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, Robert PS: "There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth." (Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton) http://quote.robertgenn.com/auth_search.php?name=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.