How galleries succeed
by Robert Genn

February 12, 2010

Dear Rodney,Yesterday, Elizabeth Lasley of Asheville, NC, wrote, "I'm amazed that 
commercial galleries treat their customers as if they're in a museum. They 
say "hi" and not much more. They don't need to act like used car salespeople, 
but offering information, payment plans and try-out opportunities might help. 
I think a gallery should be beautiful and exciting and have a welcoming staff 
and maybe free coffee and tea. What do you think?"

Thanks, Elizabeth. Just as there are amateur artists, there are amateur 
galleries. They can be spotted by their poor marketing, poor sales, bad 
bookkeeping, borderline art and unreliable payment to artists. Pro artists 
need pro galleries.

That being said, professional galleries may have quite different styles and 
degrees of aggressiveness. The comfort zone of the dealer plays a part, as do 
the expectations of clientele. Further, some galleries insist on making it a 
pretty serious business--others make it look like a lot of fun. 

Worldwide, gallery manners are dictated by local norms, commercial boundaries 
and human proxemics--that is, the space people give one another in various 
cultures. In Honolulu I entered a gallery where three attractive women 
approached right away and asked wonderful openers like "Have you ever been in 
an art gallery before?" 

"It's a first for me," I said, and I was soon in the closing room sipping an 
above-average Bordeaux. 

In London, England, a striped-suited, square-glassed gentleman gave an audible 
sneer and quickly turned his attention to something important. To his credit 
he didn't make frivolous conversation, giving me an opportunity to look around. 

In Tokyo, a young gallerista stood so close I was impressed by her 
cherry-blossom perfume and the moist shine of her golden teeth.

A Canadian dealer, no longer with us, was noted for glowering from his great 
mahogany desk, then quickly rising and engaging intimidated visitors with "If 
you don't buy that painting, you're stupid." Funnily, he was right, 
practically everything he offered was carefully vetted through the filter of 
his considerable taste, and has since gone through the roof. 

The main job of galleries is to show the work, share the magic, and run a 
proper business. Other than that, galleries need to be just as creative and 
intuitive as the artists they serve. Apart from making deliveries, the best 
way to serve them is to let them be. And be prepared to move on when you 
determine they aren't pros.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "You already have a fair number and you keep them cleverly hidden, since 
they're never on display, which in my opinion is a mistake. What's the point 
of painting pictures if the public never gets to see them?" (Claude Monet to 
his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel)

Esoterica: Once, in a spirit of helpful concern, I blurted out to one of my 
dealers, "There are no chairs in this place--nowhere for people to sit." "Oh," 
said the dealer, "We tried chairs. People just come in and sit on them and 
never leave. With no chairs people keep on moving in front of the paintings 
and eventually express themselves with their wallets."