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Old 05-03-2012, 03:07 PM
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Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

I have sort of a dilemma... and it's not new to me, but it's one that I thought I would share to get some opinions about.

I'm getting ready to put some work in a new gallery. The owner is a photographer, but not really that knowledgeable about fine art per se. They aren't really sure what the difference between an abstract and pop art is, for instance. Suffice to say they know what a realism painting is and then there's "everything else". But they're very nice and we get a long really well, which is half the battle when it comes to the gallery/artist relationship.

This person is going to have a group show for the first opening (smart) and wanted a list of pieces of mine to pick from that they could show. They chose two and I noticed that out of the 20 or so I gave them to go over, the person picked two that were realism and had nothing to say about the abstract pieces in the list. I asked if they were not fond of my abstract work and they stated that it "didn't really speak to them". Then I said that they might want to reconsider, as it's the work I really sell the most of and the style that I've usually gotten commissions for. I said that they might want to think about what the market is after rather than their own taste in that regard.

I've owned and helped run galleries in the past, so it's sort of familiar territory as I've often sold pieces by other artists that I personally wasn't that crazy about, but knew would sell and help the bottom line. It's a big world out there, lots of tastes in art. And the gallery doesn't really have any kind of style niche per se, it's going to be fairly eclectic.

Then the person said "Well, it's all about me and what I like, I have to disregard what other people out there like and do what feels right for me."

OK, while I understand that it certainly helps to really like the work you are showing (that way you can talk about it with REAL enthusiasm instead of perhaps unreal enthusiasm) but this kind of thinking strikes me as rather naive and not very sound gallery business practice. Especially when the artist (me) knows what they usually sell the most of.

Even taking myself out of the equation (as I'm sure I won't probably have pieces up all the time) I really feel that this person is doing themselves a big disservice because their taste is rather narrow and, quite frankly, not that informed. I want to see the owner succeed as they're the only gallery in the market where their at. I also want to help guide them, but at the same time feel like I'd be stepping on toes to do so.

Any opinions? Thoughts? Should I just keep my mouth shut and be thankful that I get to hang pieces at all?
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Old 05-03-2012, 04:43 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

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Originally Posted by it'sALLart
Then the person said "Well, it's all about me and what I like, I have to disregard what other people out there like and do what feels right for me."

Yup, I'd keep my comments to myself. You could take his comment as naive, or you could take it as confidence. After all, it is his business, and the buck stops with him. If a thousand people are already giving him opinions, he may be tired of it, and have to be a bit firm about it, because yes - at the end of the day it is his responsibility. So he has to do what feels right for him. "Do what feels right for me" could mean: what I like, what I feel confident about and comfortable with, what I don't like but will fit in with the rest of the show, what I don't like but think will sell, what I don't like but I owe XYZ a favor.... you never know.
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Old 05-03-2012, 05:17 PM
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Diane Cutter Diane Cutter is offline
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

I agree with Allison. Don't say anything more to him. You've given your opinion but ultimately it's his decision and you don't want to alienate him. And, looking at the glass half-full instead of half-empty, you now have a gallery owner who wishes to market your realism pieces. He may open up an entirely new market for you because he feels comfortable marketing that genre.

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Old 05-03-2012, 05:58 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

Pardon my bluntness, but is this a gallery owned by a doctor's spouse?

The above is meant to mean that if the gallery owner says it is all about them they appear to not really be approaching the gallery as a business but rather something to do with their time that they seem to enjoy. A different kind of "vanity gallery".

Art is very subjective. Everyone likes different styles and media. As a gallery director I'm open to pretty much anything that is not offensive, fits the persona of our gallery and... sells.

I also think two pieces is not enough of a representation of an artist even in a group show.

Just my 2 cents.

Last edited by DaveMak : 05-03-2012 at 06:01 PM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 07:37 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

How very annoying! you would think that they would have the business sense to listen to the artist...we all tend to know what sells the best for us..I do agree though that its probably best not to say anything more...
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Old 05-04-2012, 05:08 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

His method of just choosing what he likes could actually work for him. If he knows realism more and is comfortable with it, chances are it's going to be far easier for him to sell it to! While abstract might be great in your sales, if he doesn't like it and doesn't understand it, how will he present it to clients? It's actually a way many gallery owners start out and build their own brand. Start with what you know and like.

Difficult for us artists, but not necessarily the wrong way to do thing. I know several gallery owners who started that way (and continue that way!) who do very well. One now has several galleries in different cities too. They have a passion specifically for what they like and that passion passes along to the buyers.

Keep in mind that if you know what sells best for you, and this gallery doesn't like that, then this gallery just may not be the more appropriate for your work.

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Old 05-04-2012, 05:54 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

You say he is a photographer, I would assume he is also showing photos in the gallery, if this is the case a more representational look is probably what his market contacts are looking for.
On the up-side, his buyers will be a different set than those you normally meet. So basically you have a choice, supply him with representational work rather than abstract, or don't show in the gallery. I am sure he will eventually find what work sells best for him in the gallery himself.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:04 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

Ultimately, to succeed he will have to sell what he stocks.

If his personal style is realism (not a given with photography) and that is what his customers are looking for that may be what sells best in his gallery.

In time he may expand his offerings to include more abstracts, or you may expand your subject matter to include more realism.

Every succesful retailer I know has succeded by offering items that their customers want, even if it is not to their personal tastes. However, everybody and his brother loves to offer advice to ratailers on what they "should" do. Without a substantial purchase to back it up it just so many empty words.

I would let things ride as they are for a while and be ready to offer guidance when asked.

It certainly sounds like you have already developed a solid market for your abstracts. Think of this as your safety net if things don't work out with this gallery.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:51 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

I was in a gallery once where I was the only "abstract" artist and they sold mine like crazy. They mostly had representational work, still do. I wouldn't argue with the gallery owner but I'd still press your point. Maybe talk him into keeping a few in storage that 1. will likely grow on him, 2. to have something to show people who might inquire about you or your other work. I bet, like most people I know, his tastes may open up once he starts finding out the world isn't just about representative art....it may take a while but it will happen.
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Old 05-06-2012, 04:37 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

Thanks for your responses, all. Appreciate you taking the time to give this thought and post something.

A couple of points...

This is a brand new gallery for the area and for the owner, so there isn't any kind of established anything for them yet. This would be their first real show and there's no history or set style that this person is trying to stay with.

Dave Mak's point about it being a doctor's spouse is nearly on-target, although even then, it seems silly to go to the expense of a build-out, rent, website, marketing and everything else just to be open... yet not sell anything. And this person has owned a gallery in the past, one where they were open for 3 years and sold exactly 2 pieces. And one was mine (this was back in 1996).

It's a small gallery, thus only two pieces of mine being shown (they are both large), plus there are going to be about 16 various artists showing - basically the whole stable - to show people who the gallery is going to be showing in the future.

They are a good friend of mine, so there's a limit to what I can say and I did actually end up writing a brief email to give them examples of other retail businesses that would fail if they had the same approach ("I only will sell what I like, I don't care what the market wants".) I have not heard a peep back, though.

As far as their personal style, they also have many abstract works that they own (a few of mine) and there will be other artists' abstract works in the gallery. That's what makes it doubly frustrating, they're usually open to abstract works. And besides the photography, my work will be the only representational work. And that may be the key, which I had not thought of before. They need SOME realism and perhaps mine is the only stuff they want. (which I guess is good, right?)

Kasun, your point is taken as well, perhaps I can talk them into keeping a few abstracts in storage. It's not like I'm lacking in that area.

All in all, a very different approach than I would take, but I guess we'd all do it differently if given the chance.

thanks again...
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Old 05-07-2012, 09:16 PM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

Hi,

I just opened a gallery and the number of people giving me advice, suggestions etc is just too many. Talk is cheap. Most also contradict each other. The closer they are to me, the more pushy them seem to be. Some relationships have already started to sour because of this.....
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Old 05-08-2012, 07:17 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

LOL, wow...

Having help open galleries, owned a gallery, worked at new galleries, etc., I'm not advising from a place of ignorance, but I know well that everyone (knowledgeable or not) has a bit of friendly "advice" to offer. I well remember that happening. The trick is to listen to what "fits" for you.

One lady wanted me to stage the gallery with actual sets of furniture and accessories - with the art as a backdrop. The ideas can get pretty wacky.

But I also create marketing plans and advertising for a living and have dealt with many retail clients, so help in that regard is not unwarranted if someone were to ask.

As the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water...
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Old 05-08-2012, 07:44 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

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Originally Posted by it'sALLart
LOL, wow...


One lady wanted me to stage the gallery with actual sets of furniture and accessories - with the art as a backdrop. The ideas can get pretty wacky.


As the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water...

Actually that works in the right situation. We do quite a lot of business through a Interior designers retail location where the art is place in among the furniture and other accessories. Also several of the high end galleries in Jackson WY have lots of furniture spread throughout the galleries as part of the ambiance. They look like someones's living rooms and dens instead of stark walls full of art work.

It obviously works very well for them.
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Old 05-08-2012, 07:57 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

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Actually that works in the right situation. We do quite a lot of business through a Interior designers retail location where the art is place in among the furniture and other accessories. Also several of the high end galleries in Jackson WY have lots of furniture spread throughout the galleries as part of the ambiance. They look like someones's living rooms and dens instead of stark walls full of art work.

It obviously works very well for them.

A few pieces, sure, but not entire roomfuls... at least not in what is supposed to be an art gallery where the art is the focus, not the decor, IMO. Also, not sure you'd feel that way if you would have seen the furniture the lady I spoke of wanted to use.
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Old 05-08-2012, 08:07 AM
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Re: Gallery Owners Taste Vs. What Sells

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A few pieces, sure, but not entire roomfuls... at least not in what is supposed to be an art gallery where the art is the focus, not the decor, IMO. Also, not sure you'd feel that way if you would have seen the furniture the lady I spoke of wanted to use.


Lots of furniture. Lovely chairs and couches to sit on. Credenza's and buffets to place art on. Tables that hold pamphlets and magazines. They actual look like the living rooms of the people they sell art to. It is called staging. Just as high end realestate agents use it to sell homes, galleries use it to sell art.

Your bias on what and how to sell art is showing here. My best friend is the best sales person I know. She knows that for every customer that likes item A there is 1 that likes item B and hates item A. She knows that you are catering to one customer and she is to another and both ways work.
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