A gallery is worth every penny of the sales fee you pay it.
|Dyce Head early morning, sold at a plein air event.|
“Can you address the issue of [sales] commissions?” a reader asked. “Perhaps what we as artists should expect in return for whatever percentage commission is being asked? My interest in this stems from the fact that our local art guild is charging 40% commission on pieces in member shows. I think that’s too high for a group of artists who are, for the most part, hobbyists and amateurs, and for what we artists receive in exchange for that commission. I should note that we also pay membership dues every year.”
I got a call from a gallerist who represents me last week. He wanted to follow up with a buyer who’d expressed an interest in one of my paintings, and wondered if I’d agree to a small markdown to close the deal. He’s doing exactly what a sales agent should do: working hard to bring both parties together in a deal.
|Wadsworth Cove Spruce sold at a plein air event.|
He pays rent in an expensive building, pays and trains assistants to work for him, and advertises. He keeps a database of customers and constantly works it. When paintings sell, he packs and ships them. He’s earning his 50% of the selling price, which is, by the way, a pretty standard retail markup. The alternative is to sell the painting myself, and that’s a lot of work.
Member shows like the one my reader asked about are a time-honored way for painters to get their work out into the marketplace. I’ve done many of them, both as a student and as a member of plein air groups. In my experience, the organization just passes through the sales commission of the hosting venue.
I’ve shown in university shows, which charged no commission at all (and paid a stipend). I expect to pay a commission of around 25% if I sell through a restaurant. Plein air events take between 25-40%. In return for that you get the imprimatur of the place, follow-through, sales closure, exposure, and hospitality, in greater or lesser measure.
|Curve on Goosefare Brook sold through the Ocean Park Association.|
Non-profit, artist-run galleries (cooperative galleries) require a monthly rental fee and volunteer work hours. In some cases, there’s a nominal sales commission as well. In exchange, they provide wall space, openings, and a place to hold events. Many of them are respected galleries.
Then there’s the so-called vanity gallery. These arose because there are more artists wanting to show in perceived ‘hot’ markets like New York than there is gallery space. Wherever there’s a shortage, there’s an entrepreneur happy to spin your pain into money.
Vanity galleries offer artists a temporary balm for the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection. They’re expensive, and they won’t get you discovered. No reputable gallerists are searching them for new talent. A traditional gallery takes its cut after the sale; the vanity gallery takes it up front. That means the traditional gallery works to sell to customers, whereas the vanity gallery works to sell to artists.