Thursday, 16 April 2009

Should Artists Pay to Exhibit?

I went along to an artists preview of a lovely new gallery space under construction in a so far gallery-less town on the South Coast. The space is in a historic building on the Seafront by the centre (but not in the centre) of town. The gallery itself looks like it will be smart - making use of the iron framework of the recently renovated Edwardian building with stripped back bricks, studio lighting and illuminated plinths.

The Gallery will be owned by the cafe and caterers who occupy the other unit in the building and run the impressive function rooms upstairs. The owners haven't any experience in the arts but are enthusiastic, want to make a quality and interesting gallery and are employing a consultant for advice and to initially source artists.

All well and good until I looked at the contract - 40% commission which seemed fair for a town not renowned for art appreciation or buying, however there was also an administration charge of £5 per item (refunded if the work sold) and a daily hire charge of £1 per item (refunded if the work sells).

Therefore if an artist exhibits 5 paintings for a month and sells 2 at £200 each then the artist would receive a reasonable £240 in commission for the paintings, but would owe the gallery £105 for the 3 unsold paintings.

I've been told (by the consultant) that many galleries operate this sort of arrangement and that it is the only way a gallery in this sort of location would be "sustainable". We personally haven't come across this sort of arangement in 15 years of exhibiting - we have hired venues occassionally but this was a hire charge and we kept all the proceeds. This contract seems to be the equivalent of a "each way bet" whereby the gallery gets paid whether or not the artwork sells.

Could someone tell me whether this is a common type of contract? have they come across it before? and if so have they had good experiences of it? Have I missed any advantages to the artist? or should artists support this contract as the price of getting a (hopefully) decent gallery in a galleryless town?

7 comments:

Stefan said...

I have not heard of this practice; it does sound like the gallery owner wishes to take no risk whatsoever in her/his venture. However, there is another gallery in Worthing located East of Splash Point on the raised promenade, it goes by the name of bn11 and recently won an ACE award....

Alison said...

It does seem very inappropriate to me. A galley like that chooses it's artists because they like the work. It is well known that hanging prestigious or expensive pieces doesn't always result in those pieces selling but helps sell cheaper pieces by that artist or by others in the gallery.It is also true that a gallery has to build up a reputation and clientel and does this partly through the good will and patience of the exhibitors during this process.
However I know that the owner of this gallery are keen to respond to feedback , so may well change this policy.

Emma said...

We recently exhibited at a gallery and there was quite a high fee payable on booking the gallery to exhibit. Then, as and when sales reached the booking fee amount, thereafter 25% commission would be payable on sales. This does then cover risk to the gallery I suppose incase of no sales at all and means they can try exhibitors and exhibitions which may not always be commercially so successful. On the other hand a gallery should have the confidence in what they are exhibiting to carry the risks and not place it all on the artist. It is a difficult balance,especially when so many galleries close and become online only. Be interested too to hear others experiences.

jev said...

I went along to the meeting there the first night and the only mention was of the 40% commission, which is not uncommon. We weren't given the contract stuff until we left though so hadn't read the 'small print' then. The owners seemed very enthusiastic and their ideas (apart from these fees!)seem excellent. However they clearly didn't have a lot of experience of gallery management and I wonder if they've been misguided by the consultant. Good to hear that they seem amenable to rethinking this and going for the usual SoR shared risk taking. Shame though that they didn't use a consultant with greater experience of galleries. Fingers crossed it all works out - it would be excellent for Worthing.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same regarding costs. I've never had to pay to exhibit. I have experienced the 40% commission from an established gallery many years ago but the price tag was large enough for me to be happy.
It certainly isn't workable for 'cheaper' pieces. Worthing needs art to be affordable, but that won't be possible if our overheads outweigh the profits.
I hope it works out, the venue is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I went to meeting and was concerned when the owner announced several times that she aimed for quick turnround on the cheap and cheerful stuff in the shop front. It felt like the art was just wall decoration and the `from £1` per painting appears to be based on size, good way of paying the rates on the gallery whilst shifting the cheaper items. My research finds galleries do not charge to exhibit but can charge up to 50% commission which I have no problem with but all the rest is just too much.Shame, but I am out!

Anonymous said...

40% commission sounds extortionate, especially in Worthing. Even the Royal Academy in London only charges only 30%.
In any case, if it is cheap and cheerful on the shopfront, it woud be detrimental to the integrity of art and would put many off taking up the opportunity to exhibit there. This would be a great shame to the artists' community and the historical site of the Dome.