I want to get my work out into the world. Should I pay to have it shown in a gallery? Is it worth it?
Signed On a Budget in Los Angeles
Dear on a Budget in Los Angeles,
There are times when you may need to invest in your career as an artist. But, it’s important to assess each option separately.
Yes, there are some people who will take advantage and take money from you without doing anything for your career. On the other hand, there are legitimate costs associated with showing work as well. For instance, galleries have to pay rent, electricity, insurance costs. So, in truth, nothing is free.
And the art world is changing. It is much harder to get gallery representation, so artists must think about innovative strategies. We are living in a DIY art world right now. Artists are taking charge of their careers.
Also, the terms can be confusing and sometimes interchangeable; Pay-to-play, Vanity and Rental Gallery. Oftentimes these are galleries to avoid, but then for some artists the best thing for their careers is to work within a membership gallery that charges a fee to members.
I don’t consider renting a space to show your work, pay-to-play. You are really only covering the costs that a gallerist would normally pay. That is why galleries don’t pick up every artist that comes through their door. They have to make sure what they invest in you is going to pay off.
If you are entering shows, there are also jury fees which you have to consider. Like any profession, moving your career forward to the next level can be an investment.
Questions to ask a gallery who charges to show:
- What do the rental fees cover? Space, PR, Advertising, Critique groups, portfolio reviews, art influencer introductions?
- Is there a commission on top of the rent? Why?
- What do they do to sell your work? Are they always on the gallery floor talking up your work to patrons? What is their motivation to sell your work if you are paying for the fees up front?
- Do they hold artist receptions, VIP parties or artist talks? How much traffic does the gallery get?
If the gallery, or organization is working hard to either sell your work or move your career forward, then I believe it can help you.
What are your goals as an artist? If you want to sell, and a gallery that you are paying to rent a space is in a high traffic area and makes a lot of sales, it may be worth it for you. If you want to show in museums and be part of the art history conversation, it would be better to send proposals to college galleries, universities and museums and not spend the money on renting a space to show your work.
Like most things in life, there is no one right answer. You have to do what is right for you.
I also asked a few art world influencers their thoughts…
“Sometimes. It’s all about transparency and control. There are galleries that pretend not to be pay to play, take your money, and don’t really work for you. There are galleries that are more open about being collaborators and co-payers. There are pop-up style venues where you do most of the work but have control and keep most of the money. So in general while it’s certainly not ideal, it can be a good place to start. It’s case by case depending on the reputation and vibe you get off the venue.” ~Shana Nys Dambrot, Art Critic
“DO NOT PAY! In all caps. Submit your work for juried shows and join an association like LAAA or a crit group that can give you feedback on your practice. But most of all, do the work. Use your money for supplies and your own needs. When the work is exhibition worthy, word will spread and you can request studio visits. Then hopefully a curator will work hard to include your artwork in their program. But understand that exhibiting your work does not necessarily equal immediate financial gain. That too is a process. If you’re in it for the money, quit now. If your passion says you must continue, just do the work.” ~Jill Moniz, Curator
“The only kind of gallery I could consider paying for would be a collective, meaning that a group of artists has come together to rent and manage a space. Outside of that, paying a gallery to show your work is a gamble and possibly even a scam.” ~John Seed, Artist, Art Writer
“Artists incur numerous expenses in the development of their art, and paying a gallery to show the work should not be one of them. From supplies to framing and crating, we use up cash as well as sweat equity and soul. There are plenty of places for artists to exhibit in a city like Los Angeles, especially by organizing as a group show. Possibilities emerge from galleries soliciting exhibition proposals through artist calls, alternative spaces and pop-ups, college galleries, and locations that are shape-shifted for installing art. Liza Simone’s Phantom Galleries for example, make use of empty retail space to host temporary exhibits (http://www.phantomgalleriesla.com). Commercial and non-profit galleries take a percentage from sales ranging from 40-50% for the most part, so in some ways, this becomes a payment. But that is very different from places requiring cash up front to buy use of a space.” ~Kim Abeles, Artist
“The investments you make in your art career should all stem directly from your goals as an artist. Are you looking for a line on your resume? Sales? Art world recognition? All these questions factor into what direction you take and the choices you make. There are numerous “galleries” out there that will take your money to put your art on a wall that nobody but a few local artists might see. Or worse yet, take your money to put you in an online gallery that gets no promotion. Avoid those. You can easily find lists of galleries known as “pay-to-play” online. Not only are they a waste of money, they look bad on your resume. You want a line on your resume? Consider juried shows with well-known jurors and high-prestige venues. Cost: jury fees and possibly shipping. You want to make sales? Consider art fairs and joining a membership gallery that sells a lot of work. Cost: membership dues and fees at fairs. If it’s art world recognition you crave, consider creating your own shows and inviting curators you admire to come see them. Or joining or creating a collective. It may still cost you some money, but you are moving toward your goal. Gallery representation is possible, but often you must do the ground work first. It’s all about what you want, figuring out how to get it, and going for it with tenacious resolve.”
Dani Dodge, Artist