art gallery artist opening reception Guest author: ArtBistro. The following article was originally posted on ArtBistro

For the majority of the last 100 years, artists have sold work through commercial galleries and is the most desirable way for artists to make a living.

What should you expect or ‘not’ expect from gallery representation?

Read on for some useful expectations for gallery representation, as well as how best to get noticed and whether artists need representation.

Commercial galleries usually sell artists’ works on commission. The typical commission is usually 50% of the sale of the work. This is determined by the contract. There are several contracts that galleries enter into with artists.
The range of various contracts are outlined here:

Consignment Contract

A consignment contract is written when an artist loans a specific number of works of art to the gallery for the gallery to sell for a specific amount of time.
An itemized list is made, the terms of sale are set forth as well as a time for the works to be returned if not sold. At this time, a deadline of payment is also agreed upon. Typically galleries pay in full within 60 days after the sale. Note: When included in a group show the gallery may use this type of contract.

Representation Contract

At the other end of the spectrum of artist and gallery relationships is one that gives the gallery the right to sell any of the work that you produce. The gallery or art dealer becomes your exclusive agent and they will represent you as one of their artists. You will have solo shows with this gallery, although these shows may or may not be stipulated in the contract. And while these terms may seem restrictive to an artist, they are important to an artist’s financial security, especially if the work sells well. This example of gallery representation is the most common agreement of all gallery contracts.

Additional Agreements

Many further agreements can exist between an artist and a gallery and can vary between the two aforementioned examples.
For example:

  • A gallery in the area may be interested only in showing an artist’s work in that city or geographic area. This leaves the artist free to seek further representation in other locations.
  • Keep in mind that many galleries will be slow to enter into a binding contract early on in an artist’s career.
  • Most times they’ll want to show the work for a group or one solo show to see how it goes before taking on representation.

This being said, any gallery show is a good opportunity to get your foot in the door and every effort should be made to make your time with the gallery both constructive and lucrative. But, not all artists need gallery representation:

Ed Winkleman, owner of Wikleman Gallery in Chelsea says, “Not every artist needs or should even be affiliated with a commercial art gallery. The system works really well for some and not at all for others. Because many commercial art galleries are good at generating press for their artists and exist to place work in prominent collections, though, I think there is a somewhat misguided view among younger artists about how essential getting into a gallery is for their careers. It can be essential, but there are plenty of artists with galleries (even very high-profile galleries) whose careers are no better off (in fact sometimes worse) than many artists without galleries that I know. The key is to find a gallery that’s a good match for your art and aspirations, NOT to find any gallery at any cost to your pride or goals. If no gallery is well suited, then find other means of pursuing your dreams.”

Why would an artist want a gallery or a dealer to represent their work?

There are several reasons…
1. They Will Market Your Work
One of the advantages of having a gallery represent you is that in return for the cut they receive of your commission, they will promote your work. Common practices of galleries are to send out announcements, write a press release and distribute it to the press, pay for the opening reception, pay for the shipping of your work to and from shows (if included in the contract), handle requests from press and others for images, and information about your work.
This frees you up to focus on making your work rather than promoting it. However, that being said, all artists have to promote their work even if they have gallery representation. Most galleries appreciate the efforts of their artists to promote their work through making connections in the art community, referring buyers to them, and generally showing up when ask to at functions that will help sell the work.
2. Prestige of the Gallery
Some artists are more famous than others. Some galleries are more famous that others. Which came first, the famous artist or the famous gallery or dealer? It is a chicken and egg question. It would be great to be picked up by a famous gallery just out of grad school, but that happens to just a few artists. Galleries have reputations and you should be pay attention to them.
A well thought of gallery can be a great boost to your work no matter if it is a local or national gallery.
3. Galleries Will Sell Your Work
A dealer’s connections can be a huge boon to selling your work. Dealers know collectors who may be interested in your work. Many collectors rely on dealers to help guide them with their collections and educate them about new artists. Many galleries have relationships with galleries in other cities and countries making it possible to show your work to a broader geographic audience.
Most importantly some galleries have relationships with museums that would help your work become acquired. Try to find out from others in the art community how well connected the gallery is that you are interested in.
This may be a determining factor if they are the right fit for your ambitions.
4. A Professional Venue for Your Work to Be Seen
Context for artwork can have a very big influence on how the work is interpreted by viewers and collectors. Many people buying art would rather go through a trusted dealer whom they know rather than contacting an artist directly to buy their work. Showing your work in a commercial space gives it a professional context.
Some artists are good business people and promoters of their work; they may not feel the need for a gallery to represent them. However, for many artists getting gallery representation is the start of an exciting career. To do this work on your communication skills with your business and personal relationships. If you have success in other areas of you life where you have partnerships, a gallery relationship will likely be a good one for you.
Try to improve your business and relationship skills if you struggle with them.
*ArtBistro featured writer Amy Wilson has this to add about on-going relationships with galleries:
“Like all serious relationships, the one that exists between the ””>gallery and the artist needs to be based on mutual respect and open communication. Figure, you are leaving your work at the gallery and then you are going home (or to your studio to make more) – which means that the gallery is in the situation of presenting your work to the public, answering any questions they may have, and explaining what you do and why you do it. It is incredibly important that they understand you and your work, and that they take the time to really listen and find out why you make the work you do.”
Extra Tips:

  • Be cautious about entering into contracts with galleries with which you have little experience or are not aware of their reputation.
  • Ask your fellow artist friends, ArtBistro friends, or contact an artist they represent for further information.
  • While a foot in the door is an advantage for any artist, there are some galleries known to take advantage of artists.
  • Needless to say, these should be avoided.
  • Checkout ArtBistro’s gallery rating feature to be sure you’re entering into contract with a fair and reputable gallery.


Thank you to my friends at ArtBistro for sharing this great information. Please stay tuned on Mondays more useful articles by ArtBistro!!! ~Lori

PS. Do you have a commercial gallery, or do you represent yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section…

These other articles have a lot of valuable information, enjoy:

10 Tips to Bring Visitors to Your Art Fair Booth or Open Studio
7 Creative Ways to Approach an Art Gallery for Representation
3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation
Visual Artist’s Challenge II – Balancing Self Promotion & Gallery Representation
You Are in Charge of Your Art Career!
Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!
Create a Powerful Portfolio
The Right Art Gallery – How to Find One
How to Bring Out the “Mona Lisa” in Your Own Artwork

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