Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Advice for Galleries

Fall in the Canyon, 12x9 oil

While I was in Carmel, California, last week, I had an opportunity to visit most of the fine art galleries in town.  I found some really nice ones, but I also went into some that could have done a better job at what they do.  Over the years, I've visited lots of galleries, done business with many, and have even run a couple.  So, I thought I'd give them some advice, as follows:

1.  TURN DOWN THE VOLUME.  I went into one gallery that was like going into The Gap at the local shopping mall; the music was so loud and pulsating it drove me out.  Although the gallery represented some top name painters, I couldn't stay long enough to look at the art.  If you must play music - and nothing in the rulebook says you must - let it be soft and stay well in the background.  But if your market is teenagers, then by all means, crank it up!

2.  DON'T IGNORE ME.  In a couple of galleries I visited, the salesperson didn't even say hello.  Staring fixedly at your computer screen sends the signal that you don't want to be bothered.   (In one gallery, but in another town, the clerk was reading her Kindle and never once looked up.)  Or, if you're talking with another client, failing to greet me, even if it's just with a smile and a nod, sends the signal that I'm not as important.  If I'm buying toothpaste at the local Walgreen's I don't really care, but when I'm in a gallery and looking at multi-thousand-dollar paintings, it's a different situation.

3.  ... BUT DO LEAVE ME ALONE TO LOOK.  In another gallery, the salesperson was a real chatterbox.  This affable guy just wouldn't stop talking.  He was doing a great job of following me and telling me about the paintings I was looking at, but after awhile I just wanted to spend some time looking without distraction.  After you've asked the obligatory questions ("Where are you from?" and "Are you an artist?"), please go away.  I'll let you know if I have a question, trust me.

4.  IDENTIFY THE ARTIST WITH A LABEL.  A few galleries didn't do this, which forced me to squint and try to decipher the signature.  Many artists have poor penmanship skills, especially when it comes to scrawling a signature in paint.  Sure, a painting should stand on its own merits, but knowing, for example, that a spectacular still life was painted by an artist known mostly for landscapes will increase my interest.  Knowing right off that a certain piece was painted by a master will do the same.   (And while we're on labels, why not put the price?  I hate the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" school of thought.)

5.  WATCH THE GLARE.  When you have lots of paintings on the walls, it's tough, I know, to give everything adequate lighting.  There will always be shadows.  But one thing you can do is watch for glare and reflections.  One gallery had some paintings for which I literally couldn't even identify the subject.  It was like driving blindly into the rising sun on the Interstate.  How are you going to sell a painting like that?

6. Finally, LIKE YOUR ARTISTS.  I went into one gallery in which the talkative owner pointed to some work that had just been brought in and wasn't yet hung.  "I really don't like that artist's work," he said.  And this was the gallery owner saying this!  So why the heck did he have the paintings in the first place?  You just can't sell work you don't like.  Duh.

These problems aren't limited to Carmel.  You'll find them in Scottsdale, Santa Fe and in every other big art town.  I find that the best galleries, really, are the ones that are owner-staffed, and where the owner really believes in his artists and understands what it takes to present the artists well.  I'd love to hear your comments, and what advice you might give galleries.


Alfred Currier said...

Well Michael, you are absolutely right. I've been an artist for several years myself and experianced the same from galleries as well. There came a time when I opened a gallery myself and was in the position to run with an eye on the observations you noted. The results were amazing and I sold the gallery 6 years later. The gallery has closed and you know why.

Good article here.

Dawn Lundquist said...

Good observation on the galleries. Another good question that should be asked by the owner or representative “ Have you been in our gallery before?” If not give a brief tour of the gallery and then leave them alone. Love your Blog Thanks and Mahalo Dawn

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Alfred and Dawn!

Paul's Blog said...

I liked the blog Michael, your comments for the gallery owners were right on the money. I have visited a number of galleries where I was not acknowledged coming in and completely ignored as I strolled through looking at paintings. I would think the artists represented would have been dismayed that the person could not be welcoming or take the time to see if there was something you were interested in.

Your blogs are very interesting, thank you.


Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Paul!

Rhonda said...

You are spot on with all your observations! I had some work in a local gallery for a bit and never sold anything because the gallery owner did exactly what you pointed out in point #6...she bad mouthed every artist that was in the gallery and told customers private things that should have been kept private. She did that to me before I ever had any work hanging in the gallery. From now on that will be my red flag to turn and run. She left my work sitting on the floor for a month before she finally got around to hanging it, which is one of my biggest peeves! Art should never beleft on the floor unless it's a sculture, and then it should be on a pedestal! Just sayin' ~

PleinAirGal said...

Excellent post, Michael! And Rhonda's comment is spot on too. Good grief - a gallery owner who comments that s/he doesn't like a particular artist's work has already killed any chance of a sale by thoughtlessly insulting the patron who was attracted to it! And if that was actually the gallery owner, then that's simply an owner who has no confidence (and therefore not an effective sales person) and who is actually AFRAID to have a style and persona for the gallery because it might limit clientele to people who actually like a certain style or type of work. In the end, they won't succeed not because of the economy but because they don't have a clue in the first place!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the comments, Rhonda and Sharon! Yes, that was the actual gallery owner, and it was strange to hear him say such things.