Friday, May 20, 2011

When it's Time to Jump Ship

There are many books out there for artists, describing how to market yourself and your work, with the ultimate goal of getting your art into a gallery. They usually describe how to write your artist's statement, how to make a presentation package, the importance of networking, etc. What they usually don't discuss, at least I have yet to find a book that does, is what happens once your work IS in a gallery.  Things like, what happens when you want to change the style of your work but your galleries like your previous style, isn't ever discussed, or, what  you should look for in a contract before you sign it, or should you even have one versus a consignment form. Another good topic would be what you should do when the gallery that represents you is less than desirable for a multitude of reasons. If I had more experience, I would write that book since I think these topics, along with others that arise once you are represented, are important things that artists should know and I am sure are wondering about. But  since I don't have enough experience YET, for now, all I can do is write about my experiences as they happen and hope that these narratives will help others avoid some of the things that have happened to me.

My latest experiences deal with working with a less than desirable gallery and what to do when you don't see eye to eye. Last year I was randomly contacted by a gallery that not only had I never contacted, but also had never heard of. I was sent an email that simply stated "I saw your work on another gallery's website and love it! Please contact  me for representation." At first I thought it had to be a scam. It couldn't be this easy, right? But after some research, it turns out it was a legitimate gallery and they did in fact want to show my work. This happened last year around October. I have since then had some experiences that lead me to pull my work out of the gallery. Here's a list of what happened:

1. The gallery sent out a "press release" to their clients announcing that I, along with 3 other artists, were now represented by the gallery. Normally this is great, BUT I hadn't agreed to the arrangement yet, and had not actually talked to the director. I got her initial email and I had sent her one saying I was interested in learning more and we had set up a time to talk, but hadn't when the email was sent out to her clients. I found out about the announcement through an artist friend who received the email. Now, this isn't a major thing, but when you read on, you'll see that this was a red flag.

2. The first check that was sent to me in January, bounced. After talking to another artist who also shows at this gallery, I learned that her check had also bounced. I talked to the director, who seemed embarressed by this, and she assured me that the check was now good, please re-deposit it and she would reimburse me for the bounced check fees, which to this day, I have yet to receive.

3. I was scheduled to have a group show in mid June. The reception was scheduled and I was excited to make the 7 hour drive to attend. My family, who lives an hour away from the gallery, was going to join me. I recently learned through anouther source, that the gallery decided they weren't going to have a reception after all. The gallery never notified me even though they knew I was making the trip.

4. A couple of weeks ago I received another check. At first I was extremely excited to get a check randomly in the mail for $750 (although they said they would always call me within 24 hours to notify me of a sale), but then I looked and noticed that the check was for a painting that was retailed at $2,185! If you do the math, the gallery had sold the painting for 31% off WITHOUT notifying me of the large discount. When I talked to the director, she said that she was going to sell my work for whatever the client was willing to pay for it and didn't feel the need to notify me or ask for permission to do so. WHAT??? Had this been our arrangement or had she discussed with me this policy when I agreed to send her my work, this would have been okay (although still appalling that a gallery would sell new work at such a huge discount), but she hadn't. The first time I had heard about her policy was AFTER she made the sale and I questioned her about it. Now, you are probably thinking "what does the contract say?" Well, this gallery doesn't like to use contracts. They work mainly by consignment forms and nowhere on the form is their sales policy stated. I would have not agreed to send them my work had I read that the gallery would be able to sell my work at whatever priece the client was willing to pay.

I have been talking to other artists that are/were represented by this gallery, and also to other artists in the area that know this gallery's reputation or had friends represented by them. I keep hearing some pretty bad things (more than I listed here in this blog post) that made me very uncomfortable. I decided that I needed to pull my work out of the gallery and would not be shipping them any new work for the June show. I didn't like having to do this after commiting to the upcoming show (which I had already sent announcements for) but I didn't want this gallery to have access to more of my work, not knowing what they would sell my work for.

So, I pulled out and had a friend who lived in the area pick up my work. He had contacted the gallery and told them which day he would stop by. He gave them at least 5 days notice so that they could wrap up 7 paintings, 6 of which were pretty small. He was told that they didn't have time to wrap up my work and he would have to do it himself AND bring his own bubble wrap since they didn't have any (How does a gallery not have ANYTHING to wrap artwork in??). What was even worse though, was that their inventory list did not match my inventory list. When I went to visit the gallery in November, we had physically signed an inventory list that had an accurate count of my work. I sent my friend this list, minus the two paintings that sold. Their list, which should have been the same as mine, had two less paintings on it. Had I not provided my friend with a list, the gallery would have kept two of my pieces. I have to question HOW two of my paintings suddenly were not on the inventory list when they were on it originally when we both signed the consignment form. After hearing this, I was confident in my decision to not have my work shown at this gallery.

We, as artists, need to look out for ouselves, and out for each other. You need to contact other artists represented by your gallery to make sure their experience is good. Do your homework and research any gallery that contacts you. I know it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of having a gallery represent you that sometimes things are overlooked. But some things just can't be overlooked. Having a gallery that has some shady dealings represent you just isn't worth it, no matter how much the gallery tries to make you feel like they are doing YOU the favor by representing you. It's no favor. There are too many good galleries out there that there's no need to deal with galleries who's policies make you uncomfortable.

On a good note, since pulling my work out of this gallery, I have been contacted by two other galleries and will hopefully be announcing some new representation soon! yay!


  1. Jhina, you're lucky you got out of this with your work. This is a terrible story. Those people are crooks. I hope you report them to the Better Business Bureau. I don't know if that does any good but you should at least spread the word among your friends, although it sounds like they already know. This sounds exactly like how not to be represented by a gallery. I hope you are now wiser and more on the alert for shoddy business practices. Unethical people need to suffer the consequences of their lack of ethics.

  2. Jhina,
    This is a gallery that gives decent galleries a bad name. I hope you will share the name so that others don't fall prey to it. It's never libel (written) or slander (spoken) if it's the truth.
    Some suggestions:
    . Contact your state's attorney general. Part of what they do is help citizens with business and consumer issues
    . Find out if this gallery is a member of any art dealer's association, or a local business organization. Let those organizations know of the way you were treated. The gallery has behaved unethically, and any ethical institution will want to know if its members are behaving badly
    . Look over my list of Marketing Mondays posts. I have written about many of the issues you've raised. (And if it's OK with you, I'm going to write one on red flags, using your example.)

  3. Joanne-
    You have my permission to use me as an example.

    Thanks for the advice!

    Nancy- We've been trying to spread the word, although their reputation is catching up with them when artists with no affiliation with them know how bad they are.

  4. Thanks for the great post. I write about my experiences here. Although it's not fine art it's motion graphics for TV and Film some may be relevant if interested.