Sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, and instead of receiving a turndown, it is you who must do the turning down.
Here's reader C.M.:
First of all, this is a great problem to have, no? But as C.M. suggests, not all artist/gallery fits are good. So I'm going to talk not just about how to decline an invitation, but about why you might want to decline. Generally when responding, less is more.
. Is it about a difference in esthetics?
This is easy: I like you and your program, but I don’t think our sensibilities are a good match.
. Is it about the terms by which a gallery expects to do business?
You want a gallery that has good business practices: advertises, makes sales, has a good online presence, holds the best damn openings in town. If they don't do enough of what you need, let them know: I'm accustomed to a situation in which my work will be promoted online and in print, and in which the gallery handles things like pickup and delivery and framing.
. . . . . OK, so this is a difficult time, and some galleries are cutting back to be able to stay in business, but don’t believe a gallery that says "it is gallery policy" to do/not do this or that. Artists who sell better, who have a higher professional profile, typically get more. If you like the gallery but need more than they’re offering you, ask for more. If they can't give it to you, thank them for their interest in you and suggest that perhaps when the economy picks up we can revisit the possiblity of working together.
. Is it about the reputation of the gallery?
If it's got a bad reputation, your response is a no-brainer: It appears that we don't have the same goals. Thank you for your interest in my work. Do not let yourself be cajoled into going against your research--or your instinct.
. Is it about the personalities involved?
If you don't trust the dealer or you really don’t like her/him, that's not the person you want to be involved with. A relationship with a dealer is not sexual (not usually, anyway) but it is certainly personal. If you don’t like the person, that's going to be a hard relationship to maintain. Don’t let yourself be bullied. How have you turned down dates? That's the approach you need to do here, because it really is about personal preference.
. Is it about the level of the gallery?
If it's showing a step-above-hobbyists, that's another no-brainer: I need to be with a gallery whose roster of artists is more closely aligned with my exhibition history and collector base.
. . . . . If it's a good emerging gallery and you’re a mid-level artist, that's a harder call. Does the gallery get reviewed locally or regionally? Are the sales good? If you feel your career is too advanced for the gallery, that may be exactly why they want you. Dealers are looking to move up, just like artists. They may be looking to you to be the person who helps them do that. Assuming you respond to the the esthetic and the folks involved, ask for more: the Art in America or Art Forum ad, a catalog, inclusion in their next art fair.
. . . . . If they say no and you feel there's nothing in it for you, say no: I like the gallery and I like you, but I'm afraid you're going to have to spend so much time and effort developing the careers of your emerging artists that my needs will be overlooked.
. Is the gallery known for never paying on time? If so, don’t assume you will be the exception
. Is the dealer unwilling to share the names of the collectors who acquire your work?A an artist/dealer relationship is based in large part on trust
. Is the dealer a screamer (watch how he treats the staff); a schemer (do you hear stories of artists being pitted against one another); woefully disorganized (payments are late, work gets "lost" or actually misplaced, inventory records are incomplete); a manic type who needs everything yesterday then oh-never-minds after you have killed yourself to deliver?
. Have you heard rumors of the dealer selling at a "discount" but learn the collectors have actually paid full price?
. Does the gallery ask you for money?
. . . . . You may have to ask around to get some of these answers, but the artist information hotline—i.e. conversation, gossip, e-mail inquiries—may yield answers. I have often asked artists about Gallery A, or even a friendly Gallery B about A. I've also e-mailed artists who I know used to be involved in a gallery; I tell them I'm contemplating getting involved with Gallery A and I wonder if they would be willing to share with me, confidentially of course, any insights that might help me make a good decision. People have done the same with me.