It is an unfortunate fact in any professional venture that you need to stay informed and on your toes to avoid being ripped off. In the art world, sadly, the potential for this is alive and well. There are numerous ways that artists can find themselves at the wrong end of a bad deal and possibly near the top of this list are so-called “pay to play galleries.” Also known as vanity galleries because they play on the very human tendency to fall victim to flattery, these places seem to offer something too good to be true. That’s because in many cases, it is too good to be true. In life, not just in art, always be wary of any venture that requires you to hand over a large overhead sum. If a gallery truly wants to exhibit your work, they may ask you to help cover some costs for advertising and your contract will explain how they collect their commission, but if there are heavy fees just to get your work on the wall, beware. There are other ways to spot these potentially damaging deals. If you receive an email soliciting work at your expense, or if a gallery offers you space on the spot without even viewing your art, you can be relatively sure that you are dealing with a vanity gallery. Here are a few to be wary of.
Agora Gallery There is some debate in the art world as to the validity of Agora Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Some artists find this to be a respectable, even profitable way to exhibit their art, while many others have had experiences that border on scam. Agora has a pretty high profile reputation for this. Artists confront steep upfront costs to exhibit as well as commission fees. There are those who assert that Agora Gallery is held in low esteem by fellow Chelsea venues. The bottom line: you must decide whether spending thousands of dollars to put your art in a gallery of questionable reputation is the best way to launch your art career. Plain and simple.
Galerie Gora: A number of artists report being contacted by Montreal’s Galerie Gora with offers of exhibitions. Of course at first these emails are met with excitement, but then many of them realize they never submitted work to the gallery and they go on to read the terms of engagement. Galerie Gora solicits emerging artists, offering them exhibition space at very high cost. Again, while there is some debate over the validity of the gallery itself, it is a good rule of thumb to never fall victim to an email requesting money.
Ico Gallery: Another New York City venue with a mixed reputation, Ico Gallery offers the same “deal” as the other pay to play places. For an upfront fee, artists are given space to display their work. The gallery is in the habit of sending unsolicited emails just as many other vanity venues do. The emails explain that they have viewed work online and would like to offer a show if the artist is willing to put up the cost at the outset. If you haven’t begun to pick up on the general thread of things by now, let’s be very clear. An artist should never, ever have to pay to display their work. Modest cost sharing for advertising and split commissions are the norm, but overhead costs are not.
Gallery Godo: There are pay to play galleries everywhere. In LA there are a host of them, and Gallery Godo is surely one. It is important to understand that there are implications beyond the mere handing over of your hard earned cash when it comes to signing with these galleries. Often, having an exhibition in a pay to play is a stain on your artist CV. These venues have grown to have reputations throughout the art world that precede any artist who has dealt with them.
ArtExpo.com: The questionable practice of requiring artists to front money in order to exhibit is not limited to physical galleries. The online world is full of sites that will gladly display photos of your art for a fee. The allure is understandable, and you are certainly not alone if you are compelled to buy in. These sites know how to prey on the need for exposure that all emerging artists feel so strongly. And in this age of internet fame it is easy to believe that a digital gallery could be the answer to your exposure problems. But just like their physical gallery cousins, these vanity websites offer very little at a high cost. Artists fork over their money for the opportunity to have photos of their work sit in a dark corner of the internet with no marketing and no potential for genuine exposure. For ways to find some measure of exposure independently and at no cost, check out our courses and keep an eye on our blog for more information.
As an artist and a business person, it is up to you to do your research before you sign with any gallery. While opinions vary sharply about the risk/benefit of galleries like the ones name here, in general, as we have said a few times in this post, it is unwise to part with your money in order to be exhibited. Rather, you must persevere until you find a gallery that is willing to write up a contract that treats both the venue and the artist as equal partners in a business venture.