What Do You Know About Vanity Galleries?

Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Featured Flag, This And that! | 0 comments

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Exhibition Research Continued:

In my research regarding art exhibitions I recently stumbled upon a discussion about vanity galleries on the Art Business group on LinkedIn.  It started me thinking about my own experiences and so I went to the blog posting written by Katherine Tyrrell who started this discussion for more information.

Katherine defines a vanity gallery as

” one which requires you to pay to show your art. This may involve a fee for each item of art shown or a fee to be shown in their gallery and/or have an exhibition. The business model of a Vanity Gallery revolves around extracting money from artists rather than selling artwork to art lovers.”

Katherine’s post is quite lengthy but worth checking out.  Not only does she provide questions to ask when you are researching galleries – what to avoid – but she goes on to provide a check list to help identify successful galleries that may be of interest to you.  She also points out that vanity galleries and artist co-ops should not be confuse.  She states:

“A co-operative generally has a no-profit basis and artists contribute to the exhibitions held in diverse ways eg covering the gallery and selling artwork. However also beware that a gallery which starts off as an artists’ co-operative can degenerate into a vanity gallery if too few artists put in the effort required to run a gallery.”

I like to enter my work in exhibitions sponsored by organizations that I belong to and public galleries.  There is often a nominal fee for a limited number of entries into these juried shows.  I asked myself  if these would be considered ‘vanity galleries.

Katherine feels:

Payment of a fee per se does not define a Vanity Gallery. Many juried exhibitions by reputable art societies and art competitions also charge fees. All such exhibitions and competitions cost money to run and the organisers need to recover their costs somehow or other. The fees may be high if an organisation is long established with a good reputation (think Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts). However that does not make it a vanity exercise.

Another instance when a ‘pay to show’ opportunity arises and that Katherine does not class as ‘vanity gallery’ is:

 Commercial Galleries have business models which are based on selling art. However galleries who make their space work hard may have a sideline which involves letting space to artists – whatever is left over after commitments relating to their main business. It’s a typical arrangement for galleries which regularly hold major exhibitions for prestigious art societies – but have space/time left in the calendar which can be sold. Their fee is typically a rental for the space and they take no commission if you handle your own sales or a moderate commission if they handle sales for you.

Katherine sums it up by saying:

How you market your exhibition is up to you. However there is scope for business models to change given the popularity of the art fair model for selling art with art collectors.

In the LinkedIn Art Business Group one participant suggested that ‘vanity galleries show amateurish work and a hodge podge of styles without any particular theme (especially if it’s a group show). They are basically just trying to cover their own rent. The ones in New York are avoided by artists and buyers alike.’

Another participant speaks in support of Artist Co-operatives by saying

 ‘In my own experience, I have built up a wonderful group of people who collect my work after years at this gallery. That is why I stay. In a small city where there aren’t many exhibit opportunities and only one or two true galleries, co-ops can be a great option. I would not know any of the artist friends I have made … if it were not for working with them over the years at the co-op … However also beware that a gallery which starts off as an artists’ co-operative can degenerate into a vanity gallery if too few artists put in the effort required to run a gallery.’

In regards to vanity galleries, another artist feel strongly that:

The financial risk vs. reward makes it a poor business decision for an artist. Frankly their influence in the community negatively impacts the perceived value of fine art in that community. They price like a hobby artist (which many are), driving prices down. Area artists do much better selling everywhere else – anywhere else. I believe that it does a lot to discourage some local artists and those with confidence and skill to market elsewhere.

What do you think?

Postscript:

24 May 2013

I’ve just found a great article that I want to share.  Check out the post Vanity Galleries: Pay to Play at Your Own Risk by Renee Phillips over at Manhattan Arts International.  It’s the bests commentary I’ve found on the subject.

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