Saturday, January 18, 2014

10 Signs A Gallery Isn't Going To Make It

Over the years I have shown in many different galleries, some have been wonderful, like Scottsdale Fine Art in AZ, and the other galleries I am currently in. Others were not so wonderful. Here are just a few things I have learned from some of the galleries I have been in, that for one reason or another, went out of business. I am not including criminal, or crazy as a sign. First of all, crazy is not an indicator that the gallery will fail. Furthermore, if you walk in and the gallery owner, who is a large man, is suddenly dressed as Carmen Miranda and muttering over and over "I should have opened a fruit stand, I should have opened a fruit stand" - you shouldn't need a warning from me. This list is about honest mistakes that people make which in my opinion hurt business and are preventable. They are things I look out for now when I am approached by a new gallery.

10. Difficult to navigate their website or no website at all. 

I can't believe how often I see this one. A website should be up and running before the doors of the gallery open. A website is a reflection of the gallery, and of the owner. If the website doesn't work, it's a safe bet the owner of the gallery doesn't like to either. At this point, I will not show in a gallery that doesn't have a website and/or have a page for me on it.

9. "I'm not doing this for the money" 

Really? Because I am. Of course I don't paint "for the money" but it is pretty hard to paint without it. If you hear this phrase from a gallery owner, run and run fast! Of course they are in it for the money, and they know it. What this phrase means is that you shouldn't plan on making any by showing there. Every time I have ever heard this phrase from a gallery, I have had a problem getting paid, either on time or at all. Good sales people can sell anything, and are proud of that fact. I am also very weary of gallery owners that talk too much about themselves, it seems to be a sure fire sign that I am going to get screwed.

8. On the opening night of a show, none of the paintings have been sold already.

This is one of the weaker indicators, but still worth mentioning. Most good galleries have a client list and email images of an upcoming show to the clients on the list. It is not unusual for a good gallery to have sold out almost the entire show before it even opens.

7. They won't serve wine

Unless your gallery is in Utah, this one is a good sign your gallery may be in trouble. It isn't the serving of the wine that is so much of a warning, but that there is something more important to them than having a successful show. Lets be honest, people are more likely to have a good time when they are drinking. That's why comedy clubs have a two drink minimum - because people are funnier when you have been drinking. People spend more money, and in general make decisions more quickly after a few drinks. If the owner has another agenda, like religion for example, which prevents them from making decisions which can help you, the gallery, and sales,  be very careful.

6. They sell jewelry, pillows, spark plugs, socks, or coffee.

Masking around as something besides an art gallery is usually a sign that your doomed as an art gallery. Coffee shops often sell "art" but seldom will a painting be on the wall for over a hundred dollars. A coffee shop is the one place I tell young aspiring artists to turn down. This is not the bottom step on the ladder, it isn't a step at all. Aside from a few rare exceptions, coffee shop art stays right where it is - in the coffee shop. 

Now if your gallery sells high-end furniture, picture frames, oriental rugs or expensive mirrors, those seem to work. You may need to use a bit of common sense. An art gallery/auto parts store probably wont be open for very long. But a gallery in Cape Cod also sells high-end flooring and is doing very well with both.

5. No one is ever there

Believe it or not this one happens a lot. If every time you call the gallery you get an answering machine, and every time you stop by the gallery is closed, soon enough ...they'll be closed.

*There are a few very high end galleries which run on an appointment only basis, but we aren't talking about them. If you are showing in one of those, chances are you aren't reading this.

4. Lousy artwork

If you are by far the best painter in the gallery, it's not a good sign actually, it's a bad one. Most galleries try to have a variety of work hanging but the level of skill should be relative. When I think of some of my favorite galleries, there is a variety of talent so that it would be difficult to say who the best painter is because all of them are excellent, just different. If your work stands out as being amazing compared to everything else, it is probably not the case that you are just that amazing, it is more likely that the gallery is having a problem getting talent. Unless you can sell enough artwork to keep them in business by yourself - I'd start looking around to show someplace else.

3. Other artists are leaving

This one is easy. If a gallery has some great painters and all of a sudden they are jumping ship...something is wrong. If you own or show in that gallery, you had better find out what, and do it quickly.

2. Bad Location 

This could be number one on the list but I can think of a few galleries in rather unlikely locations, that do well because people know that they are there. Some NY galleries can be on the twelfth floor for example, in an odd location, and rely on people knowing it. Many galleries in tourist areas rely instead on people passing by. Unless the gallery is very famous, it is best to have both.  I always Google the address to see where a gallery is located on the map. If you get a phone call from a gallery called Blank Canvas, located off of the Klondike Highway in Alaska, you may want to ask around before sending them a crate full of your work.

1. No One Has Ever Heard Of It 

This one is more important than the one above because you can be in any location once the gallery is famous. If you get a phone call from a gallery wanting to represent you, and nothing comes up on Google, and no one you know has ever heard of it, watch out. Because I show in a gallery in AZ, when someone mentions a gallery in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area, if I have never heard of it, I wonder why. If I ask around, and no one else I know has heard of it either, it's not likely that the gallery is doing well. In gallery areas, most of the time, the good galleries are in the same general area. If a gallery is far away from all of the other galleries, do some research to find out why.

*Note - I have been in two galleries that went out of business but I really liked both the gallery and the owners. I was sad that they had to close but they were making many of the mistakes listed above. The biggest was that they had no real functioning website, and no blog, or Facebook page. Of course, no one knew they were there.

Recently I was in a restaurant that was trying to be both an art gallery and restaurant and bar. Normally I would say "no way" but this one was done well enough that I think it may have worked - until I spoke with the director. All of the "artists" showing there were on their own. The cards they had next to their work were all different. Some had prices, some didn't, some had titles, some didn't, etc. I told the director that he should have it be consistent. All the same cards with the standard, Artist, Title, Size, Medium, Price, and either a phone number or website. I also suggested that the restaurant have a blog for the artists, that way if a diner went home, and couldn't remember the artist's name, they could go to the restaurant's artist's blog and there it would be. It could even have PayPal links and shipping info. I thought that too would be common sense. I was told that he was too busy. TOO BUSY?! - To set up a blog? I said oh, OK, and walked away, but I was thinking, you'll have plenty of free time when you are out of business.


  1. Great post! I might have included galleries that are over-crowded. I hate when there is so much work on the wall that I get overwhelmed.
    Love your work!

    1. Hi Michelle,
      I think that depends on the gallery and the set-up. I can think of several examples of each. Berkley Gallery in Virgina, who represents my work, is very tiny and almost every inch of wall space is covered, but they hung it so wonderfully that it feels more cozy warm and charming, than it does crowded. I can also think of a few other galleries though where it doesn't work quite as well.

      Every once in a while I go into a gallery that looks like a packed antique store, where there is just stuff everywhere. In that case I agree that it is overwhelming.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great Post! All common sense, but emerging artists are so eager to exhibit we dont always listen to that little voice that says "dont do it".

    Thanks for the advice!

    1. Thanks Jose!
      And if an emerging artist is in no galleries at all, almost any gallery is a step up.
      I wrote this list because I was in galleries that made these mistakes, so I ignored that little voice myself...

  3. I think a bad name can ruin a gallery also. There is a gallery in Santa Fe called "The Glory Hole". I chuckle every time I walk by it.

    1. I've been to that gallery a few times and have to admit, seeing that sign at first was startling. My natural curiosity led me in and I found that it was a fantastic gallery, I love that place!
      For any readers who don't know, Glory Hole Glassworks is a glassblowing gallery in Santa Fe. It gets it's name from the term Glory Hole – which is the opening of the furnace used to keep the glass hot and workable.
      To be honest though, when I read a list of terms used in glassblowing I would guess even the most mature of people might smile and chuckle at more than a few of them,

  4. Good post! I just want to mention that one can be in a gallery which is making none of these mistakes and it can still fail for a host of other reasons. I have been in two such: a start-up that just couldn't get off the ground fast enough despite the good sense/hard work of the owners. They only had enough money to "float" the place for a year till it started earning. They were doing great for a start-up but needed more time to really get going. Sad! The other was a gallery that did well and had been in business for several decades, had a great reputation etc but the owner had a sudden severe health crisis and not enough staff to take over entirely while she dealt with it. Very sad!

    1. It's always a shame when you are doing everything right and still go out of business. I had a friend who had a very successful gallery and had to close due to cancer. Another friend had a gallery that was doing well, not great, but getting by, and they had to close because the landlord raised their rent. Those are tough reasons to have to close an otherwise successful business.
      Thanks for commenting!