We have been in business a total of five years and have worked with so many incredible artists and for the most part, everyone has been wonderful to work with. We have had a few moments that we have questioned and felt the need to step back and re-examine. So, in light of our many experiences throughout the years, I thought to write another how-to article about gallery etiquette. I think we have a very unique position as an artist-run gallery and we can easily sympathize with both artists and galleries. I combed the Internet for guidelines and found very little when it comes to artist/gallery relations (links to a few below).
There is a lot of etiquette in the art world that tends to be implied rather than spelled out. It is very much a class issue- although we don't believe it should be (that is why we try to educate and be as welcoming as possible). The reason etiquette is in place, is so all parties maintain a level of comfort. For instance, visitors to art openings tend to speak quietly (at least, about the art) in a gallery, in order not to intrude their thoughts and emotions about the art on the experience of other people there, or hurt the feelings of the artist showing; conversations with the artist at an opening tend to be brief, so that the artist may meet and greet as many visitors as possible; discussions with the artist at an opening should eschew how much the art costs. Was anything sold? What does the artist make in a year?
We get asked a lot about photos in the gallery. This is great free publicity- but credit needs to be given! Artists often love seeing their art tagged on a gallery goers profile! We encourage selfies with the art and snapshots of the art- just give the artist and gallery credit and do not damage the artwork in the process! It is also always courteous and necessary to ask permission before taking photos!
We do realize that being in a rural community means we often need to educate people and are more than fine doing so- it is our job. It is our main goal to be open and welcoming to all, but we also want everyone to feel comfortable. The artists, clients, and attendees, and to some degree- we would also like to feel good and comfortable about the opening and/or relationships with artists and clients.
Brief conversations with the dealer also make sense, talking about the artist, the artwork or the prices (appointments should be made for lengthier discussions), but exhibit openings are not good times for other artists to show their own artwork to the gallery director or to make a pitch for their own shows. (See our previous blog post on how to approach Galleries:https://www.jamesmaygallery.com/post/how-to-get-gallery-representation
Once you have a show with a gallery, there are also expectations on both ends and etiquette to follow. Here is a brief list of guidelines based on our experiences.
1. If you send work to our gallery, please do not immediately have a flash sale of your work on Instagram. Why in the world would anyone want to purchase from our gallery, when they can get the work directly from you for cheaper. Timing is everything, we understand artists need to make a living but have a bit more awareness about the timing of your flash sales.
2. Price your work the same no matter where it is selling. If you sell out of your own studio or on social media- it should be the same across the board. Let us know if you plan on having a sale- maybe there is a way it could benefit us both.
3. Do not show at another competing gallery within the area. Especially within the same year.
4. If you make a sale as a direct result of showing at our gallery, please let us know. It is customary to share a percentage of the sale with us.
5. Any work an artist is showing in the gallery should not be removed from the gallery until the show has come to an end. Please make arrangements at least 30 days before the start of the exhibition if this is necessary.
6. We are not a storage facility. Please do not expect us to store your work after a show has come down unless you have made appropriate arrangements with us ahead of time.
7. All sales by gallery artists of work that has been shown at the gallery or is currently being shown will go through the gallery. This includes online shows through us on Artsy (unless other arrangements have been made). To sell privately and not pay the gallery is grounds for dismissal.
8. Please represent and promote the gallery in a positive way at all times. If you have an issue with gallery policy or another artist, please send us a private message.
9. Cross-promotion is key. We do our best to market our exhibitions and our artists, but it goes a long way if you also promote the gallery or exhibition that you are in. Share it on social media, your e-mail lists, and past clients who purchased your work. We are a gallery in a rural area and every little bit helps.
10. Please read and adhere to the gallery contract.
This list is not written shame people- just to inform and there are exceptions to all of these guidelines. Are we perfect? No way! We are a very small, family-run business and often overlook things and make mistakes. We do our best and try to adhere to best practices. We want to do whatever we can to best support our artists and hope that artists will do the same. We are often very flexible and understanding as long as there is an open line of communication.
There has been a lot of negativity towards galleries lately, that I feel needs to be addressed. I am not sure if it is due to the rise of self-help art coaches you see all over social media or social media itself that causes a rift. I see a lot of social media scammer coaches that claim- “ditch your gallery today and make 40,000-60,000”! I am not sure how much truth there is to these claims. As an artist, I get the drive to make a living off of your art and to support yourself and your family. However, I think there is a crucial piece missing from the equation.
I really believe in what we do. Galleries still have a place. If you sell work directly from your studio to your client, you never get to see the work outside your studio. You never get to see it curated amongst a really stellar group of artists and witness how it changes context. Getting your work outside your studio, onto a white, clean wall can give you a greater perspective on your work. This is my professional experience as a painter and curator.
I am also very idealistic and believe art should be for all. If your work goes into the immediate hands of a collector, it does not get to be seen and enjoyed by the community. I think this is especially important in our small town. Most people here do not get to take regular trips to Milwaukee or Chicago to visit museums, because of their economic situation or otherwise. We provide culture, art, and education to our community. I think it is very important given our location and demographics. We thank our artists who are willing to send work from all over the country and at times, internationally, so that our community can have this experience! I know we don’t always sell a lot of work or any at all but I believe this matters.
As we go forward, after this five-year milestone, we would like to thank all the artists who believed in us enough to send us work and to all the supporters who showed up and were curious. We could not do all this without you!
Art matters and Art should be for all. Thank you for listening and supporting all that we do! We are also learning a lot as we go. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and if there is anything we can do better!
Order this book: “The Artist’s Handbook: Artist/Gallery Relationships & Digital Promotion” from Yardstick our local independent bookstore! https://www.yardstickalgoma.com
See our amazing artists on ARTSY
We hope to see you at our next opening reception, ECHO: featuring paperworks from Reni Gower, Maureen Fritchen, and Julie VonDerVellen. Opening November 1st from 5:30-8:00. Exhibition runs Oct 31- Dec 30. We will be transitioning to our winter hours starting in November until May 1: Thursday-Saturday 10-5.