ARTisSpectrum | Volume 29 |
By way of offering an entry into and pathway through a
milieu that can often seem impenetrable from the outside
and labyrinthine from within, we have mapped out the art
world into eleven key sectors. From museums — whose
curators and acquisitions committees determine how the
history of today’s art will be told tomorrow — to art fairs
— where collectors and gallerists determine the demand
for their preferred artists and discover the next stars —
these are the junctures at which creativity, power, influ-
ence, and money meet to help push
precious few artists forward.
The foremost concern among the ma-
jority of contemporary artists looking
to build a successful career is obtain-
ing gallery representation. The barriers
to achieving this goal are many, but so
are the benefits that come with it: A
solo show of new pieces roughly every
two years; gallery staff championing
your work in exchanges with curators,
critics, and collectors; costs of exhibi-
tion promotional materials covered
(and in some cases production materi-
als, too); publishing or coordination
of artist books, editions, and mono-
graphs; an exhaustive and well-main-
tained online showcase for you work;
and more. But gaining representation
is no easy feat.
Most galleries in the world’s major art hubs — Chelsea
and the Upper East Side in New York, Mayfair in London,
the Marais in Paris, and so on — do not accept portfolio
submissions. Rather, their staff members monitor exhibi-
tions at smaller galleries, non-profit spaces, major bien-
nials, leading art schools’ MFA exhibitions, visit open
studios, and so on, before approaching an artist to discuss
representing her or him. This vetting process can take
months, years, even decades, but an artist picked up by a
major gallerist like Mary Boone, Sean Kelly, or Paula Coo-
per will stand a much greater chance of seeing their work
acquired by leading collectors and major museums.
Most artists, therefore, get their start in small and mid-
range galleries, whose dealers are more approachable and
some of whom even accept portfolio submissions. This is
often the first of many stepping-stones toward gaining
representation with a major dealer. All these galleries are
for-profit businesses, and take a percentage of the sum for
which they sell an artists’ work; this cut varies dramatically,
but 50 percent is not uncommon. An artist signing with
a gallery will typically have to turn over the details of her
or his collectors, so that the gallery can contact potential
buyers whenever an exhibition is ap-
proaching, or suggest other similar
artists from among those they repre-
sent. Galleries will often give discounts
to entice major collectors — whose
collections will often end up in major
public or private institutions — and
museum acquisitions groups.
Other types of galleries about which
every artist should to be informed
are secondary market galleries, co-op
galleries, and promotional galleries.
Promotional galleries offer artists a
range of services in exchange for a fee,
but lower the commission percent-
age for the gallery. They offer gallery
representation for a pre-determined
period and inclusion in exhibitions.
Some promotional galleries, such as
Agora Gallery, offer artists additional
benefits, such as an online profile for
a year or longer which often result in sales. The fees cover
the costs of exhibitions’ promotional materials including
original press releases, catalogues and postcards, list-
ings and ads in print publications, as well as professional
advice regarding artistic direction, pricing, how to frame
and advice on shipping nationally and internationally . A
promotional gallery also promote artists to a vast da-
tabase of collectors locally, internationally, and through
their websites. For an artist developing his or her career,
representation with a promotional gallery can provide the
crucial boost needed for career building.
Though similar to promotional galleries in some ways,
co-op galleries are also different in certain crucial respects.
While they typically charge a fee for membership, they
Most artists get their
start in small and
mid-range galleries,
whose dealers are
more approachable
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