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What's a Gallery Got to do With It?

When I moved to Chicago, I moved from selling art in street fairs to being a gallery artist in the big city. It taught me how to understand commissions, exclusivity clauses, how to hang exhibitions in satellite galleries, and taught me of the art world on a grander scale.

I recently had a discussion about the commissions that galleries and art centers charge their artists. I know when an emerging artist is moving into selling their work for the first time, that they come with a lot of questions. There are no hard, fast rules. But there are some expectations in the professional artist’s world.

A gallery, if it’s a good one, will promote their artists. They will know their artist’s biography and when a client is viewing the work, they will come up to them and share about the artist, carrying on a conversation about their work, talk about their work processes, etc. Gallery personnel work for you, in a way, promoting you to their clients. They pay for rental space, general supplies, electricity, personnel’s salaries, as well as printing costs for post cards, pricing tags, hanging supplies, and opening receptions. They use their own client lists and advertise. All of this marketing is worth a huge dollar amount, hence the commission. A good gallery will earn that money, most of which runs close to 50% commission. Art Centers, and locations similar will often charge 25-35% commission, as they are not in the business of promoting individual artists, as much as the art community collectively, and the artist shares in the burden of work. Some restaurants and places of business will charge a nominal commission of 10-20%, if any, just to cover some overhead expenses, but the burden of promotion, advertising, hanging the work, etc. usually falls solely upon the artist.

If an artist has a painting for sale at one price, and then for sale at double the rate at their gallery due to the gallery’s commission, it is frowned upon in the gallery world. An artist never wants to under-cut their own gallery. It is considered poor business practice to pump up the price of a painting in order to cover commission. Artists may be quietly blackballed in the art community should a gallery discover their artists offering to sell their work cheaper outside of the gallery. So, next time you are trying to price a painting, think about the lowest price you would accept… then double it, and let that be your normal retail price. And on the occasion that a gallery begins to represent you, your price won’t have to be altered, instead, you can begin to think of the commissioned price as a wholesale amount so your gallery can double it for resale value at the same price you would sell it for.

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