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

by Jason Horejs on 07/31/2012 · 5 comments

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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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Calvin deRuyter July 31, 2012 at 8:41 am

I have always been fascinated by how the fee structure would work when you work with an agent? I think about that fact that up until now I have worked with galleries directly myself. They get anywhere from 30% (coop gallery) to 50% of the retail price. If I get an agent, I assume they also want a percentage of my work, let’s say 20% since I don’t know what the going rate is. So, that means then that I am paying 70% in commissions and retaining 30%. Obviously I can’t raise my prices only for the ones the agents sell, so unless I can raise my prices substantially for everyone, using an agent will actually cut into the income I make from my art. Now, admittedly the whole idea of an agent is to sell more–the volume concept of wholesaling… but nothing can deny that I am going to have to be working harder and longer, for less money for hour.

Have I missed something in this thinking process?

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cindy wider August 7, 2012 at 4:26 am

I have had a mixture of experiences with my agents over the past twenty years, but these experiences are valuable and I am grateful for them all; good and bad. I have also sold hundreds of paintings myself through holding art shows at various interesting venues and through my own connections and out of all of this experience I have come to understand that the ideal situation is to have a truly great agent by your side. A great agent is one who believes in your art and knows and cares about you personally and also knows alot about art in general. Having a good agent gives your work instant credibility and certainly allows you more time in the studio.

Its not easy to gain gallery representation, our work has be really good and we have to be consistent with our output, both in quality and quantity. Its a huge decision for an agent to represent an artist, it takes alot of energy, time and money let alone emotional imput. For a good agent to represent an artist it’s far more complicated than just hanging a painting on the wall. I have had some great conversations with my agents over time and learned alot from them. Making art sales requires a very carefully balanced partnership between the agent, the artist and the client. If the agent and the artist get along well together it can be hugely rewarding for both of you and the client is the one who benefits as a result.

I suggest you get to know the agent and gallery that you are interested in before you approach that gallery. Go to some art shows that are being held there, mingle with the artists, see if you feel your work would fit in with the gallery or not. Chat with the clients at opening shows and find out what they love about and are looking for with their art experience. Be a genuine art lover and customer yourself.

Its very interesting to note that some galleries may look great on the surface but then you hear some insider stories and realise they are not for you afterall. Don’t be in a hurry for representation, concentrate on creating great art, enter local art competitions and just generally try to get a feel for what is hapening in your local art scene to begin with. Then, once you know your local art market you will be much more informed before you approach any galleries. Once you start mingling in the right circles you will soon find out the good the bad and the ugly or beautiful. Doing your research is the best approach I believe (having learned from experience.)

Any artist who is fortunate enough to have a great agent representing them is very blessed indeed, it forms the complete circle of creating and sharing art with the rest of the world. The secret to success with any agent/artist relationship is to communicate and develop a good understanding of what is expected from you and what you are likely to expect from the agent. You need to really work together as a team with your agent to unite your wonderful art with the right person who wishes to live with it.

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cindy wider August 7, 2012 at 4:33 am

I should add that when I say ‘Agent’ I am referring to the gallery Directors or owners who have acted as my agents over the years.

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Darlene Monroe September 30, 2012 at 5:03 am

The lack of comments by artists since the posting of this article two months ago tells us so much!

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Parson Allens October 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Having your own agent/manager to deal with art dealers is they way to go. True artists don’t let themselves get polluted with the commercial scum of the Earth..

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