A few weeks ago I traveled to Montreal as one of the artists I work with was hired to paint at two events there. I also had some time to explore the city and visit a few art galleries. If you want to see amazing contemporary art, old Montreal is a great place to go and you can spend a whole day exploring art galleries there. My first observation during that trip was that many art galleries in Montreal featured the same artists (especially if they are well-known and their works sell well). For example, I saw Marco Grassi’s works in a few galleries that were on the same street next to each other.
Another thing I noticed is that I felt welcomed in any gallery I walked in. Staff was always friendly and not trying to push sales, but gave us information about the artists and asked us what we do and what we liked. I had a great conversation with the owner of MX gallery. As a curious art agent who sells art made by artists I represent, I asked him about the commissions’ percentage system they have and what percentage they give to the artists. His answer was that he always makes sure that the gallery gets 60%, 25% is going to the artist and the rest – to the agency (usually an art dealer who brings clients to the gallery). Every gallery is different, but most galleries take somewhere around a 50% commission from pieces they sell. I was shocked that the MX gallery pays only 25% to the artist. The truth is, it doesn’t make sense for every artist to show with galleries.
Every artist has to make a choice whether they want to be represented by a gallery or sell works on their own. They can also work with an art agent or dealer who is not associated with any gallery and who usually takes a lower commission, but he might have fewer contacts. On the other hand, as the owner of MX gallery mentioned, the gallery is there all the time to talk about your work and people usually remember the works they saw – not the gallery. If you are considering to be represented by a gallery – make your research first. There are so many nuances when you want to sell via an art gallery: some galleries charge artists for wall space in addition to the percentage from every sale while others require you to buy gallery membership (one time or monthly payments) or bring your followers and clientele to buy through their gallery. Also, sometimes collectors want to pay less than retail and get a discount. In this case, artists should be willing to split any discounts galleries are forced to offer buyers in order to make sales.
I strongly believe that the vibe in many Toronto art galleries is not welcoming at all – it’s all about the push for sales or getting your email for newsletter list. As a gallery manager, I know how hard it is to have a gallery with all the expenses like rent, bills, etc. However, this doesn’t mean that galleries should try and make money from everyone: clients, colleagues or artists. I recently learned about an art gallery in Toronto called Struck that was selling works by Toronto-based artist Lucci and it hasn’t paid him for the sold works from the last few years. This is unacceptable! Period. It took me some time to overcome the anger I had and I am glad the artist shared this story on social media.
The same thing happened to Toronto-based artist David Goldberg who gave two works to a former gallery owner of Schwartz’s Engine Gallery on consignment and the gallerist sold one work without telling the artist and never paid him his cut. Check the article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/artists-say-not-paid-for-paintings-1.5053337. After the first article was published, five more artists confirmed that the same gallery owner owes them nearly $27,000 for missing or sold artwork. Check the article at this link:https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/more-artists-missing-work-1.5065016. People who work with artists (whether it’s a gallery or an agent or a client – doesn’t matter) should be respectful and appreciate the time and resources artists put in producing art and making a choice to pursue art full-time!
If you are an artist and want to sell art on your own to avoid paying galleries or agents – you have to become your own PR manager, take care of all email/phone/in-person correspondence with clients and reach out to them, be super active on social media, and do solo/group exhibitions at places with lover commissions or at your studio. You also can hire an agent and focus on painting while he/she takes care of the rest. Apply for calls for submission, aim big and never give up on your dreams!