Warning: Bad Galleries

Here at Artbiz I work with a lot of artists, pretty much all artists, all the time. Sometimes we get to talking about our unique world and share  experiences.  Over  time I have conversed with a few artists that relayed stories about bad experiences with galleries.

Thank  goodness it has only been a few and I wonder how many other artists out there just figure this is the way it is; this is how the gallery system works.  Thinking  that representation by a bad gallery is better than no representation at all.

I’m not saying that this is true of all galleries and most galleries are run by good upstanding business people who know that without art and artists there would not be any galleries. But as in all businesses there are a few shall I say “@#$%^ jerks” that do their utmost to make the whole bushel stink.

Here are some things to look out for and what may make you want to seriously  reconsider accepting representation from a gallery that fits into any one of these scenarios.

1. Not being told in a timely fashion that work has been sold or not being told at all unless you ask

Having representation  means that you have to rely on the gallery to inform you about sales. If it comes to having to go to the gallery to check your inventory then perhaps it is time to leave. And what do you do if the gallery is in a different city? Perhaps have someone you know in that city drop in to see your work, if you are lucky enough to have a friend there.

2. Experiencing all sorts of excuses and continually not being paid unless you squeak your wheels.
You know a piece has been sold and your agreement states when the payments will be issued and you wait and wait and there is still no cheque. What do you do? Give the benefit of the doubt? Approach the gallery and suggest that perhaps the cheque got lost in the mail? Ask the gallery if there is a problem and that you’re willing to discuss.? If you are getting all sorts of excuses then maybe say you will  be in the area and will pick the cheque up. If this freaks the gallery out pick up your inventory while you are there. If your gallery is in a different city you could ask for confirmation that the cheque has been issued and request to know when it was mailed.  Or try saying that you will send a courier to pick it up. If you still don’t receive it  squeak on. What bugs me most about hearing this is that what happens to Peter when he is robbed to pay Paul. Stinks!

3. Having emails and telephone messages go unanswered to the point of frustration
If you have the necessary business and people skills to deal with this then kudos to you, most artists are introverts and shy and art schools don’t have business courses; take one.

4. Your inventory has gone missing or not listed on inventory sheets provided by the gallery
You have no way of knowing unless you go and check. Again what do you do if you don’t live in the same city as the gallery? I suggest that you ask for an updated inventory list at least once a year BUT first and foremost get a signed copy of the inventory when the work is delivered to the gallery that is signed and dated by both parties. Then there is no disputing that the gallery did not receive the work. If you live out-of-town then send an inventory list with the shipment and request a signed copy be sent back to you.

5. Cheques arriving without paperwork so you don’t know which piece sold…
then finding out that it was a totally different piece than what the gallery told you but had a similar name. This is just plain bad record keeping by the gallery. What do you do with that? You can’t run their business for them and why would you want to. All I can suggest is to keep good records your self have that signed and dated inventory list and ask for clarification.

6. Cheques arriving but made out for the wrong amount usually less and never for more than the actual amount; OR framing cost is not included; OR the name on cheque is spelled wrong to make it harder to cash. All these scenarios suggest to me that the gallery is just trying to delay payment. Maybe it is an honest mistake if it happens once but if it is standard procedure; ask yourself how stupid does the gallery think you are?

7. Going to your gallery and finding your piece on the wall selling for more money than what was  agreed upon
Who is pocketing the difference I wonder? At the very least point this out to them, maybe it was an honest mistake. You will be telling them that you are aware  but what does your gut tell you?

And why do artists put up with it? Because we want to sell our art and these galleries think that there is an endless supply of artists who are willing to put up with it. I am saddened to hear these horror stories about these scum buckets, bottom feeder galleries. The only advice that I can dispense is talk to the other artists at the gallery and ask lots questions.  Fore warned is not always forearmed and you still have to deal with the stresses of that a lack of professionalism and I dare say incompetence can bring.

When I Googled to find articles that relate to this subject so I could offer up some expert advice to artists on how to deal with or spot these disreputable galleries; the pickings were slim. Maybe that is a good sign, that this is not the norm and most galleries and dealers are actually good business people. OR maybe artists aren’t banding together to share these experiences and are giving the galleries too much power.

Anyway here are two articles from artbusiness.com written by Alan Bamberger an art consultant and much more. I find his writing very frank with a lot of tough love and appreciate his perspective.

Art Dealers from Hell Part I

Art Dealers from Hell Part II

If  you know of any other resources that could help artists out with “bad galleries” please let me know.




2 Replies to “Warning: Bad Galleries”

  1. I am almost out the other side of working for a gallery and been utterly, utterly appalled by the total lack of respect given to any of the artists they had stock of. Most of your above points I can tick. They are relocating to their home so the business is not closing but they are offering very little retail exposure (by appointment and a few hours on a Friday). I have worked for private and civic galleries, had a lot of exhibitions myself so have stood both side of the desk and I know how this environment should work. I have nearly resolved my own lack of pay (am still poised for using small claims) – a visit to the CAB had the comment ‘a judge would be very interested’. They out-teflon Tony by miles. Is there a site where Toxic Galleries can be listed? I believe in kharma but they are liable to damage more individuals along the way, I fear.

    1. I have not found a resource for artists that would warn about bad galleries. To start one would be a major undertaking since all incidents would have to be verified, not to mention the legal ramifications.

      I think the best we can do as artists to protect ourselves is to talk to each other and be honest.

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