Galleries Behaving Badly – 4 Things To Know Before Submitting Your Work

I did a two part series that detailed a gallery show where several artists behaved badly.  But what about galleries behaving badly?  As artists, we are often too quick to trust a gallery.  We assume that a gallery is going to act professionally not only with us but with our art and with the clients.  Unfortunately that’s a lot of assumptions.

You can skip to the bottom for the TL;DR section. Galleries Behaving Badly


 

The List of Things You Need to Consider Before Putting Art in a Gallery:

  1. What laws govern art galleries in your state?
  2. How do they treat sold artwork?
  3. How does a gallery handle work they accidentally broke?
  4. Do they want your mailing list?

 

1.  What Laws Govern Art Galleries?

In most states, art galleries are considered consignment shops.  This means the laws that govern consignment shops govern art galleries.  Makes sense, right?  Here’s the catch – what happens to your work if the gallery goes out-of-business while your art is inside?  Most artists think the contract they signed protects them.  It does not.  The contract is always overridden by state and federal law, no exceptions.  In some states, if a gallery is closed while art is on display, that art becomes the property of the gallery and is sold off to pay the gallery’s debts.  The artist has no right to the work inside.  None.  That contract you signed?  Meaningless.  The only recourse for the artist is to sue the gallery for the value of the work, but the artist will be the ‘last in line’ so they may get nothing.  Galleries come and go.  Don’t trust a gallery owner to be honest about their financial situation.  Research the law and choose wisely.

 

2. How Does The Gallery Handle Sold Art?

[This part is about artwork that is framed, canvas-based, and smaller sculptures, not huge statues or installation pieces.]

I shouldn’t have to put this section on the list but it’s here because not all galleries function like they should.  When art sells, the gallery should carefully wrap the artwork before the client picks it up.  They should not just be handing ‘naked’ art to your client.  If you’re thinking, “what gallery would do that?” the answer is: more than you think.  Worse, is that you need to check up on the gallery periodically to ensure they maintain the standards they had when you first started doing business with them.

If a gallery says they ‘don’t have room to wrap up artwork,’ or gets to lazy to bother anymore, just walk out the door.  Clearly that gallery owner didn’t think about what is needed when artwork sells.  That should make you wonder what else they didn’t think about when they decided to open a gallery.  Such galleries often turn into a minefield of problems rather quickly. You have to ask yourself whether or not you want your reputation to be compromised by those problems.  If a client comes to pick up a piece, and it’s raining, do you think they will look favorably on the gallery when they don’t wrap it?  No.  They also aren’t going to be happy with you for exhibiting that piece in an unprofessional gallery.

I started doing business with a new art space / gallery several years ago. When I first joined, things were great.  Contracts were signed when I dropped off art, I was promptly notified of sales, and art was wrapped when it sold.  By the end of the first year, things started getting ‘lazy.’  I would drop off work and no one could find the paperwork to fill out or the contracts to sign.  I had an instance where a piece sold but when exactly that happened I don’t know.  I’m not sure when they planned to tell me, but I only found out when I stopped by and noticed it wasn’t on display.  The employee on hand had no idea where it was.  There was even confusion between the owner and curator.  Unacceptable!  In another instance, I was in the building when a client came into pickup artwork (not mine).  The owner just handed the ‘naked’ art over.  When the client asked for “some kind of bag or wrap,” the owner laughed it off saying they ‘started out doing that but it was such a pain because they didn’t have the room. Hahaha.’  The owner laughed off a lot of things right up until the landlord padlocked the doors for non-payment of rent.

 

3.  How Does a Gallery Handle Work They Accidentally Broke?

This is another section that would seem to be unnecessary, but here it is.  Generally speaking, the gallery should notify the artist immediately.  If the piece is valuable, the artist should have had it insured.  Galleries do not always insure work against damage so if the artist also does not, the artist just lost a piece of art without any recourse.  That’s how it works – in theory.  The practice isn’t always that pretty.  Ask the gallery their policy on repairs, specifically if they take it upon themselves to “fix” broken art.  A gallery should never “fix” broken art, that’s the artist’s job.  Make sure you know, in advance, exactly how a gallery handles this situation.

I recently rejoined an art organization that has it’s own gallery space.  I had great experiences with the group several years ago so I was excited to renew.  One of my pieces, The Sorceress, hung in one of their shows recently.  I was working a volunteer shift towards the end of the show’s run when I noticed my piece looked a bit off.  The closer I looked, the more apparent it became that my piece was significantly altered, as though it had been seriously damaged and someone made a half-assed attempt to hot glue it back together.  I removed it from the wall because I was humiliated that my work had been hanging all month looking like utter garbage.  My name was attached to a piece that looked like crap.  I couldn’t figure out why no one called me about this so I emailed the gallery manager.  She confessed that it was dropped during install and she just decided to try & “fix it” herself.  I cannot tell you how mortified I was that a gallery manager would even consider doing something like that.  She made the decision to throw professionalism out the window & just ‘fix’ what she herself broke.  To add to the insult, the damage she caused in her repair attempt was far beyond what I could correct.  Only after I called her out on this was I reimbursed.  The organization lost money reimbursing me for something that, had they just called me when it happened, would have cost them nothing.  Sadly, I’ve heard stories about similar situations at other galleries, so do your homework & ask lots of questions before putting your art in a show.

 

4.  Does the Gallery Want Your Mailing List?  Find a New Gallery!

There are galleries out there who will ask you for your mailing list when you are accepted into their gallery.  When I say “accepted” this can be for a solo show, a contracted long-term relationship, or even just a single piece to hang in a single show.  Regardless of the circumstances, if a gallery asks you for their mailing list, don’t hand it over.  Here’s why:

  • When a client signs up for your mailing list, there is a level of trust.  When they start receiving emails or postcards from some gallery they didn’t sign up with, that makes you look unethical. You have violated their trust.  It is completely unprofessional for you to hand over that information without getting the permission from your subscribers.

Have you ever bought something from a company, signed up for their mailing list, yet getting dozens of emails from businesses you never signed up with or heard of before?  I don’t know about you, but I hate that.  I’m a lot less likely to do business with a company that does that…..or the business who bought that company’s mailing list so they could spam me.  When you hand over your mailing list, that’s exactly what you’re doing – allowing the gallery(s) to spam your clients.

  • The gallery is clearly lazy.  They don’t want to do the legwork to market and build their business legitimately.  They want you, and the rest of the artists, to do it for them.  Ask yourself if you really want to do business with a gallery who can’t be bothered to do something so fundamental to running a business.

This isn’t a legitimate business practice; I don’t care what the art world says to the contrary.   Don’t let a gallery spam your clients, potentially damaging your reputation, just for an opportunity to show your work.


TL;DR

  1. What laws govern art galleries in your state?
    • Don’t know?  You could lose your artwork entirely, without any hope of compensation, if the gallery goes under while you’re on display.  Contracts can’t override existing law.  Learn what laws govern galleries & save yourself the headaches.
  2. How do they treat sold artwork?
    • Do they wrap it appropriately or just hand if off to the customer with a smile that says “good luck getting that home without any dings or scratches!”
  3. How does a gallery handle work they accidentally broke?
    • Do they call you to notify you immediately or will they try & fix it and hope you don’t notice.  It’s sad that some galleries fall into the latter category.
  4. Do they want your mailing list?
    • Your mailing list is….wait for it…..your mailing list.  Handing it over to someone else is unethical & unprofessional and it shows an amazing laziness on the part of the gallery.  Tell them to build their mailing list the same way you did, through hard work and planning.

 


Have your own “galleries behaving badly” tale of woe?  Tell me about it the comment section. Galleries Behaving Badly