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Q: Dear Art Dealer, 

My gallery has told me that I have sold artwork and I haven’t seen a payment yet. It’s been three weeks since I’ve been told the piece sold. How long should I expect before I receive a payment for the painting? I don’t want to bother the gallery but I need the money!

A: This is handled differently by each gallery. Remember that your gallery might not pay you until the purchaser has made payment in full. Sometimes, although a piece has “sold,” payment might not be made for a while. Sometimes, for annoying reasons, collectors will back out of a purchase. So, I make a point to never mention a sale to an artist until payment is actually in hand. It is also my policy to pay the artist immediately after the money is in the bank. I do this for a very simple reason…I don’t trust that I will remember to make the artist payment and I might spend the money. Hey, I’m being honest.

Some galleries are on payment schedules, maybe only writing checks every few weeks, like it’s a bill. Other galleries might wait until the end of an exhibition and make one larger payment. Some galleries have enough money that they make payments even before the client pays, trusting that they will be paid eventually. And unfortunately, there are galleries that don’t have enough money for bills and might spend your portion to pay off debt. Hopefully things pick up for that gallery and everyone gets paid. But, often, artists wait a long time to be paid by the gallery, if at all.

You should be very careful when negotiating with your dealer as you begin the partnership. Make sure you understand the gallery payment schedule and policy, and if you’re making sales, and things aren’t going as expected, something might be wrong.

As for your specific situation, make sure you understand whether your work has “sold” or if it is “paid for.” Then ask how long it takes to receive payment. I’ve said it before, any dealer that has a problem with you asking these types of questions, probably isn’t someone you want to work with.

Q: How does a dealer build a clientele that buy the work a dealer/gallerist wants to show?

A: Research, networking, shows that kick ass, press, and longevity in the business. Or, be an assistant director at a well-established gallery, meet the collectors, and leave to open your own space. Take your pick.

Q: I have a few galleries and one of them has never quite felt right and is simply not working out. I have been with this gallery for 4 years, never had a show and have only sold one piece. I have a good working relationship with this gallery and am very fond of the director but have always felt like it isn't working somehow. I approached the director about a show and the idea was dismissed. The weird thing about this gallery is that the director pursued me right after I was picked up by another gallery... an odd turn of events! I think it's time to part ways but I have no idea how to do this. My goal is to find another gallery that is a better fit and take my work back BUT I want to do this well and not alienate the director. And should I find another gallery first or take my work back first? How does one terminate a relationship with a gallery the right way.

A: Well hello to you! You are in a sticky situation, but a very common one. You like the director and the gallery, but they haven’t helped advance your career, which is what this is all about. It’s important to be friends with your dealer, but this is also your business that has remained inactive. I think you’re right, you are long overdue for a change.

Before I give you advice on how to deal with your current gallery, I feel that it is more important that I give you advice on how to work with your next gallery. The moment the artwork is delivered to the gallery (if not prior) there should be a discussion about expectations moving forward. If you’re dropping works off for the gallery inventory (rather than actually setting up an exhibition) you should establish a point in time in the future where you can discuss the status of your relationship and whether you should move forward with an exhibition, or another course of action. If this is done initially, you can have a prosperous relationship or a mutual and peaceful split. Just be sure to give the dealer enough time to gauge whether they might have a successful show with your work (maybe 6 to 12 months).

I always think it is best to be honest and up front with your dealer, as they should be with you. On that note, I’m curious to know why the idea of an exhibition was dismissed. It’s likely that the dealer is nervous to do an exhibition because of the poor sales history, which ironically may be their fault.

You are partners and it’s important that you are able to talk frankly with each other without offending anyone. Since you have a good relationship with this gallery, I think it’s fair that you be totally honest with him/her. Simply explain that you have appreciated your time with the gallery and being a part of their programming to date, but you would really like to have a solo exhibition. It should be no surprise to the director that you are interested in trying other avenues. Also, tell that dealer that whatever happens, you will do your best to make sure that the gallery is compensated should a sale occur thanks to their help in the past.

I don’t see why you have to remove the works immediately if the conversation goes smoothly. However, if the dealer is not reacting like a professional, I would recommend removing the artwork as soon as possible to prevent awkwardness in the future.

"Advice For Artists" can be read in series in
the Big RED & Shiny Collections section.

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