What is a vanity gallery, and how is it different to a normal gallery?
A conversation with Graeme Stevenson
Vanity galleries are an offshoot of cooperative galleries (also called artist-run initiatives), galleries which are operated by artists who pool their resources to pay for exhibits and publicity. Unlike cooperative galleries, which carefully jury their members, vanity galleries will exhibit anyone who pays.
Don’t be scammed
Vanity galleries are mostly targeting artists who are not well established or are emerging. They are targeting artists without an established reputation and very limited or no experience of working with proper art galleries. They take advantage of their lack of understanding of the art world. They mostly target artists who are not aware of how the gallery systems work, and are fairly new to their careers.
Artists don’t always recognize the warning signs.
Vanity galleries will approach the artist but this does not necessarily mean that the artist is of high quality. They play to the egos, or the vanity of that particular person. Don’t be fooled by promises of instant fame. They know how to sell their promises and they are good at luring insecure and inexperienced artists.
Where are they?
They are generally located in the art capitals of the world such as New York, London, Paris, Milan, Florence. For a good list of “pay to play” galleries or vanity galleries check out ArtBusiness.com
You pay to exhibit
Vanity galleries will charge you to exhibit in their galleries. These costs can be exorbitant.
They can include the costs for the opening reception, access to the mailing list, wall rental, staff wages, insurance and other miscellaneous fees. Vanity galleries make money from payments from the artists rather than by selling the actual art.
Don’t trust their mailing lists
Many of these galleries have a mailing list of people who like to turn up at openings, to look good and drink the wine and eat the food but are not necessarily the real buyers.
Customers that come along, come along to pat each other on the back, and have a night out, and drink some champagne, and have some crackers, and smoked salmon.
Art experts can spot a vanity gallery a mile away
Legitimate galleries and serious collectors will look at the artist’s bio. If they see a vanity gallery on the list, they will probably think twice. Collectors will gravitate to a well-established legitimate gallery, because they know that the gallery will choose the best artists to represent. Having a vanity gallery on your CV could damage your chances of becoming a gallery artist at a “proper” art gallery.
What to do if a vanity gallery approaches you.
Artists need to consider, particularly places like Florence, New York or Rome, where there are established vanity galleries, the amount of artists that already reside in these places.
It’s like how many millions of artists are in those countries anyway? And all of a sudden a gallery from across the other side of the world decides to contact you, and you’re in Wagga Wagga somewhere, or Dubbo. And it’s the same – you’re amazing, your art is fantastic, we need you in our collection. And all of a sudden you’re going, oh, there’s a gallery in Florence that wants me, and I just have to get over there and take my paintings, and the whole thing and they’ll hang them. And in the end, you end up forking out a lot of money, and these galleries make money out of the artists paying to do this.
Decide whether it matters to you. Perhaps you are willing to pay the price to have a New York Gallery name on your CV.
A sad story of a New York vanity gallery experience
I do know of one lady who was in a vanity gallery in New York, and she paid a whole bunch of money of course. She gets there, she thinks that she’s the only one exhibiting, so she’s shipped thirty paintings over. When she actually got there, there was another twelve artists in the show, and she only was allowed to hang six. The lady was already in New York with her work. She basically had to go along with it.
She was in New York, all of her paintings were stored away, and they asked her, so when are you going back to Australia? She gave them a specific date, but her husband ended up getting ill, and they had to stay in New York longer. She returned to the gallery the day after she was meant to leave New York and her paintings were already off the wall. They weren’t even there. Her exhibition was supposed to be going for two weeks, and they had taken them down and stored them somewhere and then had other people’s artwork in there, and probably doing the same thing to them.
Q: So if an art gallery approached me, because I was a featured artist on Colour in Your Life, how would I find out if they are a vanity gallery. Maybe they do just love my work and think that I’m the next Leonardo da Vinci, and want to sell my work?
A: It’s asking the right questions. The first question is what’s this going to cost me? And if they’ve approached you on behalf of having you in their gallery, and they’re going, well the fees are – that’s like boom – that’s a red flag.
Have you been approached by a vanity gallery? What were your experiences? We’d like to hear from you. Leave a note in the comments section or open a discussion in our forums.
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