. on Tuesdays. This is rare in two ways: 1) most galleries are so caught up in the business of art that they have created all sorts of holders to prevent you from showing them what you have. They don’t need you. 2) Ivan Karp is a great human being, a live figure from art history and he lives and breathes a joy and appreciation of art even though he will definitely come off crusty when you encounter him. His is a dedication of love and he also is making serious money at the same time. When you feel you are ready to approach this art god on a human to human level of “Hey, this is what I do,” just go see him. He will tell you exactly what his perception is of your work. And criticism from him is worth something.
Exploitation of artists
by Jackie Simmonds, UK
I am a UK artist, who sells work through galleries in the UK and elsewhere, and I rent my own space from time to time and throw my own shows. I write art instruction articles and books, and prints of my work are sold worldwide. My eyes nearly popped out when I read that as well as charging an annual fee of $3000, the Agora gallery also charges 30% commission! I am horrified.
Thirty percent may be less than other galleries charge by way of commission, but you have given then THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS just for a week or two on their walls. How DARE they also charge a fee for selling your work. It is bad enough that galleries these days take 50% …particularly when you take into account that the artist has to pay for frames and usually a percentage, if not all, of the cost of invitations to show. This infuriates me.
Galleries are the only retail business that I can think of, to get their goods on a sale or return basis. Yes, yes, I know that galleries have expenses… but all retail businesses do. A shop owner also has to pay for light, heat, rent, business rates, and staff, and also has to spend money on promoting themselves. BUT they have to pay for the goods they supply and if they do not sell them, they have big sales and probably lose money at the end of the day on sale goods. Galleries have none of this exposure.
The fee is out of proportion to the cost involved and the effort too. I recently spoke to an artist who had a successful show. He told me he had sold approximately $100,000 worth of paintings. Terrific, I said, you must have filled the coffers a little. He laughed. He said that in fact, he earned less than 50% (because there is also VAT tax to pay here). Then, he had a massive framing bill. He had to pay a large sum towards the cost of the invitations. He had to offset the cost of the trips he took to gather reference material for the paintings. In the end, his net profit was in the region of about $25,000 – and it had taken him a year to paint those works. The gallery earned $50,000 FOR ONE WEEK’S WORK.
I am regularly asked by publishing companies to provide examples of my work. Some even have the gall to demand PAYMENT for my work to be shown… instead of paying me a reasonable fee for the use of my images. This is outrageous. I am sick to death of artists being exploited.
Yes, we need our work to be seen in order to sell it and earn a living. We have to develop relationships with galleries who are supportive, and who believe in us. But pay $3000 AND commission to these Agora people? Artists who do this encourage the Agoras of this world. We will never be properly valued if we fall into their greedy money traps out of sheer desperation to be seen and to sell.
Renting wall space an opportunity
by TJ Miles, Spain
It’s interesting to hear your comments about paying for wall space in galleries as ‘ego’ and ‘vanity’ based. Of course it is! What is an artist if not driven by ego? We constantly put our hearts on our sleeves and expose ourselves — and our insecurities — to either ridicule or adulation depending on your circle of admirers/detractors, of which there are legion.
I have used the pay-for-space type gallery successfully in the past, although not in the Agora gallery, and have come out ahead financially and egotistically, broadened my travel and artistic experiences, and have succeeded in lifting my own profile on the international stage because of it.
Why not? If you hide your light under a bushel of brushes and wait to be discovered, chances are you will probably give up through disillusionment and get a ‘real job’ again. There are two types of canvas in my art world. I paint on one, but I canvass votes also, by pushing myself constantly into the public realm. As fellow countryman of mine, Oscar Wilde, once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
I have found the pay-for-space style so successful that I am toying with the idea of starting my own gallery along the same lines here in Spain. By renting wall space, I don’t consider it taking advantage of struggling artists at all, in fact I think it gives them an opportunity to exhibit in a location, and at a time in their careers, where a hand up is better than a hand out. The pay for space idea, in my mind, would be a way for me to cover the rental of premises, which in turn would enable me to exhibit potentially important artists of the future who could have fallen by the riverbank of despair and lethargy because they failed to get that first opportunity.
I am curious to see how many artists who read your letters and subsequent replies would be interested in exhibiting in Spain. With the possibility of throwing in a few days of Spanish history, architecture, art and a holiday at the same time. Please don’t think I am looking for a free advertisement here, I’m not. I am very capable of contacting all the artists on the Painter’s Keys website and countless others advertising their egos on the Web, just like myself. I would just be interested in knowing what proportion agree with my views and would consider my thoughts to have merit.
Enjoy the past comments below for Throw it in water?…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jeremy McLeod of Manassas, VA, USA who wrote, “These observations give a whole new meaning to the word, ‘agoraphobia.'”
And also Julianne Biehl of Dallas, TX and Estes Park, CO, USA who wrote, “I applied to Agora. When I found out the stipulation decided not to enter. Exhibiting in NYC may be a coup but not when the world knows the type of gallery involved. I even went to the area to visit it. It would mean less than the medal that the Wizard of Oz pinned on chests to me to have done so. Integrity is important. Am I a snob?”
And also Jacqueline of Gerrards Cross, UK who wrote, “I always look for a beautiful space rather than an up-market gallery. I do think the setting is important and to show the art off to its best advantage is usually my m.o. England is not kind to me and I have had better response in France and other European countries.”
And also an art collector who wrote, “As a purchaser I recently contacted Agora to inquire about a Canadian Artist’s work and was not impressed with either the service or the payment methods provided. I was asked to send my credit card information by email, or to call it in. I was shocked! Secured payment online is a necessity to protect purchasers’ confidential information.”
And also Robert Cook of San Marcos, TX, USA who wrote, “The word ‘Agora’ means ‘market.’ The gallery seems to be subtly telling us it’s about the money, baby.”
And also Wm. Scott Jennings of Sedona, AZ, USA who wrote: “If an artist can’t find a gallery they want to show in without paying for it, then maybe they aren’t ready for the market.”
And also Vala Ola of Scottsdale, AZ, USA who wrote, “Regarding Agora, I was just there at the end of June and not at all impressed with the confusing selection of works and the questionable quality. I wouldn’t want to show there even if there was no fee.”
And also Ofelia Uz Gonzalez of La Vernia, TX, USA who wrote, “Why pay that amount of money to begin with? But I’m scare that really nobody knows me as well as I know some other artists.”
And also C. J. Fang of West Lafayette, IN, USA who wrote, “Thanks for everyone’s advice. It makes me feel much better, for that is exactly the thing worries me. It clears my wonders.”