Types of Art Galleries

An overview of different types of galleries found on https://dgillart.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/choose-gallery/

Commercial, Consignment, & Blue Chip Galleries

Commercial Gallery

A professionally run business with income generated exclusively by the exhibition and sales of artwork. Geared to a range of expertise from emerging, mid-career, and late-career artists (with a few exceptions).

Typically, this type of gallery is fairly choosy when it comes to their artists. In many cases a partnership is created between the artists and the gallery where the gallery offers to carefully market the artist to the public; and more specifically to their collectors. Called “artist representation”, this agreement may require that the artist sells exclusively through the gallery in a set mile radius, city-wide, state-wide, or nationally.

In the past the commercial gallery carefully selected only a handful of artists to include in their ‘stable’ (a term I sincerely wish to retire). This is a strategy that is decreasing as the potential of internet sales an interest pertaining to group exhibitions grows. They generally have agents who dedicate business time to pursue and secure clients, promote shows in quality exhibition spaces, become knowledgable about the artist’s work, curate cohesive exhibitions, are trained in sales practices, carry gallery insurance, and handle exchange of artwork/money. A gallery commission is paid for these services and can be 20%-60% the retail price of sold items. It’s not uncommon for a reputable gallery to carry a 50% commission rate.

Blue Chip Gallery

A very high-end commercial gallery or museum gallery that represents and resells a limited group of established and/or historically important artists.

Their commission rates, sales prices, clientele lists, exhibition partnerships, guest curators, and in-house artists reflect this premier title.

Consignment Gallery / Consignment Shop

A spin-off of the commercial gallery with income generated by retail sales of many types of work that may come from many types of artists.

While a high end commercial gallery may include a select handful of artists, the consignment gallery has many.

Examples of this: frame shop/gallery, galleries who have rotating or invitational exhibitions, galleries that include many in-house artists, or spaces that sell large production runs of artwork like prints, jewelry, and/or pottery. Most galleries fall into this category.

Co-Op, Artist-Run Initiatives, Rental, & Vanity Galleries

Co-Op Gallery & Artist-Run Initiatives

Group of artists who help run, exhibit, and operate a gallery from within. Many times these galleries offer community-involved workshops and rent studio spaces in conjunction with the gallery.

Often there is a membership fee, studio rental fee, and/or commission fee for respective opportunities. Artists actively participate in the communal growth of the gallery.

Rental Galleries

Like a co-op, this is a gallery that has internal support from artists to help setup gallery spaces. The main difference is that rental galleries may charge a rental fee for a duration of time to exhibit in their space and isn’t necessarily a place where the art is also made.

The gallery may operate on the artist’s behalf regarding sales, but the artist is in charge of the setup and content of their space. Flat rental rates and sales commission rates may apply. This gallery doesn’t have the same sort of prestige as a traditional commercial gallery, but still may have a similar appearance to the public. Up front costs are something to think about. The rental costs need to be really weighed against the sales potential. It can be a fairly risky venture for new artists.

Vanity Galleries

Most controversial of the gallery types, vanity galleries (possibly also called artist-run initiatives) are a derivative of the co-operative gallery in that they often charge artists fees to exhibit with them. It’s common to charge the artist membership fees, exhibiting space rental fees, hanging fees, and/or other expenses related to marketing.

Often, these costs can total several thousands of dollars and are generally asked for up front. Usually situated in heavy tourist areas, the vanity gallery has a tendency to pursue emerging artists from out-of-town with hopes of exposure in a premier location.

Unlike the co-op gallery, artists aren’t usually invested in the running of their gallery space and therefore have little say in business areas. Also diverging from the typical commercial gallery, a vanity gallery has already gained profit from the artist in advance. Constant relationships between the gallery and their clientele may not be fostered with the same intensity as a commercial gallery. In my opinion it’s wise to avoid these places as they exploit artists for profit up front with little incentive for future sales. But if they suit your needs, go for it.

Non-Art Exclusive & Auxiliary Exhibition Space

Non-Art Exclusive Space

An exhibition space that makes their main income from something other than artwork.

Examples of such a space are: restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, city ambassador centers, community art centers, airports, hotels, etc. Typically, your work is on display in an area that shares space with their main source of income. This is the most accessible space for the emerging artist as they don’t typically rely heavily on a previous exhibition record and artist contracts.

As it is a flex-space, they often rotate artist’s work out monthly and shouldn’t require a restriction on regional representation. Naturally, their actual business is their main source of income and therefore its needs are prioritized over that of the artist. It should also be understood that they may not have employees that are specifically trained to sell your artwork. As a result, it’s not uncommon for the space to encourage the artist to pursue his/her sales personally through posted contact information. They may or may not have commission rates.

Things to keep in mind: Typically these spaces are the most plentiful. However, they make their actual income by other means, may not have insurance that covers your art, don’t necessarily have trained art sales agents, and may rely on you to sell/distribute the art. If there is a commission rate, consider if it reflects those needs. Many times, these types of spaces are earnest in their art appreciation and look for business examples to follow–the commercial gallery model. They might not fully understand the intricacies of that model. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and if you can without being a jerk, try to educate the lenders of the space during negotiations.

Auxiliary Exhibition Space

Any multi-purpose space that isn’t necessarily developed for the showcasing of art and commercial products.

Some art simply isn’t meant for the white-walled gallery. Much of today’s aesthetic incorporates environmental and situational aspects into the artwork. It’s also completely up to an artist’s individual desires to make work that is or is not for commercial gain.

Examples: Installation or site specific artworks, earthworks sculptors, out-door/public works, temporary or transitional works, and guerrilla-based artwork.

Generally these spaces aren’t as concerned with commercial success as they are utilizing an environment that is picked for its suitability to the artwork. Commercial galleries, arts organizations, or city/state/national art councils often offer grants or project awards for public communal spaces. Naturally, the auxiliary exhibition space can also be utilized with no commercial gain or loss whatsoever. There are also plenty of opportunities that don’t include high profiled or bureaucratic procedures. Auxiliary spaces are rich in potential, but can also be the most at risk from physical damage due to weather or the public. It’s pretty obvious to say that they also don’t necessarily come with insurance.


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