The gallery in question in this post sicked their lawyers on us and demanded that we remove their name from this post. So rather than fight an expensive long legal battle in court we decided to alter the article, getting rid of the name of the galler in question. Let’s just say their name includes the name of an Apostle and a color midway between black and white.
Every time GYST teaches its Getting Your Shit Together class we always discuss the topic of “vanity galleries,” exhibition spaces that lure young artists with promises of a show but demand that the artist put up the cash for hosting the exhibition. These galleries take advantage of artists’ desperation. They often demand that artists pay for everything pertaining to the exhibition: announcements, catering, staff fees, even the rent. On top of this they also take a percentage of sales. Vanity galleries are a scam, a blight on the art world and, predictably, showcase lack-luster art. We warn all our students to flee these spaces at break-neck speed.
Vanity Galleries STINK because they thrive on exploitation and not on a real desire to help artists. Also showing at a vanity gallery looks bad because it is kind of like paying to show your work. People who have been in the art world for awhile know who they are and don’t look favorably at a vanity gallery listed on a resume.
Now it’s one thing to have a vanity gallery lure artists with promises of sales and a space to exhibit work, letting them know that there will be costs upfront, but recently we heard a story from one of our GYSTERS, a great artist and one of our fabulous students, that simply blew our minds. Read her account of how she was almost scammed with a real slimy bait-and –switch by a certain gallery in Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Thankfully she is one smart artist and she smelled the rotten deal before it was too late.
And now, her Story:
I was at a job where I had plenty of time to cruise the internet while I waited for people to call the office phone. I searched craigslist a lot to look for shows to enter and other stuff. I found this posting from this gallery in (Bergamot Station, Santa Monica). The posting said they were looking for new artists to represent and for anyone interested to send a few images via email or a link to view them. I responded with images attached, as well as a link to my website. I was contacted a week later by the gallery manager. She said that she was interested in a portfolio review at their gallery and asked me if such and such a time was OK. For the portfolio, they requested that I bring at least two actual pieces for them to examine.
I know craigslist attracts a fair amount of crap, and so I decided to research the gallery. It’s a 20 year old establishment, successfully selling and representing. Everything I could find on the internet made them seem completely legit and real.
The appointment was for a week later. I drove over there with my portfolio (print outs and a disc), an artist statement and a resume, as well as 3 framed drawings for them to look at. I was nervous. I had never even spoke to gallery people before, much less discussed my work. I tried to keep my wits about me, thinking, “OK, just remember they’ve already seen my stuff online and still wanted to talk with me.” I also dressed up like I was going for a job interview, which is very uncomfortable for my un-ladylike self, just adding to the drama in my head.
I found the place, grabbed my stuff and walked in. I asked for the manager, who happened to be the person I was talking to. (She was sitting at a desk at the front of the gallery right by the door.) She had me lean my framed works against the wall and took my portfolio and paraphernalia to look through. She went straight to the cd and brought everything up very large on her computer. She spent a fair amount of time looking at my images while I sat and waited. At the same time she seemed sincere and thoughtful while looking through them. Then she went to the work leaning against the walls and did the same thing. She walked through the work with me, told me what she liked best and why, said she definitely saw some skill. Somewhere along the way we started walking around the gallery and looking at their (3) exhibitions. She was talking about the ability to sell the works in a very vague way. She said that she would like to see me admitted as a participant in their “Emerging Artist Program” (consider that a paraphrase). The admitting is actually through the gallery owner himself. If he feels you got what it takes, you can then chose to participate. We sat down at a sales desk in the loft-gallery (upstairs). She explained to me the details of the gallery program. I remember thinking as she explained the program “She brought me out here on false pretenses.” It was a weird feeling, because I considered my portfolio a bit lacking and the fact that they were considering me for anything, still nervous about the being reviewed aspect, but at the same time I felt stabbed in the stomach. I felt like I was going into a diabetic shock. So I decided to seriously listen to her proposal, keep as stoic of a face as possible, and sit down and make a decision later, after a nights sleep.
The manager explained that the “Emerging Artist Program” is basically this: Upon review and signing of their contract you pay a fee to claim a gallery space. The fee is $1500.00. You then put together a body of work for a show. (She said that if you felt you had enough you could exhibit that, or take the time you need to make more work under their guidance.) All work is reviewed and approved by them. They also hang the show, and do all the normal gallery stuff: announcements, ads, etc. When enough work is put together to do a show you put down the other half of the gallery fee: $1500.00. Then in 2-3 months the show is put on. By the way they also take out commission on top of your renting the gallery. They said they charged the fee because they have done shows where the artist flaked out and didn’t show up to the opening in the past. They also said that after completing this show you have essentially demonstrated your seriousness to the gallery. You become a regularly represented artist with normal 50/50 commissions and no more fees to pay for shows again ever. She also explained what you could expect to price things for and if you had say, 12 paintings this size, and say 5 sold, you would make this much profit on top of the cost for that gallery fee. The number crunching was accurate mathematically, but you are still at the mercy of the phrase “If it sells.”
I tried to ask a lot of questions while I was there and one was about their clientele. Who do they sell to, etc. It is my understanding that the mailing list is one of the most important things for a gallery, because most collectors are repeat customers. They mostly catered to interior design firms, and a few private collectors. That kind of worried me. Earlier she mentioned taking my work and suggesting that I be looser in terms of subject matter, and lean towards post-modern tendencies. Putting both conversations together to me meant that they wanted more generic color splotches that matched the couch. That’s fine once in a while, but my style is more literal, and I thought I was being solicited because of my work. I’m not ready to make work I don’t like so I can sell.
So after that we head back downstairs, she grabs the cd, takes it to the owner’s office for review. I all of 5 minutes she comes back out to say that I have been approved for the program and that if I decided to participate just let her know and she would send me the contract. I told her I would like to review the contract first before I make a decision. (I read leases for a day-job and do some of the writing for them too, so legal jargon is not intimidating to me.) I asked her if she could send me a copy of the contract for review to my email address.
I packed my stuff up, and walked around to the other galleries there. I was really upset that I was not told about how their “Emerging Artist Program” works ahead of time and I was made to show my stuff and everything before they brought up this “program” thing. I was also worried that this would be my only chance to enter into the gallery scene. I wound up not communicating with them again (not even a follow up thank you note). I was embarrassed at the whole thing. I never did receive a contract from them. I did try to research artists represented by them to see if any of them started on similar program with their gallery. I couldn’t really find any artists that except through the gallery’s site (which I did not want them to know I was snooping).