This month’s letter comes from a reader with a question about whether or not to pay a gallery to represent her.
I recently launched a website and was contacted by a fine art gallery in NYC that wanted to represent me and promote my body of work. Although I have had my photographs displayed in numerous exhibitions and shows throughout the United States, I have never been approached in this way. Upon careful examination, however, I realized that the gallery wanted close to $4000 up front with no guarantee that my work will sell. Being a teacher and single mother of three boys, I just cannot afford that kind of investment. Please tell me, is this standard throughout the industry?
Working Photographer and Mom
Dear Working Photographer and Mom,
Every artist-gallery relationship has a different arrangement; however, it is highly unusual for a commercial art gallery to request money from an artist in exchange for representation. While it is not uncommon for artists to pay for their own framing and in some cases to pay for shipping to and from the gallery, in my experience, those are the only costs that an artist should expect to pay. You should not pay for participation in art fairs, printed promotional materials, or to "rent" wall space. Typically, galleries who do demand that an artist pick up the tab for these costs are vanity galleries and do not have your best interests in mind. Your time and money would be better spent attending portfolio reviews and submitting to juried exhibitions for which the juror is someone you would like to work with in the future.
If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of working with galleries, there are a number of workshops on this subject that would be a far better investment. Maine Media Workshops holds at least one every year and festivals like Filter Photo and Photolucida often host lectures on this subject. Private consultants can provide useful information as well, but make sure that they specialize in fine art as opposed to commercial photography.
Kat Kiernan, Director, Panopticon Gallery
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