Selecting an artist for gallery representation is not much different then selecting a spouse, expect the artist relationship can take more time to develop. Any gallery that doesn’t realize they are entering into a relationship is in trouble from the get-go.
Most of the artists I represent have been with me for 10 years or longer and a couple are approaching 20 years. That’s longer than most marriages. I know it’s a relationship because I feel bad when something happens negatively in my artist’s life and happy when something good occurs. I root for their successes no matter if it’s because of me or not.
I not only know their life’s history, when they were born, where they studied and who they show with, but I also know them as people not just a product line. I care about them as friends. It hurts when an artist doesn’t sell as much as I like or worse yet if they feel they have to move on because it just isn’t working anymore.
When I look to represent an artist I want someone who cannot only paint, but is a good fit as a person. As a gallery owner you have to deal with different types of personalities, which can be as varied as painting styles. An artist may feel one of his stable-mates paints too much like them and doesn’t want their work to hang on the wall next to them, or agonize why one artist’s prices are higher then theirs. I try to avoid conflict by having a group of artists that have their own voice and don’t look like anyone else. By having group of mature accomplished artists to begin with I have managed to have a group of individuals that root not only for the success of my gallery but also for the other artists we show.
If you’re an artist and are considering a gallery, talk to other artists and see what that gallery’s reputation is. Do they pay on time, are they going to be good for my career, do they even care? Bad dealers (and artists) get found out fairly quickly and these are the ones to stay away from. In my business I take personality into consideration. If the artist is just too difficult, even if I like their work I’m not going to be interested in developing a business relationship. Both parties should spell out their expectations. This doesn’t have to be in writing but a good verbal understanding is crucial. Money, just like in a marriage, can cause problems. Every gallery has its own way of doing business, in my own business I try to let an artist know when we pay and what bills we can expect to cover.
As a gallery I’m in the sweet spot, and it only took me 20 years to get here. I have a great stable of artists who seem to enjoy being in my gallery with their fellow artists. It didn’t happen by luck, or by taking who’s hot or sells well, but by a real evaluation of each and every artist that works with me. The smart artists do the same. They make sure the gallery owner is more than a wall in a good location but a person that cares and someone they can work with.
The next time you enter a gallery, if you sense thought in their display, and information flows from the individuals trying to sell you artwork, you have found a good gallery to spend your money with as the artist gallery relationship is a solid one.