the commercial side of art

While it’s nice to sell and get approval from your peers, there’s a dark side to being tied to one gallery. As a young artist I was fortunate to have an exclusive contract with a prominent gallery. This meant I could not show in any other gallery within a ninety mile radius. My dealer was promoting my work to her exclusive clients, and I had dreams of making it big. It was an exciting time. I felt important and validated, not to mention the monetary rewards.

It was also a stressful time. Producing enough watercolors to fill a gallery took every waking minute of my day. My eyes were in a constant state of glaze. My family was getting tired of take-out meals, and I was just plain tired and irritable all the time.  

So when my dealer told me she wouldn’t exhibit one of my watercolors because there was a garbage pail in the foreground of the painting, it frustrated me. She refused to exhibit that painting, and because I had an exclusive contract with her, I couldn’t show the watercolor anywhere else.

She, of course, had the right not to exhibit the painting, but the damage she did to me was far more serious. I began to second-guess myself and lost confidence in my own judgment. I wanted to sell, and that meant pleasing the owner of the gallery and her clientele. Suddenly my work had become this commodity for someone else to manipulate. I did not study art for this to happen.

Everything I know about the galleries I learned as they say, “on the job.” My advice to any artist looking for representation in a gallery is first build up an inventory of work. Ivan Carp from OK Harris Gallery once told me not to come back to him unless I had at least fifteen paintings ready to exhibit. This is good advice. With a body of work to choose from, I’m better able to select my best paintings to exhibit.