A relationship requiring communication

Tips on Getting Along with an Art Dealer

by Tony Rajer

The Business of Art
Working with an art dealer or gallery owner is a bit like being married: it takes two—working earnestly—to make it successful. Gallery owners have certain expectations, as do artists. To get along with a dealer, remember that they are in business to make money and you are in business to make art. Dealers expect you to supply consistently good work so that they can count on selling it. Relationships sour when there are misunderstandings and poor communication. Contracts and agreements need to be put in writing and signed by all parties. Verbal agreements will not protect you and are thus strongly discouraged. If you have a written agreement with a gallery, don’t undercut them by selling out of your studio or offering discounts behind their back.
One dealer put it this way: Without good work and quality professional artists, a gallery cannot build a reputation and gain its buyers’ trust. And without trust and a good reputation, a gallery will be of little value to an artist. Good work at all times is a must; it’s as beneficial to the artist as to the gallery and art buyer and remember that an artist reception requires mandatory attendance. It will not only prove the artist’s dependability, but increase sales and special commission opportunities. If you expect to be represented by a professional gallery, your work must look professional. It needs to be professionally framed or displayed.
Some artists make agreements with several galleries—that each commit to showing only a few works. But both the gallery and artist can lose sales if there are too few pieces and customers wish they had more to choose from. Generally galleries won’t let you sell work at other galleries within a 100 mile radius to keep from competing in the same region. Be sensitive to these business practices. Also be aware that it is now common practice to do a 50/50 cut, that is, when a sale is completed, the gallery will take 50% and the artist will receive 50%. In some galleries, the practice is still 60/40, with the artist getting 60%.
Art dealers and the artist should jointly decide which artworks will be on display. As one dealer put it, “Sometimes artists feel that since their paintings are shown in a gallery, they can drop in anytime to remove pieces or replace them.” It is important that you don’t do that. A gallery expects artists to notify them within a reasonable timeframe before collecting or changing any of their works of art. And be sure to keep your dealer informed of your whereabouts, your works in progress, awards, radio and television appearances, speeches and so on. Make sure they have your current, updated resume on file.
Having a gallery represent you is a special relationship that time and reciprocity will nourish. It takes hard work to develop a good working relationship and keep it healthy over the years. Most go bad when there is a misunderstanding about who does what and when. Keep all lines of communication clear, honest and open.