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This article is by regular contributing writer, Mark Edward Adams. Mark is a modern sculptor born in Tucson, Arizona and raised in the Phoenix area in a family full of artists and musicians. He was trained in classical figurative sculpture but eventually gravitated toward a modern expressive style focusing on animals. His work has been exhibited at the Gilcrease Museum, Tampa Museum of Art, Brookgreene Gardens, and in private collections in the United States and Europe. In 2013, Mark was awarded the prestigious “Beverly Hoyt Robertson Memorial Award” by the National Sculpture Society for an outstanding sculptor under the age of 40. He has been featured in a variety of publications including Western Art and Architecture, American Art Collector, Fine Art Connoisseur and on the NBC TV show “Art Pulse”.
In my experience the vast majority of art galleries are fair and honest. While I have had some bad experiences, most galleries have integrity and genuinely care about their artists. While there are a lot of good galleries, some stand out as great galleries. They tend to be in the top percentage in terms of sales and reputation.
So how can you tell a good gallery from a great one? I have worked with numerous galleries and after awhile you begin to notice traits of the great ones. Some are subtle while others follow common sense. Here is a list of eight traits of a great gallery:
1.) The gallery is open to trying new things to bring in collectors.
If you talk to any major gallery they will tell you the amount of walk-in traffic has been decreasing steadily over the last few years. Galleries are now challenged to find new ways to bring in qualified collectors. There is no easy solution to this problem, but the great galleries are searching for the answer. They are allowing their artists to work in the gallery, they are collaborating with nearby businesses to sponsor events, and they are building a social media following. The great galleries are not sitting idly by waiting for things to change.
2.) The gallery staff knows their artists
There are a surprisingly large number of galleries out there where the staff knows very little about their artists. I have walked into numerous galleries and talked with the sales representatives and realized that I knew more about their artists than the staff.
The great galleries train their sales staff about each artist. Everyone should know the basic biography of each artist, information about the subject matter, and recent museum shows and awards. I have received numerous phone calls from galleries where the new employee wants to learn more about my biography and art. I immediately know that this is a great gallery. They are taking the time to properly train the staff.
3.) Everyone is treated with respect.
It can be difficult to judge which interactions in a gallery environment will lead to a sale. I heard one story from a gallery director who told me about a time when three teenage girls came into the gallery. They were interested in the art and he spent the next hour telling them about each artist. One teenager was so interested she ended up writing a report about one of the artists. The parent read the report and ended up going back to the gallery and bought a ten thousand dollar painting.
I recall a similar instance when I was sculpting in a gallery in Santa Fe and a couple entered and the man was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and old ripped jeans. The gallery staff treated them like royalty and they ended up buying a fifteen thousand dollar painting. You cannot judge a collector by the initial appearance and the great galleries understand this concept. They are never rude to anyone and treat every with respect and courtesy.
4.) They work with their artists to promote the gallery.
The marketing landscape has changed drastically. The days when a collector needed to go through a magazine or show to see new work is over. Collectors are now interacting directly with the artist via social media, emails and newsletters. Great galleries understand they need to part of this interaction in order to do well.
The very top galleries work with their artist to promote each other to their audiences. I work closely with my galleries so we both benefit. I share my new work on Facebook and mention specific galleries and provide links. I share photos of each gallery and work on telling my audience information about each gallery. And in my newsletters I have a specific section devoted to news about my galleries.
Likewise, my galleries promote my work on their Facebook pages and email updates. They host events and invite me to sculpt in the gallery. And often they introduce me to collectors so we can begin building a relationship. The gallery and artist must work together in the current environment to stand out.
5.) The expectations are clear to everyone
No two galleries are the same. Each gallery has its own culture and expectations. Often times these expectations are never clearly articulated. How much work is expected to sale? What are the inventory needs? How long do you wait to go separate ways if things do not work out? All of these unanswered questions produces anxiety in both the artist and gallery.
Great galleries understand power of communication. They make clear the expectations of the artists and explain the role of the gallery. The good ones also listen to the artist and makes adjustments so all sides are happy. This process is sorted out in the beginning.
6.) They provide opportunities to their artists
One of the greatest benefits a gallery can offer an artist is opportunity. A great gallery will offer their artists spots in shows, introductions to gatekeepers in the art world, invitations to create art in the gallery, or paid advertising. All of this is separate from the amount of art sold. This opportunity will build momentum in your career.
Several years ago I was represented in a high end gallery that had some major artists. Most of the art in the gallery sold for five and six figures. At the time I thought that this exposure would boost my career. While they did sell some work, there was absolutely no exposure given to my art. They spent all their time and resources on the other artists. I did much better at other galleries that worked to promote me and offer opportunities. When you are considering a gallery you must consider what they offer other than just sales.
7.) Give feedback to the artist on what people are saying.
In order to truly understand your collectors you must be part of their community. You should be utilizing every chance to speak to collectors and understand what resonates with them. Yet there are limitations on how much you can travel and often time collectors differ by region.
The great galleries will keep you informed on the trends of their market. And they will let you know what people are saying about your art. These can be tough conversations, but galleries with experience understand its importance. This feedback is essential in learning about specific markets. Sometimes small changes such as the color in a piece or subject manor can lead to a major increase in sales. A smart gallery will help guide you to your collectors.
8.) People are allowed to use the restroom.
This may seem like a minor point, yet it is not. I remember going into a gallery in a major market and I asked the first person who worked there if I could use the restroom. He told me they did not have a one. Then I saw the gallery director who was a friend of mine and he allowed me to use the restroom. The first person I saw apologized and told me he did not know I knew the director.
I began to take notice of galleries over the years and realized that the best galleries let patrons use the restroom when asked. It may be a strange correlation, but it goes back to the point of treating everyone with respect and understanding any connection may lead to a sale.
When you are starting out it can be difficult to tell which galleries will work for you. It takes a lot of trial and error. But with experience you will begin to develop an intuition as to the best places for your art. Please use these tips as a guide to evaluate different galleries and remember it is all a learning process.
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