Sunday, March 11, 2012

the gallery as a viable economic model

You might remember that I was going to approach a gallery in California and I finally did and the good news is I got a very favorable reply. The bad news is, he's closing the gallery in LA and moving to Pasadena. The good news is, he is going to re-vamp the gallery's web site doing on-line exhibitions and is very interested in working with us.

This has been a subject of some discussion among some of us glass artists. 'This' being whether the 'gallery' is still a viable economic model. I've talked to more than one gallery owner who thinks about letting their physical space go and conducting business on-line and at the national and international art and fine craft venues, of which there are many throughout the year.

Maintaining a physical space is costly especially if you also travel to and carry work to the 3 SOFA shows or Art Basel Miami or Glass Collector's Weekend or any of the many other shows like them. And the buying habits of collectors are changing as well. They seem to be preferring these large shows (where they can view a greater amount of work in one place) and benefit auctions (where everybody gets a good deal and the artists get screwed) and even on-line acquisitions over patronizing the local gallery. All of which begs the question, if they do choose to give up their physical space, doing business on-line only, do galleries still deserve 50% of the retail price with no overhead and no staff?

Quite a few galleries have closed their doors in the last two years since, for the most part, when things get tight in the economy, art is the first thing people stop buying. An already iffy economic model for some galleries, two years of deep recession put the final nail in the coffin so to speak.

And it's not just the recession. The gallery owners are aging. All the gallery owners I know are my age or older and I'm no spring chicken. I wonder what's going to happen when they all finally close up shop. Will they be replaced by new galleries? The collectors are aging too and there has been much discussion among gallery owners as to whether or not younger people will collect art as they seem more interested in spending their money on state of the art electronics and gizmos.

All three of the galleries that show my work have survived so far but not by selling my work. It doesn't help, I'm sure, that I went two years without making anything new and another whole year to produce 5 finished pieces. Though I am more than half way through the planned botanica erotica work, none of them are finished and ready to be sent out.

It will be interesting to see what the next 5 years or so bring since the last 5 years or so has seen an explosion of on-line only galleries and sales venues for artists. These venues have their pros and cons as well especially when there are hundreds of artists and artworks available on one site. How does any one artist get noticed?

Most especially, how do I get noticed?


  1. You have presented many good questions. Here in Bastrop some of the galleries are in small spaces and are "manned" by the artists with each working a day in the gallery. This has been an initiative of the downtown alliance hoping to bring business into the old part of town.
    Our art guild is in the process of taking over a large space in an old warehouse to use as gallery and studio space. Classes will be taught there also.
    I hate to see galleries close, but without sales it is difficult/impossible to keep them open. As far as your question about online galleries taking 50% of the sales I think it is ridiculous! Little overhead; however, I suppose the "gallery" is responsible for online advertising, but would the shipping of the art to the purchaser fall to the "gallery" or to the artist? Where exactly would the artwork be housed? What about charging tax?
    Sounds like a symposium is upcoming to sort out all the details!!

  2. When we had the shop we sold Organic and local produce - bur our village only had 150 houses in it and to be honest only a small % supported us so we had to go further a field - the tearoom bought in passing rade but still not enough to make the business viable. Sean persuaded me that we had to develope our own website and sell things on-line. I was not convinced! "Who would buy stuff on line?" I demanded to know, "This is never going to take off." Wow how wrong I was - the first year our turnover trebled! So thats the dilemma from the retailers point of view - on-line you have a world wide customer base, it's a shame to see so many real-time places close it would be great if they could happily co-exist but more and more people do all of their shopping on-line ... as for collectors being a dying breed - I don't think so it's just that in the current market things are tight.

  3. A very well stated predicament. Wish there was an easy solution for you and gallery owners too.

  4. That is the question for sure. I was thinking about approaching some galleries as well. Guess I need to rethink that! Sigh!!
    Good luck

  5. Yes, good and bad news. It's hard to imagine galleries going the way of the dino. I think, though, collectors will buy wherever the can--including online. The trick will be making sure you have noticeable presence on line--marketing yourself more aggressively. Not something every artist is up for. :/

  6. I would start out by Googling "How do I get noticed online [as an artist] and see what others have to say.

    That display is wonderful. Is that yours too? I really like it.

  7. For years I bought and sold antique American china on ebay, and the same dynamic was affecting the antique stores. Some hung on by keeping their brick-and-mortar storefronts in tandem with ebay. Some went entirely online, and some moved into antique malls.

    Today, the ones I know who hung on are still there. Internet sales have declined sharply because of increased shipping costs. And, the "browse" factor is back. People are spending more time in shops as recreation, with purchases as a result.

    One painter I know in New York exhibits solely in galleries - he's upstate, not in NYC, and hangs work well beyond his geographic area. He's done very well, but he markets like crazy by doing gallery talks, maintaining a blog with daily entries focused on his work and art generally, and so on. His blog does more for him than Facebook & etc.

    I think the important thing about his online presence is that it's classy as can be - beautifully presented and heavy on content, with links to the galleries where he exhibits, and always, always, information about his shows. But as far as I know, he does no online sales.

    Personally, I've purchased art online, but only from artists whose work I know well from the "real world". There are a lot of questions, and a lot to be balanced, for sure.

  8. A very beautiful display, I really liked the leaf.

  9. All questions I don't know the answer too. My wife has tried selling on online galleries, but mostly came up against fraudulent bods :(

  10. I agree with Jane Healy in the comment above. So many people are online now, shopping there first before venturing out, if going out at all. So it's that eternal question of visibility, of being found. I think one of the tricks is that you have to embrace the online world, and not resist it. Once you find your niche, or the method that works for you, you might be pleasantly surprised at the online outcome.

  11. THis is a great post and a great question. IN some form or another we need to encounter art firsthand, but do we need to continue to collect it? I mean people with lots of money, of course.

    The pic at the top is great!

  12. Oh, but Reya, if people don't collect/buy art, how will artists make a living?

  13. That's a fab picture. How do you get noticed? By having your own style/brand, being consistent, standing out from the rest, being professionally presented and reperesented. Being approachable. That's my brain storming for the moment. Good luck

  14. Online galleries, everything online really, is very good to spread the word, but to love and want to buy a piece one has to see it, touch it, take hold of it. It's sad that art should be the 'hobby' of the old; perhaps you are wrong and new young collectors will emerge, once the worst is over. After all, there are enough young artists creating new work too.

  15. The problem with everyone being online as we are (websites, blogs.. etc) is that it turns everyone into artists of sorts. Not true artists such as yourself but those of us who get by with our crafts (writing, photography, artwork) now have an audience. I fear that detracts from focusing in on the true artists who are making their living from their craft.. not just a hobby. That makes it tough for folks like you. I suspect there are more collectors out there than we might think though. At least I hope so.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.