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."