Monday, August 25, 2008

Vanity Galleries: The cost of being ‘accepted’ can be more than you realize.

Vanity Galleries: The cost of being ‘accepted’ can be more than you realize.

Several members of the community have contacted me recently about vanity galleries. The questions asked varied, but they all ended with similar versions of “is it worth it?”. My direct answer is-- NO.

As you know-- or should -- a vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges a high fee for exhibiting your work often without observing any of your art beforehand. Their acceptance policy is normally based on the money you are willing to put down rather than the validity of your art. Their payment plans are often set up as a monthly fee, but some allow you to ’buy’ an exhibit as well-- as in you pay to have a weekend exhibit of your art in their space. This may sound good, but if your work is of high caliber you run the risk of exhibiting alongside artists who are no where near your level. So in the end you will have had your show, but you will not gain the reputation you seek from established venues.

Some people compare vanity galleries to cooperative galleries ran by artists. The comparison has caused some confusion based on some of the questions I’ve received. The two are NOT the same. However, I am certain that there are probably some vanity cooperative galleries as well. Artists just need to know what to look for when they are seeking a gallery or cooperative space. Thus, I will explain the difference between vanity galleries and cooperative galleries.

In most cases a cooperative gallery will establish a jury pool in order to decide who is accepted into the cooperative and who is denied. In other words, a decent artist cooperative gallery will not accept someone based on the transaction of money alone. Instead they will consider the value of the art and in some cases the reputation of the artist in question. The jury will debate about the art of the potential member and how he or she will benefit the cooperative as a whole. After deliberation the cooperative will come to a decision based on the collective judgment of the jury members. If accepted the new member will agree to share in gallery expenses-- such as the cost of having an exhibit, publicity, and in some cases utilities. Not all cooperative galleries are the same, but most function in this manner... and if they don't you should probably do further research before accepting membership. Vanity galleries are not the same!

Vanity galleries are a completely different beast. A vanity gallery will exhibit anyone who is willing to pay and they will often accept an artist into their roster without having viewed an example of said artists work. In some cases a vanity gallery will state that they have a selection process and deny an artist. However, that practice is deceptive because in reality they are simply booked as far as exhibit scheduling is concerned. If a vanity gallery has a full roster they will deny at artist… if they have an opening they will consider anyone willing to pay-- it is as simple as that. You can be the 'art star' of a vanity gallery simply by paying the most or buying several solo exhibit slots. Trust me though, that star will crash fast if you walk your papertiger accomplishments over to a legitimate gallery OR if you are unable to continue paying your vanity gallery.

Vanity galleries will indeed ask an artist to pay… and pay, and pay-- with fees that often range from a couple hundred bucks per month to as much as $3,000 per solo show from what I’ve been told by victims. A vanity gallery will keep an artist in their roster regardless if that artist makes a profit. In other words, as long as they get their payments they will be more than happy to keep you and to give you shows. (True, a legitimate gallery may ask for certain fees, but they don’t ever reach the level of a vanity gallery… and unlike a vanity gallery they will drop you if your work is not profitable-- unless your reputation warrants you staying-- that is why they are selective in the first place.)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again-- exhibiting at vanity galleries can HURT your reputation and thus hurt your career. Don’t think for a second that exhibiting at vanity galleries will increase your chances of exhibiting at a legitimate gallery. Don’t think that it will improve your chances of being noticed by a wealthy collector. Trust me, the legitimate gallery owners and their collectors know of these places and they will not be impressed that you have had dozens of shows at them. Behind closed doors they may even tell your how foolish you’ve been with your money! It is an obstruction on your path to success that you can avoid simply by not being duped. Why spend thousands on a vanity gallery when you could be using that money for art materials, art classes, or simply your own advertising or marketing plan.

How do you know if a gallery is a vanity gallery? Research. You want to research any space that you desire to exhibit in. Where you exhibit is a reflection of you and of your work. Even if someone tells you that a gallery is a legitimate gallery you should still do your own research about it. Find out what you can about the artists who are represented by the gallery. Find out where they have shown before, what awards or grants they have earned, and anything else that will tell you that the gallery is focused on artists that increase their reputation-- and your reputation if you are accepted.

On a side note, I often read art forums that involve topics about how galleries take advantage of artists. I know for a fact that there are many horror stories involving legitimate galleries-- I‘m not going to say that bad things do not happen. However, they are not all deceptive and I think a lot of artists simply don’t understand how legitimate galleries function… or they have a bad experience with a vanity gallery and assume that every gallery is the same because they are not aware that their negative gallery experience was with a vanity gallery in the first place.

So here it is in a nutshell, legitimate gallery owners spend thousands of dollars per year in order to establish-- and keep-- the reputation of their gallery. They will spend money on press, utilities, rent for the gallery space if needed, social functions in order to build-- and keep-- good rapport with collectors, and other aspects of advertising and marketing that most artists simply don‘t want to deal with… all of which largely comes at the gallery owners expense. If legitimate galleries were a racket you would not see so many closing! In contrast, the only fear that a vanity gallery owner has is the fear that at some point he or she will not be able to dupe new artists or that the artists in his or her roster will catch on to the vanity scheme.

Again, don't be duped by vanity galleries!

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Another informative read. Do you have a list of vanity galleries that you can share?

Dianne Bowen said...

Good topic. I've encountered a few horror stories relating to this topic and agree. It's important to do your research on any place your interested in exhibiting. There are a few cooperative galleries with long standing great reputations which while have fees involved are worth it. Artists must always be on guard especially when first starting out. I've worked with A.I.R. Gallery for several years and have found the gallery to have an honest commitment to the integrity of work. I would also say donating work to charities is also a way to get work out and spread a little good karma through your work. A few I've had great experiences with are "Poncho" and the "Seattle Mens and womens chorus". The money they receive really goes to making a difference and they're wonderful to work with.

good luck out there!

Anonymous said...

You are so right! It is not that the artist should never pay anything, because sometimes a few artists and supporters can establish very good co-operative efforts, but the water is full of sharks. A legitimate individual agent or gallery will have capitalized a start in the business without taking that money from the artists.

What is frustrating is the degree to which an artist cannot even allow casual looks at paintings anymore without being deluged with aggressive and insulting pitches for joining this or that gallery, and especially the grant-supported ones in the USA, which are highly unprofessional. Within minutes of realizing you are the person who painted something they are looking at, people attached to these efforts will loudly begin demanding to know if you are part of this or that group and if not, why not and demand that you tell them where you show and how much you make, etc etc....

It never ends. These are the kind of people who think they smell "money" when they see original art, and they don't understand that they are smelling nothing but what comes out of themselves.

The only comfort is to read biographies of artists and realize that this is always the way it has been and this is why artists often become recluses. Even artists' families are under attack if they show their work around to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Aren't most galleries these days vanity galleries? Vanity for the owner? How many are opened by those who actually know the field, have expience in business, arent some MFA with no real world experience in business or history? I have met very few. I do well with older owners, ones who were there when art was still relevant and not watered down in meaning and substance by art school nonsense.

Those from the last few generations are just in it as a way to keep from having to get a job, and live off of daddy. Most just want their name up on a empty and serilized storefront for their own gratification, buying into the romantisizing of artists in art schools and movies. I get blank stares from all those under fifty. As arts purpose is no longer recognized, all feel good PC, therapy and self glorification. My view's are well known over at The only place that will see with an open heart, and then eyes.

Self worship must die. As we all must, and find meaning in what we all do while we breathe. Art has none of that anymore, its entertainment for the privileged classes, and amusement for the parents.

Life is changing profoundly as we speak. No, not Obama, but the end of cheap resources and waste, which the art world leads in. More garbage per materials than any other field. Where is the constructive self criticisim? The call to purpose? to meaning? to defining who we are as a people, rather than self absorbed whinings about I. It is Us. Art is not serving its purpose, for it does have one, and we are to serve it, not our own desires.

What ISN'T a vanity gallery?
art collegia delenda est

Balhatain said...

Donald, if you know the Myartspace Blog you know that I often mention the fact that the movie image of ‘the artist’ as well as the ’gallery owner’ is bad news. I’ve seen too many people try to emulate what they have seen on TV or the big screen as far as art is concerned. So I will agree with you on that negative influence.

As for artists, the unfortunate reality is that many people think if they pick up a brush they will be the next ‘art star’. The fact that some grad students leave college to earn $20,000 or more per piece straight out of school does not help to expose the ‘art star’ myth. However, I do think that in time the student craze will die down and we will start to see mid career artists stealing the glory, so to speak.

Someone once told me that an artist is not even born into the art world until he or she is 40 years of age-- in other words, has been creating art for a few decades-- and I tend to live by that opinion as far as my own paintings are concerned. At the same time, I think there will always be room for graduate students-- and young artists in general-- to make their mark and to make it BIG. Face it, we live in a society that is obsessed with youth.

As for gallery owners. True, there are gallery owners who have no clue what they are doing, but there are just as many who do it, do it well, and struggle to keep their doors open-- not every gallery owner inherited their position and some who did actually do a decent job.

While I can understand your frustration I also think that credit should be given where credit is due-- and that goes for artists and gallery owners. There can be artists who create “good” or “bad” art… just as there are gallery owners who run “good” or “bad” galleries. In the end those who view the art and exhibits will decide-- which means that eventually the tables of the art world will turn once again.

On a philosophical level you can say that all galleries are vanity galleries regardless of how they conduct business. However, philosophically one can also say that the very act of creating art-- no matter the intention of the artist-- is a form of vanity as well.

Anonymous said...

Son. You are missing the point completely. And frustration is far from my issue with the meaninglessness of contemporary art. I grew up in an art household, my mother a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, and father an athlete. i have both in my body and brain, where art lacks any connection to the real world outside of the safe confines of the academy.

I have hated artistes passionately since day one, the complete self absorbtion and weakness I find disgusting. Yet I have loved art. Creative art. That which no longer exists in the limited art world. For art has purpose, and the academy has avoided that so mediocrity could run amok, and they could have jobs. For in the arts, those who can do, those who cant teach. The teachers may be wonderful people, charming, fairly knowledgable, but are not explorers. They play it safe, and see the world in ways that can be domesticated, emasculated, soft. Meaningless.

The few teachers who know their limitations know when to back off on teaching. Moreau told Matrisse before he truly grew into what he would become, that he would redefine and simplify painting. And not to listen to him, and old man and teacher. Cezanne said to learn from the Louvre, his true teacher. Why go to school, when real, great art is so easily accessable? Because most know they cant approach it. Only the strong attempt, and constantly fight to get there. For there is a there. Purpose. Meaning. the same purpose that has always existed, and ignored by the acadmies. God. Our sense of what that is, no matter what our personal belief. Art defines us as a people, binds us, helps to propel us forward.

Great artists are not vain, they need to work, to grow, to create. Is in the DNA and soul. It is not about them. They are irrelevant. Art must stand on its own outside of "context" and connects us to each other and god. It is out there, not inside. We are born with a certain temperament and set of abilites, mentally and physically. This must be nutured, but we are the sum of our decisions. And no decisions are made in the safety and comfort of the art world and academies, schools are set up as retreats to learn safely, and focused. As much as teenagers can be focused. They are training grounds, but no one coming ut of them has done anything yet. The real world awaits.

The art world and vanity galleries only contiues the self deception of that limited world. And why art is now irrelevant. No one cares. So recent wannabes out of college try to get attention with some narrow ism of self absorbtion, or shock, to get atention. How needy. Children. Careerism at worst, which is the point of it. Not learning.

Art must have purpose. Look at the two nonsense interviews you have here. One is a craftsman who should be creating automobiles, except those guys are far more advanced, and customized cars far more beautiful. And have purpose, You can drive them. His have none. They are just things, dead things. Focal points for the pseudo hip to comment on. Look at the minature buildings. Craftsmen far better in Hollywood who create far more passionate ensembles for movies.

These are grad school master thesis pieces. Not living art. Saw an article about Matisse Red Room. Some got it, some didnt, though part of the problem is scale. It is 6'x7'. When before it, it lives, breathes. Has soul. Its a living being, and has spiritual presence, not just physical. Which art is now, big slabs of iron, brightly colored toys, self absorbed rantings.

Spiritual art, which is ALL true creative art, fills the senses and soul with a being, life beyond our own. Part of gods creation, yet reflecting it in a new way, one that takes our imaginations and passions into new places. For real artists are explorers. We find, search, out there. Not inward. We need to create, but it must have purpose, for all. Not everyone will get it, not everyone will have the visual sensibilitity, perhaps they react to nature more, or poetry, or music, or childraising. All true creative acts. And about life. But not the inbound self involved sensibilities of the academies.
They are useless, and self serving. It's an industry. And no one outside of it cares, as it creates its own market, separate from the rest. While those outside of it react passionately to a Gauguin, a de Kooning, a Tamayo, there is nothing to be found in academic painters. For no great painter has ever graduated from an art school. As Picasso and all great artists have done, they see they have more than is available at an academy and leave, or never go and save all that money. Miles Davis, the Marsalis brothers, all left Julliard and Berklee before graduating, the true teachers where working artists.

Visual arts are now so removed from its roots, and vainly thinking it has evolved into something better and different than the past, that it is now completely decadent. Useless. Dead. And the art world is an inbred thing, distorted, weak. Like the Habsburg emperors, frail and decadent. And no longer filling their original purpose, and so a burden and harmful to humanity. Throw it all out. Get beyond it, look to the feel of great art of the past, from tribal arts to the Hellenes to the Renaissance to Modernism. Take it all in, and develope that feel for what is good. And go explore our times, not our own tiny pitiful lives. Art is OUT there, not inward. Be a part of it, or fail miserably.

Read my articl Imperial Clothing for how we got into this morass of selfishness.
but I got work to do. Bye

Art academia delenda est
Donald Frazell

Anonymous said...

I think (I know, rather idealistically) a market exhists for every artist. Some artists need these vanity galleries to gauge audience reaction. Most just don't know where to go, or how to really (not what you were taught in art school) connect with a gallery. While I am sure that there are plenty of sucky vanity galleries out there, I work next door to one and am constantly impressed by some of the sales they generate for their artists. Just do your research and attend some shows before paying to be in one. That's my 12 cents.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this subject. I've been writing about vanity galleries for several years in efforts to educate and warn artists about the many disadvantages. There is a lengthy article that appeared recently in Art Calendar magazine titled "Vanity Galleries: Pay to Play art Your Own Risk" at for anyone who wishes to read it.