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Ask a Gallery Owner: Should Artists Seek an Agent to Represent Them

I recently received the following email asking about artists’ agents:

 

 

Dear Jason,

I have joined a discussion line on LinkedIn and we are discussing the pros and cons of hiring art agents to represent our work to galleries, etc. It seems as though there are many people out there who are glad to take advantage of struggling artists and are asking for up front fees without providing any supporting information re what they will do to market our work. I have written a lengthy statement about what I would expect from an agent BEFORE I would sign up with someone.

Basically, I expect a plan of action or a prospectus regarding the service — much like we get from real estate agents who we are interviewing for selling our houses. Well, this has led to questions about where do we find agents and how can we screen them. My thought was we might try doing a Google search or ask some gallery owners for input.

*And this leads me to my question of you.* What are your thoughts about art agents? Do you, as a gallery owner who is very supportive of artists and very skilled in the business end of the art business, prefer to have an agent present the artist’s work or have the artist him/herself do the initial presentation (I know your expectations and guidelines for seeking gallery representation)? What should we (artists) expect from an agent? Do you have any recommendations about where we can find a list of credible agents? What are your suggestions for retainer fees and fees for service?

M

 

M,

Thank you for the note and the question. I understand why working with a good agent would be appealing to an artist – the idea of having someone else take over the business side of things sounds almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, for most artists it is just that, too good to be true. This is especially true for artists early in their careers. Well-established and experienced agents want to work with artists who already have a track-record. For an emerging artists it is going to take more effort to find a good agent and convince them to work with you than it would to get out and build relationships with galleries. That being the case, I would recommend an artist devote their efforts to securing gallery representation.

From a gallery-owner’s perspective, I have certainly worked with agents over the years and it can certainly free an artist up to focus on their creative efforts. Truth told however, I would prefer to work directly with the artist in most cases. I am more likely to sell an artist’s work well if I have a good working relationship directly with the artist.

If you are going to work with an agent, you would want to talk to other artists they represent and get a sense of how successful they’ve been in promoting the artists’ work and how proactive they are. I would hesitate to pay too much in up-front fees – as a gallery I don’t make any money from an artist unless I am selling their work – it shouldn’t be any different for an agent. Pay based on performance.

 

Have you worked or do you currently work with an agent? What has your experience been and what would you recommend when an artist is seeking agent representation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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