There’s a lot of conversation out there about the “hyper-professionalization” of the emerging artist, but as far as I can tell, few schools teach or offer artists the tools that would enable them to successfully hit the ground running within the vastly complex art world. If you yourself are an emerging artist, you’ve likely picked up a few tips here and there, but for the most part, there is no “user manual” for getting started with galleries, collectors, and beyond. To that end, I’ve taken insights from my experience working in the art world and running a gallery over the last decade, and distilled some tips for a few common scenarios you’re likely to encounter: showing work with a gallery, heading to an art fair, hosting studio visits, and completing commissions for collectors.
— Patton Hindle
A gallery has offered to include your work in a group or solo exhibition—what can you expect? What do you need to make sure everything is in order before the exhibition opens?
Use a consignment agreement
First things first, never send a gallery your work without receiving a consignment agreement. This document protects both you and them. It is standard practice for the gallery to issue this, and if they haven’t by the time your work is about to leave the studio, it’s absolutely ok to ask for one before you hand over the work.
A standard agreement sets out the terms for the sale of the work, your payment (should the work sell), how the work will be shipped, how the work will be photographed/documented, and the length of time that the gallery will have exclusive access to sell the work.
Pricing your work
You should work with the gallery to decide the right price point for your work. Pricing is determined by a few factors: if you’ve sold work before (and what it went for then), plus the gallerist’s knowledge of the art market. They should have indicators of what is a reasonable ask for your work. However, if what they come up with feels too high or too low, speak up! These things matter and are hard to correct once made public.
Typically you can expect a 50/50 split on all sales. Most galleries will ask for the ability to discount your work up to 10%, and the impact of this discount will be split between you and the gallery. Any discounting over 10% should require a call to you, or the gallery should assume the financial responsibility for the discount.
Some agreements will also ask for the discretion of a shared 20% discount to be offered to museums, since selling a work to a museum ensures the long-term care for your piece and the potential for exhibition, making the discount worth it.
The consignment agreement should lay out the terms for how the gallery will pay you, should the work sell. These can vary gallery to gallery, but in general, you should expect to see your payment arrive 30 to 60 days after the gallery has received payment via the buyer.
Most galleries expect payment from the collector within 30 days as noted in their terms of sale; however, some clients are notoriously slow to pay. If you’re waiting beyond 60 days from the point of sale, you should ask the gallery if they’ve been paid yet.
A gallery will typically send you a check or wire transfer. Do not expect a 1099 form come tax season—as an artist you’re providing a good, not a service, and therefore don’t need a 1099. As always, it’s a good idea to keep a record of your payment history.
For a solo exhibition with a gallery that doesn’t yet represent you, you should expect to cover the shipping costs of your work in one direction. If the gallery expects something different, be sure to discuss this in advance of the exhibition and detail the plan in the consignment agreement.
Before the gallery ships your work anywhere, be sure they know how your work should be shipped in order to keep it safe, i.e. with a fine art shipper, in a crate, etc.
If your work is going to be included in a group exhibition, you may be expected to cover shipping both ways—however, before you cover any major expenses on your own, be sure to have a conversation with the gallery so you fully understand what you’re responsible for.
The terms of the consignment should also designate who is covering the insurance of the work in transit. Typically this is the gallery, as they will have a Fine Arts insurance policy that covers work from damage, theft, or loss in transit.
Length of consignment
This will vary from gallery to gallery, but usually they’ll want to keep your work for three to six months following the close of a solo show, and often three months or less following the close of a group exhibition.
I’ve already mentioned the distinction between representation and simply exhibiting with a gallery several times. Gaining representation is a process, and often, galleries view exhibiting your work in a group show or a solo show as a trial run for the partnership.
Art fairs have become a necessary part of the industry for galleries, artists, and even museums. They offer concentrated access to collectors, curators, and press, so for that reason alone, they’re worth experiencing. So how can you prepare yourself for the manic art-fair experience?
Networking at a fair
At the fair, galleries will be very focused on making the most of what is an extremely expensive and risky endeavor for them. Given this, if you’re trying to meet a new gallery/seek representation by a gallery while at the fair, be mindful that when you approach them in their booth, they may have to leave you at any minute should a potential client, curator, or press figure appear. If they don’t have time for you in that moment, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to speak with you—just be respectful of their time and ask if you can drop them a note or meet with them at a time that’s convenient for their schedule.
Exhibiting at a fair
Similar to with a gallery exhibition, you will want a consignment agreement from the gallery if they’re bringing your work to an art fair.
Be sure to work out when the gallery would like you to be present on the stand (and when they’d like you to be elsewhere) so they can do their job most effectively. Often, it can be challenging to make a sale when the artist is present—collectors rarely like to discuss terms of sale with the creator standing there listening. To that end, it can be helpful to develop a system with your dealer as to when to be present and when to “take a walk for a coffee.” The reverse can be true with press, though! It’s great for an artist to speak with a journalist about the work they’ve made, so your gallerist may want you to be readily available for those kinds of moments.
Use the fair environment as a place to learn about new galleries and programs. Exploring what’s going on in the rest of the global art world is the best reason for you to attend a fair—when else will you have the opportunity to see what’s going on with a gallery in Milan, and see what’s up with a gallery from Oslo just a few feet away? Take notes, write down your favorite galleries, and even follow up with them over email later.
Opening your studio to a curator, gallerist, writer, or collector can be an exciting and nerve-wracking endeavor. Here are a few rules of operation that may be helpful in taking full advantage of this opportunity.
What to have on view
Show a few things, but not everything. Depending on the nature of your visit, have examples of different bodies of work, or a tight group of one body of work for your visitor to see. You might want to ask them in advance if there’s a particular body of your work they’re interested in seeing, so you can pull it out before they arrive.
Talking about your work
Know how to explain the origins of and ideas behind your work succinctly, but don’t feel like you have to have an explanation for every mark and gesture. These people are trained in looking at art, and by allowing room for dialogue with them, you might learn something you hadn’t seen in your work previously. Quiet looking is a good thing!
Creating the right environment
Don’t have expectations or goals for an opportunity to come out of the visit other than meeting the person and discussing your work. You can’t force a show, sale, or representation. On the flip side, if your guest does propose a sale, commission, or other opportunity, don’t feel put on the spot—if you need more time to consider their offer, you can always ask to follow up with them at a later date. Remember that the guest you’ve invited is actually very grateful for your time, and cognisant that in sharing your work with them you are making yourself vulnerable. Offer snacks and/or a drink! They can help set the tone by making the visit more friendly and inviting.
Post-visit, be sure to follow up with a thank-you note or email. It’s likely your visitor will do the same!
Often, visits with collectors can result in commissions—an exciting opportunity for both you and the collector. You get to make something new with the condition that it will be purchased, and the collector gets their own unique piece. Here are a few good rules to live by when agreeing to a commission, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
In some instances, a commission may require one or more site visits to a collector’s home or the desired location. If this involves travel outside your city, it’s reasonable to expect the collector to cover your transit as part of the commission process.
Determine how long it will take you to create this piece—then add three more weeks. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when promising to create a new piece for a collector, and managing expectations is imperative.
If you’ve shown at a gallery before, remember that just because you’re selling the work directly to the collector, you shouldn’t discount it by 50% (i.e. by removing the gallery’s commission). Doing this devalues your work overall, and makes it hard for future galleries to sell to collectors who know they can get the work for cheaper straight from you. So, make sure you set a reasonable price for the commission. Note that often, collectors will pay slightly more for a commission since it’s being made specifically for them.
Have the collector pay for 50% up front. This 50% should be non-refundable in the event that you finish the piece, and the collector doesn’t like what you’ve made. I’ve almost never seen this happen; however, once you’ve spent a significant amount of time making something you wouldn’t have made otherwise, you should be fairly compensated for your time. (This is your job, after all.)
Once the piece is finished, if the collector is happy, you should expect to receive the remaining 50% in advance of shipping the piece.
Shipping is at the collector’s expense. But, if you feel so inclined or if it’s necessary, always offer to install the piece in its final location. It’s up to you whether you do this complimentary, or if you add a fee. If you require a team, it’s reasonable to expect the collector to compensate your team.
Get it in writing
Finally, all of the above should be agreed to in writing before you start creating the commission. Always be sure that the terms are clearly laid out so that both parties know what is expected of them. These can be written out as a single Term Sheet, or, depending on your relationship with the client, an email exchange that clearly stipulates the terms everyone is agreeing to can also work.
Hopefully, these tips for common situations are helpful guidance as you step into the art world. Remember, as other questions come up, your community of peers is always a great sounding board. Be sure to check in with each other and ask for help when you need it—as I said earlier, there’s no manual for entering the art world, so be sure to soak up and share your experiences!
Patton Hindle is the Director of Arts at Kickstarter, where she works closely with visual and performing artists, arts organizations, and cultural institutions around the world to help them realize ambitious projects. Hindle was previously the Director of Gallery and Institutional Partnerships at Artspace, and is a current partner at the Lower East Side gallery, yours mine & ours. Hindle came to New York as the Director of DODGE gallery, a Lower East Side program which she helped open and run.