What is an art gallery?
When you picture an art gallery, what do you see? A white place, crispy clean with a well-dressed person at the entrance, crazy artworks everywhere and an uncomfortable feeling of not belonging? OK maybe I dig too deep… But still so many people I interact with share with me their reluctance of entering a gallery. Dare I remind you galleries are free? Everybody is welcome inside an art gallery, you don’t have to be a wealthy person to belong there. Do you love art? Are you curious? Polite and well-behaved like any other human being? Well you just simply belong there just as much as me.
A lot of people think you have to look a certain way, or have a lot of money (and looking like it) to enter this kind of space. Actually you don’t.
What do they do? The difference between them and a museum
Ok so museums acquire works from artists for their collections, in order to preserve them, for our culture’s heritage. So if you are interested in that matter, make sure to check out my post on what is a museum.
Museums buy from the artist, hence the galleries (when they represent said artist).
The gallery sells the work of an artist. It represents him or her by accompanying him in their career. Not just by selling artworks. Their involvement goes much, much deeper.
If you walk in a gallery and see an artwork you like you can ask for information and for its price. THIS is what galleries are for.
But like how do they support artists precisely?
As I said they accompany the artist, meaning they will produce an exhibition with artworks to show. So the gallerist will work with the artist on its production of pieces to see how the exhibition can come together. The gallerist, with his/her knowledge of the art market, passion for art and experience is there to advise the artist during their research process. It is a partnership.
This can come in form of an exhibition, an outdoor project, a group show at a museum, a festival, a biennial, anything. The first support is financially to produce the work. And then bigger galleries can provide so much more.
Let’s look at it in a very basic way, the gallerist supports the artists by:
- Being present during the artist’s research
- Producing artwork
- Presenting a solo show at the gallery
- Lending artworks for a show at an institution, museum, art center
- Partnering with institution in the cost of production for a major exhibition (festivals, biennials, publishing, etc.)
But what after the work is produced? What then?
The gallerist is here to make sure the artist can be spotted by everyone and that the art market talks about him/her.
There are many ways to do so, the gallerist can:
- Communicate on the exhibition the gallery is presenting
- Communicate on exhibitions happening in museums and other institutions
- Get in touch with art critics and reporters to organize interviews
- Networking, networking, networking
Keep in mind that is what a gallerist CAN do. Not all gallerist do this. Every gallery is different and the relationship it has with an artist is unique, based on trust and can have multiple terms and conditions.
Who buys artworks? Who can afford it?
Let’s get something straight: EVERYBODY can buy an artwork. What is amazing with contemporary art is that you can support very young artist, selling very affordable art. You can buy artworks starting at a few hundred euros/dollars. There are so many ways to start! Drawings can be a good one, especially if they are smaller, or prints. So the artwork is printed several times and each one has a number. Way more affordable than to buy a single edition.
Now if you start buying artworks you will become what we call a “collector” which means you will develop special bonds with gallerists and artists. Again what is amazing with contemporary art is that you get to meet, talk and exchange with the artist! Speak with him/her about the research, production process, inspiration, and what comes next!
Ok I want to do it but I am scared…
Entering an art gallery can be scary, especially when you know you don’t have that big of a budget. So here are a few advices on how to get started:
- Go to smaller galleries, the ones presenting emerging young artists. Forget the big names, just go see their exhibitions. Practice that eye of yours.
- Scroll Instagram, discover artists you like, if you see something you really like. Do some research to see if the artist is represented by a gallery. If that is not the case get in touch on Insta. You have got nothing to lose my friend.
- Try digital galleries. If going through a gallery is not working for you, try digital places. There are websites like artnet and artsy (the two biggest ones) that sell artworks online. They partner with galleries so you will be going through a gallery just not directly. Ordering from the safe place of a computer.
I really do think for your first buy you should connect with a gallery. Check out their exhibitions talk with them on what you like or think you like. It can be so interesting to exchange with fellow human beings on this matter than just order it online. It can be feeling a little too Amazon-esque to me. But if you do I still understand, and you are supporting an artist either way, so yay for you!
Finally if you are still scared tell yourself these:
- Do I really like this artwork? Will I enjoy seeing it everyday? Because well, firstly you buy art for yourself, you might sell it later if that’s what you want. But keep in mind that it can be love at first sight and you could never part ways with it.
- Am I ok with the amount? Don’t go too big for the first piece. Start small or it is going to be way too much pressure. Be comfortable, ask question about the artist, his/her career, this will give you insight on the true cost of the piece.
- Just do it. You like the artwork, the price seems fair, but you’re still scared? Maybe it is just a social condition that someone who buys artworks must be rich, fancy, nerdy, whatever. Don’t care about that stuff, buying yourself an artwork is a gift from you to you. So stop feeling guilty about it. Especially if the price is not high.
Last question: who works there?
SO MANY PEOPLE! Front desk, artist liaisons, directors, art handlers, sales and so on. I feel like this article is quite long already and will give you plenty to think of! I’ll tell you about the many roles inside an art gallery in another one.