The rise of vanity galleries
Robert Genn

March 20, 2009

A few emails have arrived lately from artists asking about the 
sudden appearance of vanity galleries in their areas. Vanity 
galleries levy a fee to each of their artists or for each piece 
exhibited. As most of these galleries work on a lower-than-standard 
commission rate, artists can be in a dilemma as to whether this 
arrangement might work out better in the long run. While art sales 
may be slower these days, a regular inflow from artists' pockets 
can begin to cover gallery overheads. 

The situation is compounded by the current overabundance of 
eager-to-exhibit artists and, believe it or not, the overabundance 
of artists with willing cash. 

Some of these vanity galleries have a complex list of charges 
for each service rendered--start-up fees, web presence, catalogues, 
unit hanging charges, etc. At first look it's a rip-off; on second 
look it could be a significant model for the future.

On the positive side, the system puts downward pressure on 
commissions. Traditionally, it's been the high commission 
(generally 50 percent) that puts a strain on art investment values. 
Comparative investments like real estate come in at 4 to 7 percent, 
while common stocks can be had for less than 2 percent commissions. 
The investment-minded collector of living artists has to wait a 
considerable time for some art to decently appreciate. The art 
of dead artists is another matter--if you happen to be dead, your 
work can change hands for as little as 10 percent. Nice thought.

On the negative side, vanity galleries tend to bypass the impecunious 
up-and-comers who may really have something to offer. Further, 
the very idea of mining artists rather than buyers is a miserable 
one, particularly for artists. Most artists of my acquaintance 
give these guys the brush-off; a few have accepted paying up front 
as part of the new reality.

Proper commercial galleries represent artists they are keen on, 
not those who will pay them to hang their stuff. While we all know 
there is not necessarily a correlation between quality and saleability, 
the hard cold fact is that artists are always entering the market 
with substandard art that also just happens to be difficult to 
sell. Vanity galleries will see these folks as their natural prey.

Best regards,


PS: "There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as 
the application of a rough truth." (Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton)

Esoterica: These days, artists are doing all kinds of creative 
things to thrive. The "home show" is making a comeback. This is 
where an artist secures a friend's upscale home and makes it look 
like an art gallery for a day's bonanza. A nice touch is when a 
favorite charity is included in the party. With direct sales, the 
artist is better able to facilitate future trades and price increases 
to a growing number of favoured collector friends. This still leaves 
something on the table for the 10 percent boys who will spring 
into action after the artist has gone to the big studio in the sky.