DIY Art Galleries: Home of the next Hirst?

Only in New York City!
Someone from Downunder wrote me today, saying they'd been approached online by a Chelsea gallery offering representation.

The offer came with a proviso that most painterly puritans run screaming from - a hefty upfront fee of $3000, and 30% of sales (which is less than the usual 50%). It is popularly known as a "vanity gallery," where you pay for the privilege of exposure.

The question to ChelseaGallerista was, should I go for it?

Well, you're looking at someone who's never taken the road well-pedaled. I made a career out of taking marketing to the nth degree by homestaying with customers year round as an invited family member. I rode a bike for a living and turned it into a platform for customer evangelism and content-driven advocacy. I look for the opportunity, not the objection. (You'll even find me asking an Amway salesperson, so what have you got that's new and good?).

So, my take is about asking, rather than judging  ... what could I do with an opportunity like this?

As you can read in this nice little post from ArtistsEmerging, there are three kinds of what I'll call the DIY gallery - vanity, co-op and rental. They all involve some kind of monetary contribution from you, the artist, whether it be a big upfront fee, ongoing contribution, ability to photocopy and help out in other ways, or perhaps all of the above. In exchange, you get to show your stuff to an audience who might not otherwise see it.

Now every artist wants Larry Gagosian to discover their shark in formaldehyde and convert it to a national monument, but that's not going to happen for most. The self-serve gallery is another way to get your work out there. If that gallery happens to be in the Promised Land of New York City, so much the better.

Like a vanity press for publishers, vanity galleries usually ask for a fairly big fee and a commission on sales, in exchange for representation, showings, and promotion in their literature and hopefully, the media. Unfortunately, they are generally despised by "real artists," who claim they can, in fact, tarnish an artist's career. I think this has much to do with prevailing attitudes than the nature of the agreement - it seems no different from retaining a public relations or law firm to handle your PR/legal affairs.

A co-op gallery is a collective of like-minded artists with a common goal, cause, or theme. Cost of entry is usually an ongoing membership fee and roster of duties to help run the gallery. The advantage is that running costs are spread out over many individuals, not a bad tactic in tough economic times - and it's always tough for artists. An example of this is the feminist Ceres Gallery in NYC. This post talks about the co-op style of gallery.

rental gallery is just that - you pay for the space, and you may or may not get some marketing support - this may be left largely to you and your social media skills.

Which brings me to the real point of this article - if your work is good, or you can convince enough people it's good (even if it isn't) - any of these avenues can work for you, while you wait for Larry Gagosian to knock at your door. Because unlike artists in the past, you have that free, unsecret sauce:  the INTERNET. And specifically, social media.

Facebooking, tweeting, YouTubing, Pintaresting ...

I was watching Jimmy Kimmel who had a gal on his show who could recite any word backwards in a split second. He discovered her on YouTube, and brought her on the show to add zing to one of his humorous advertorials. The video shows her sitting in the car as her beau utters words and she reverses them.

Just look at Justin Bieber - say no more.

Some people feel the same negativity about The Affordable Art Fair  - "it's a place you only want to be in once if at all." Yet, in 2012, Damien Hirst, one of the richest young artists in the world, exhibited some woodcuts there.

Do you think Hirst worries about what people might think? Maybe you shouldn't either.

If I was an artist now, I'd set up a Pintarest pinboard with all my best work displayed. I've actually done this with my advertising portfolio. I like it because people are time poor. They don't have time or patience to go clicking through slideshows and menus. You have 2 nanoseconds to get their attention.

Meanwhile, if you have the funds and the inclination, there is nothing wrong with showing your art in any of the above channels - as long as you do your due diligence with social media.


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