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Are Commercial Galleries Essential to Artists?

Are Commercial Galleries Essential to Artists?

Ian Davenport at Paul Kasmin gallery, Photo by by j-No. Courtesy Creative Commons

Valerie Atkisson | ArtBistro

For the majority of the last 100 years, artists have sold work through commercial galleries and is the most desirable way for artists to make a living. What should you expect (or not) from gallery representation? Read on for some useful expectations for gallery representation, as well as how best to get noticed.


Commercial galleries usually sell artists’ works on commission. The typical commission is usually 50% of the sale of the work. This is determined by the contract. There are several contracts that galleries enter into with artists. A range of contracts are outlined here:

Consignment Contract

A consignment contract is written when an artist loans a specific number of works of art to the gallery for the gallery to sell for a specific amount of time. An itemized list is made, the terms of sale are set forth as well as a time for the works to be returned if not sold. At this time, a deadline of payment is also agreed upon. Typically galleries pay in full within 60 days after the sale. Note: When included in a group show the gallery may use this type of contract.

Representation Contract

At the other end of the spectrum of artist and gallery relationships is one that gives the gallery the right to sell any of the work that you produce. The gallery or art dealer becomes your exclusive agent and they will represent you as one of their artists. You will have solo shows with this gallery, although these shows may or may not be stipulated in the contract. And while these terms may seem restrictive to an artist, they are important to an artist’s financial security, especially if the work sells well. This example of gallery representation is the most common agreement of all gallery contracts.

Next: Additional Agreements →

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