Friday, November 16, 2007

Beware : The Vanity Gallery

When I studied art at the University of Oregon, I learned so much that I am thankful for. Yet, the training I received on the business side of the art world was quite minimal as it is for many art students in school. However, I was taught one thing that really stood out, I was taught never to pay to show my art somewhere. I was taught to avoid "representation" by what is termed a "Vanity Gallery."

For those of you who don't know, as defined by Wikipedia, "a vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges artists fees in order to exhibit their work and makes most of its money from artists rather than from sales to the public." Most of the time these galleries charge these fees upfront and still collect a commission from the artist on pieces that sell as well. Vanity galleries are more common in large metropolitan areas of the country but they can spring up in smaller cities too. A vanity gallery may look just like a reputable gallery. The organizers of vanity galleries may reach out to fresh talent, artists new to the market, or those inexperienced and easily overwhelmed with the business end of things. Perhaps an artist has not been able to get another gallery to express interest in their work and the vanity gallery representative offers them hope for the first time.

It is a lonely world out there for artists, as they look for approval and a venue to show their work, they have heard the old adage " you have to spend money to make money" so forking over an entry fee, a hanging fee, and free labor not to mention the commission to the gallery in exchange for a show seems almost worth it, but it rarely is.

Before you freak out and cry foul. Yes, of course there are exceptions: paying a nominal fee to be juried into a show or a publication, or paying dues/fees and labor associated with being a member of a cooperative gallery, as well as paying a booth fee to participate in an art fair. To add to the confusion, many relationships with legitimate galleries have all sort of caveats. Some galleries may pay for post cards but not postage for your personal mailing list, some may have you pay to ship the work to them, but they will then pay to ship the work back to you. There is a 50/50 give and take that should be satisfactory to both parties involved in a relationship with a legitimate gallery.

The vanity gallery may have a complicated contract, and be elusive when you question it. Any gallery worth working with will go over the contract with you until you are both comfortable signing it. They will work with you and perhaps cross out things you are not comfortable with and you both will initial any changes. They will make sure you have a copy of the contract as well. They will make sure your work is properly insured and show you proof of their insurance if you request it. They will take proper care of your work while in their custody. When your work is displayed in a reputable gallery it will be well lit, and protected from direct sunlight. They will provide title cards by each piece of work or provide a price list for the work. A reputable gallery keeps regular business hours, and takes the time to talk with the artists to understand the work so that they can do their best to sell that work. Reputable gallery owners are invested in the artist as a person as well as in the artwork they represent.

Vanity galleries may boast fancy locations, expansive mailing lists, important clients, and far reaching publicity and seem to offer amazing benefits for a nominal fee. If you are entering into a relationship with a gallery and it seems too good to be true it probably is. Listen to your gut, ask questions, demand answers and if you don't get the answers that work for you- walk away. You must have faith in yourself, hold onto your personal power, and honor your artistic vision.

There are many opportunities out there to show your work, and as an artist just starting out it is tempting to say yes to the first one that comes your way and to keep questions to a minimum as to not offend those who have offered you this opportunity. Please find it in yourself to be strong and ask those questions. You will save yourself money and heartache in the process. If you have unwittingly participated in a vanity gallery, there is no shame on your part, just dust yourself off and get back in the game and chalk it up to a valuable learning experience.

Pictured above, Henry Turner's "Souvenir"
The DDP gallery
7 East Mountain St. Fayetteville.
Open: W-F 12-7 and Sat. 10-5
and by appointment.

October 10- November 24, 2007
(don't miss this show!!!)


  1. Megan, thank you for the practical advice. This type of sharing is useful and appreciated.

  2. tim lane: thank you verry informative

  3. Awesome advice. I remember when I was visiting Taos a couple years ago and stopped in one of these galleries. The owner seemed almost overly enthusiastic about bringing in work, by seemingly anyone.

    It's also good to know more that the shipping and contracts can be somewhat flexible.