Vanity Galleries: The cost of being ‘accepted’ can be more than you realize.
Several members of the www.myartspace.com community have contacted me recently about vanity galleries. The questions asked varied, but they all ended with similar versions of “is it worth it?”. My direct answer is-- NO.
As you know-- or should -- a vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges a high fee for exhibiting your work often without observing any of your art beforehand. Their acceptance policy is normally based on the money you are willing to put down rather than the validity of your art. Their payment plans are often set up as a monthly fee, but some allow you to ’buy’ an exhibit as well-- as in you pay to have a weekend exhibit of your art in their space. This may sound good, but if your work is of high caliber you run the risk of exhibiting alongside artists who are no where near your level. So in the end you will have had your show, but you will not gain the reputation you seek from established venues.
Some people compare vanity galleries to cooperative galleries ran by artists. The comparison has caused some confusion based on some of the questions I’ve received. The two are NOT the same. However, I am certain that there are probably some vanity cooperative galleries as well. Artists just need to know what to look for when they are seeking a gallery or cooperative space. Thus, I will explain the difference between vanity galleries and cooperative galleries.
In most cases a cooperative gallery will establish a jury pool in order to decide who is accepted into the cooperative and who is denied. In other words, a decent artist cooperative gallery will not accept someone based on the transaction of money alone. Instead they will consider the value of the art and in some cases the reputation of the artist in question. The jury will debate about the art of the potential member and how he or she will benefit the cooperative as a whole. After deliberation the cooperative will come to a decision based on the collective judgment of the jury members. If accepted the new member will agree to share in gallery expenses-- such as the cost of having an exhibit, publicity, and in some cases utilities. Not all cooperative galleries are the same, but most function in this manner... and if they don't you should probably do further research before accepting membership. Vanity galleries are not the same!
Vanity galleries are a completely different beast. A vanity gallery will exhibit anyone who is willing to pay and they will often accept an artist into their roster without having viewed an example of said artists work. In some cases a vanity gallery will state that they have a selection process and deny an artist. However, that practice is deceptive because in reality they are simply booked as far as exhibit scheduling is concerned. If a vanity gallery has a full roster they will deny at artist… if they have an opening they will consider anyone willing to pay-- it is as simple as that. You can be the 'art star' of a vanity gallery simply by paying the most or buying several solo exhibit slots. Trust me though, that star will crash fast if you walk your papertiger accomplishments over to a legitimate gallery OR if you are unable to continue paying your vanity gallery.
Vanity galleries will indeed ask an artist to pay… and pay, and pay-- with fees that often range from a couple hundred bucks per month to as much as $3,000 per solo show from what I’ve been told by victims. A vanity gallery will keep an artist in their roster regardless if that artist makes a profit. In other words, as long as they get their payments they will be more than happy to keep you and to give you shows. (True, a legitimate gallery may ask for certain fees, but they don’t ever reach the level of a vanity gallery… and unlike a vanity gallery they will drop you if your work is not profitable-- unless your reputation warrants you staying-- that is why they are selective in the first place.)
I’ve said it before and I will say it again-- exhibiting at vanity galleries can HURT your reputation and thus hurt your career. Don’t think for a second that exhibiting at vanity galleries will increase your chances of exhibiting at a legitimate gallery. Don’t think that it will improve your chances of being noticed by a wealthy collector. Trust me, the legitimate gallery owners and their collectors know of these places and they will not be impressed that you have had dozens of shows at them. Behind closed doors they may even tell your how foolish you’ve been with your money! It is an obstruction on your path to success that you can avoid simply by not being duped. Why spend thousands on a vanity gallery when you could be using that money for art materials, art classes, or simply your own advertising or marketing plan.
How do you know if a gallery is a vanity gallery? Research. You want to research any space that you desire to exhibit in. Where you exhibit is a reflection of you and of your work. Even if someone tells you that a gallery is a legitimate gallery you should still do your own research about it. Find out what you can about the artists who are represented by the gallery. Find out where they have shown before, what awards or grants they have earned, and anything else that will tell you that the gallery is focused on artists that increase their reputation-- and your reputation if you are accepted.
On a side note, I often read art forums that involve topics about how galleries take advantage of artists. I know for a fact that there are many horror stories involving legitimate galleries-- I‘m not going to say that bad things do not happen. However, they are not all deceptive and I think a lot of artists simply don’t understand how legitimate galleries function… or they have a bad experience with a vanity gallery and assume that every gallery is the same because they are not aware that their negative gallery experience was with a vanity gallery in the first place.
So here it is in a nutshell, legitimate gallery owners spend thousands of dollars per year in order to establish-- and keep-- the reputation of their gallery. They will spend money on press, utilities, rent for the gallery space if needed, social functions in order to build-- and keep-- good rapport with collectors, and other aspects of advertising and marketing that most artists simply don‘t want to deal with… all of which largely comes at the gallery owners expense. If legitimate galleries were a racket you would not see so many closing! In contrast, the only fear that a vanity gallery owner has is the fear that at some point he or she will not be able to dupe new artists or that the artists in his or her roster will catch on to the vanity scheme.
Again, don't be duped by vanity galleries!
Take care, Stay true,