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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Galleries Taking Half, Or, How Good Is Your Seattle Dealer?

posted by on June 27 at 12:59 PM

Ed Winkleman has a brave post up on his blog today, about why galleries split the profits of sales with artists 50/50.

He dives all the way in, including a list detailing a typical dealer’s expenses, beginning here:

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Gallery/Artist relationship is, not surprisingly, the most controversial aspect of any relationship in any business: money. Specifically, the 50/50 split of sales between the artist and dealer. Many folks outside the gallery system will look at that split and be amazed, I’m sure. The artist is the creative genius, the artist spent years in art school, the artist is the one putting it all on the line for the public to take pot shots at their vision. In other professions, like acting, managers only get 15% and agents only get 10%. Why on earth does the gallery take 50% of the money? The short answer is because it costs that much to promote the artist’s work. The longer answer is, well…a bit like the adage about watching sausages being made. The following is a very unromantic discussion, leaving out issues such as how much the gallery believes in the work or how important the artist is to the world. Those things do matter, but I’m taking a wholly bottom-line view here to provide the most objective analysis and hopefully most useful information toward understanding this.

Winkleman spends the post justifying why galleries should take half. But he also gives a nod to artists who feel this is highway robbery:

In general, I find the artists most upset about the 50/50 split fall into one of two categories: 1) they don’t understand the business that well (and many of them have never had full-time representation) or 2) they have a bad relationship with their gallery (i.e., their gallery is not doing enough in their opinion to earn the 50% they’re taking). This second category of artists can also be broken down in two groups: those who are correct in their assessment that the gallery is not doing enough for their 50% and those who may not understand that the gallery is still behind in the deal in terms of recouping their investment and is actually doing more than their fair share for the 50%.

Normally, comments about art on this blog are limited to ad hominem attacks and mouth-breathing disses that date back to the impressionists (“I coulda made that”).

But maybe I could hear from some artists actually represented in Seattle.

Does your dealer take half? Do you think it’s fair? Have dealers in Seattle stepped up their promotion enough to leverage the new publicity Aqua Art Miami gives to Northwest artists? Who’s the hardest-working dealer in town?

I have no reason to believe that Seattle dealers are lax in their duties, and I’m making no accusations with this line of questioning. But while Ed’s being brave…

RSS icon Comments


Besides what was mentioned - it is often the act of the inclusion into a reputable gallery that is the sole justification for selling your works at gallery prices.

Posted by Dougsf | June 27, 2007 1:19 PM

I don't see the percentage as a major issue. If a gallery is selling alot of your work to big collectors for alot of money, well that's access most artists don't have on their own.. Worth the 50%. On the otherhand, if the gallery doesn't have the clientel, and is selling a handful of works.. Well the 50% on 2-3 works hurts and will barely cover the framing expenses. But still.. the gallery is hurting over the issue as much as the artist. An artist in this situation can complain and keep painting. A gallery in this situation consistantly, will go out of bussiness.

I've shown at several galleries over the years. Current gallery is selling fairly well for me. They are earning their 50%. Some galleries that I showed at in the past simply didn't have the clients to sell enough work. I knew this was likley the case going in. Sometimes I did OK, sometimes I took a bit of a hit, but at the time, I was not in a possition to get the attention of the more reputable galleries that have a well established client base.

Artists need to understand that most art careers do not consist of finding a gallery and instantly selling out most of their shows and making a good living. This process takes many years and usually involves working with a few different galleries to find the right fit and the right market for your work. In my case it took about 9 years before I found a gallery I'm happy with that is selling well. It takes many people longer and alot of artists will never see any real level of success.

50% comission on a good gallery is money well spent. If they can start getting six figures for my work.. I'd give them 60%.

Posted by Anon | June 27, 2007 1:22 PM

For most retail, a 50% markup is pretty much the norm (with the exception of a few types of items typically used as loss leaders). The artist/gallery relationship is a little different than wholesaler/retailer. It's more intimate, the product is much more personal to the artist, the gallery has the potential to give the artist's career a boost, etc. But the same economic rules apply. Looking at it this way, the 50% cut doesn't seem unreasonable.

Posted by Lark Hawk | June 27, 2007 1:52 PM

artists tend not to be economists or use their brains to operate in the world of economics.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 27, 2007 2:03 PM

Economics frighten me. I think I'll teach.

Posted by Lythea | June 27, 2007 2:25 PM

I don't find the customary 50% cut a problem, in certain instances that is.

When a hardworking, reputable gallery builds an artist's show up a 50% cut seems perfectly just. As an artist you're paying for professionalism and ultimately the success of your show.

However, I think it's wise to note the huge number of emerging artists who have yet to gain gallery representation and will show in any space available (coffee shops, clubs, or other spots that function as part time galleries) either out of necessity or lack of other opportunities. Many of these places also take a 50% commission when, in most cases, all they are doing is providing the space. These are situations where the artist doesn't get what they pay for, and that's not fair in the least.

Having seen both sides of the coin I don't mind forking over 50% of my money if I know the show is in good hands, i.e. the money making kind.

Posted by Andrea | June 27, 2007 4:40 PM

if a gallery takes less than 50% i usually think they aren't worth showing in.

Posted by and | June 27, 2007 8:05 PM

the 50% cut is well know to collectors as well. often when dealing with an artist outside a gallery relationship they ask "is that wholesale or retail?" if you say it is retail they want a 50% discount. here is where the ethics kick in. the artist, however well or poorly, is now acting as his or her own gallerist by promoting the work, arranging shows, and following up on potential clients.

the fols asking for a 50% discount can usually afford the retail. for that artist, that 50% usually makes a real difference financially. dealers usually offer clients a discount from 10-20% to shepard a sale through. it would be wise for non gallery artists to do the same.

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