Vanity Galleries

One of my professors looked over the letter and told me that the gallery was what is known as a “vanity gallery.” She explained to me that the problem with vanity galleries is that most of them have a reputation as just that - a gallery in which someone has paid to show their work just to get New York on his or her resume. For the most part, vanity galleries don’t promote and develop relationships with artists like reputable commercial galleries do. And it won’t necessarily impress a gallery director if he or she sees it on your resume.


A vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges artists fees in order to exhibit their work and makes most of its money from artists rather than from sales to the public. Some vanity galleries charge a lump sum to arrange an exhibition, while others ask artists to pay regular membership fees and then promise to organize an exhibition with a certain period.  There is debate as to whether galleries that ask artists to contribute to expenses, e.g. by arranging for announcements of the exhibition themselves, fall into the same category.

Vanity Galley: Derivation

Vanity galleries are an offshoot of cooperative galleries (also called artist-run initiatives), galleries which are operated by artists who pool their resources in order to pay for exhibits and publicity. Unlike cooperative galleries, which carefully jury their members, vanity galleries will exhibit anyone who pays.   In 1981 Village Voice reporter Lisa Gubernick posed as an artist and "within 20 minutes" of contacting the Keane Mason Woman Art Gallery was handed a contract for "$720 for 16 feet of wall".  Occasionally a vanity gallery will appear to have a selection process. This is because "if every participant is promised a one- or two-person show every two years, the number of artists on the membership roster cannot exceed the available time slots for shows."  Commercial art galleries derive their profit from sales of artwork and thus take great care to select art and artists that they believe will sell, and will enhance their gallery's reputation. They spend time and money cultivating collectors. If the artwork sells, the gallery makes a profit and the artist is then paid.  Vanity galleries have no incentive to sell art, as they have already been paid by the artist. Vanity galleries are not selective because they don't have to be. Many professional artists recommend new artists avoid exhibiting work in them, primarily because professional critics and reviewers tend to avoid them.

Another Vanity Gallery

I got an email the other day from a gallery in Montreal offering me a show. At first I was excited, but then confused because I couldn't remember sending any proposals to any galleries in Canada. After reading further into the email, I realized that they were just trolling the web, looking for artists to invite to have shows in their space - charging them lots of money for the privilege, of course.

Here are some highlights from the email:

ATT: Deanna Wood

We have viewed your work and would like to offer you an opportunity for an exhibition of your work in Montreal, for the year 2007/2008. Please find below the "Terms and conditions".
Visit the gallery website for additional information:


1. Eligibility and Application Procedure
Gallery Gora invites you to exhibit in a solo or in a group exhibition.
Selections are made solely on the basis of artists' portfolios.
Please send to the gallery:
- Completed and signed application (see page 4)
- International bank/postal money order or bank transfer (see
"deposit" paragraph 3)
You will then receive a confirmation, an exhibition date and other related information.

2. Duration of Exhibition
The exhibition runs for a minimum of 3 weeks (at least 19 opening days, not including setup and take down time).

3. Exhibition Fee
A - Solo Exhibition
- Each artist can have up to 20 pieces of work depending on size
- The fee for a solo exhibition is US $2,400.00 to cover gallery expenses
- The gallery takes a 10% commission during the 3 week exhibition
- A deposit (25% of the total fee) is paid together with the application.
- The balance of the fee is payable 5 weeks prior to the exhibition date. The deposit is refundable in full if Gallery Gora cancels the exhibition.

B - Group exhibition
- The fee to take part in a group exhibition is US $250.00 for first work and US $150.00 for each additional work.
- The number of artists in a group show depends on the total number of works. The width of each work should not exceed 4ft or it will be counted as two works.

Exhibition fees cover furthermore:

Advertising and public relations
- Mention of the show in all weekly newspaper arts calendars in Montreal (when possible)
- A press release including an invitation to the exhibition e-mailed to a list of contacts (over 10,000) 1 week prior to the opening. Our contacts include the press, curators, critics, dealers, consultants and corporations, as well as a larger body of public members and buyers. If artists supply us with additional e-mail lists, we will forward the invitation to these addresses as well.
- Full colour invitation cards. If we are provided with a postal mailing list of addresses within Canada, these cards will be sent out free of charge.
Other advertising options are available at extra cost (see application form)

- On the evening of the exhibition's opening, the gallery will welcome guests with wine and other beverages.
- Gallery staff will be at hand to receive visitors throughout the exhibition and to organize corporate/cultural events and receptions whenever possible, whether the artists choose or not to be present at the show.

4. Commissions
- Gallery Gora takes a 10% commission on sales during the 3 week exhibition.
- All money due will be sent to you within 10 days of the sale.

5. Shipping
Artists are responsible for all shipping fees and procedures to and from the gallery door.

Yikes! $2400! That seems crazy. But apparently artists are willing to pay. They have a ton of artists listed on their website.

I don't know. Maybe it's just me. Would you pay $2400, pay to ship your work, let them take a 10% commission on any sales, and then pay to ship the unsold work back to you?

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