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How To Work With Galleries, Part 1: Types of Galleries

in How To by Guest Writer
How To Work With Galleries, Part 1: Types of Galleries

As a practicing artist, working with galleries can be something of an enigma. It's not really taught at art school and it can be hard to know how to proceed, and how to distinguish the good opportunities from the not so good ones. jenny Judova, Founder of Art Map, has written a series of How To Work With Galleries tutorials, exclusively for Cass Art, to teach you all that you need to know.

PART 1: TYPES OF GALLERIES

People throw around the term ‘gallery’ all the time and it builds an assumption that all galleries are equal - but they are not. There are different types of galleries and each type operates in its own specific way. The way galleries work with their audience, collectors, and artists is determined by what type of gallery it is.

First of all, before we even talk about galleries, it should be noted that the art market is divided into two very different areas - the primary and the secondary market.

Types of Galleries

The primary market is defined by works being sold for the first time either by the artist or by the gallery that represents the artist. An example of such a gallery is Vitrine in Bermondsey Square.

Vitrine Gallery
VITRINE Bermondsey Square, Adham Faramawy ‘Hyperreal Flower Blossom’ May-June 2015

The secondary market is where the resale of the work takes place, that is someone who owns the work wants to sell it on. Therefore the artist does not usually participate in this transaction, and the resale happens through an agent such as a gallery, a dealer, or an auction house. An example of such a gallery is Gimpel Fils.

The articles in this series will explore only the primary art market as it is more relevant to living artists.

Within the primary market, the galleries can be divided into the following four groups: commercial, non for profit, artist run, and project spaces.

Types of Galleries

Commercial galleries aim to make money by showing and selling art. The irony is that according to the most recent research a third of commercial galleries operates in the red. An example of such a gallery is Breese Little.

Breese Little View
BreeseLittle View of the opening night of Classicicity, photograph by Mary Ashton Ellis

Non for profit galleries do not sell work (apart from possible editions). Usually they commission new work from the artist and show it. An example of such a gallery is Studio Voltaire.

Artist Run spaces are the hardest to describe as they can be whatever they want to be and how they are run is completely defined by the artists who run them. Such an example is Espacio Gallery.

A project space is a venue that can be used for literally anything and by calling it ‘project space’ the owners resist boxing it into one category or other. Such an example is The Ryder.

Types of Galleries 3

I further divide commercial galleries into four sub-groups, based on how they choose to work with the artist: Sharks, Shops, Leo Castelli and Research Gallery.

'Sharks' prey on the weak and the clueless. Their usual tactic is to cold email as many artists as possible with a variation of the following email:

‘Dear Artist,

We have seen you work on website/show X and we love it and we would love to include it in our exhibition. Please pay us a Y amount of money to be included in our show.’

With every mail out they find a handful of naive artists who assume this is a good investment. It is not. Critics and dealers know the names of such ‘pay to play’ galleries and avoid them. An example of such a gallery is The Brick Lane Gallery.

'Shops' are the galleries that operate only on consignment - which is the majority of galleries in London. In other words they do not represent artists - they show work and sell it, and they take a commission if something sells. Such an example is the Lawrence Alkin Gallery.

The Leo Castelli Model is named after the now legendary New York dealer called - funnily enough! - Leo Castelli. What he became known for is finding unknown artists and marketing them to a superstar status. This is what my artists hope to find in a gallery, but unfortunately this is a dying breed of art dealers. An example of such a gallery is FOLD.

Research Galleries don't just want to represent you; they emphasise the research behind your work and support you in commercial and non profit endeavours. An example of this kind of gallery is Arcadia Missa.

Types of Galleries 4

It should probably be noted that galleries, like people, go through career stages. There are four main (and self explanatory) stages: Project space (a beta of a gallery), Emerging (Tintype), Mid-career aka mid-size (Limoncello), and blue chip (Gagosian).  

I should also add that it is hard to tell a good gallery from a bad one, or an emerging gallery from a blue chip one, without researching it first. Size, location, and website quality rarely determine or reveal how good or how bad a gallery is. I have seen many white walled fabulous places based in Mayfair come and go when basement galleries based in Haggerston grow from strength to strength.

So if that is the case than how do you figure out which gallery is which? The answer is simple - go to galleries. There is no short cut in learning about the art scene, especially the fast paced London art scene. The only way to know it is to live it, and the only way to live it is to go to 3-10 galleries each week. This should not be seen as something foreign to your practice but as an integral part of it, as the better you know the gallery scene around you, the easier it is for you to start working with one.

By Jenny Judova

Jenny is an art writer and speaker specialising on the primary art market. She is the founder of Art Map London.

Art Map London is an art events listing website that developed into a peer to peer network for artists and curators. 

Feeling inspired? Keep checking our blog for the rest of Jenny's tutorials on working with galleries.

Art Map London