Marketing Mondays: The Vanity Gallery

[Update 3.17.10:
After consulting with an attorney, I have decided to reinstate the name of the venue, Ico Gallery, now located in Chelsea.]

I recently got a cease-and-desist e-letter from a pay-to-show venue in Tribeca threatening me with a lawsuit for slander. It reads in part:

You know nothing of the gallery business. What you teach your students and have posted online is fantasy. It is slander, and if you do not remove our information immediately, we will contact the university and the server of your blog and initiate a lawsuit.

It is unfortunate that so many people are subject to the delusions and propaganda concerning the gallery business, vilifying the very people who are making a difference in the art world today. Do your homework rather than spewing lies. Do you claim to know how prominent gallery's are doing business? You are guessing; shame on you!

Why the letter? Because I posted, on a blog I created for my students, a caveat about vanity galleries, including their letter soliciting business.

Here's how I responded to the gallery: It's not slander if it's true.

In the interest of journalism, let me share with you some of my teaching-blog post along with the essence of their offer. I have removed their name from the letter, which means they cannot actually claim it as their own, which means I have violated no "confidentiality." I have posted a short list of vanity galleries at the end of this post without commentary.

As we discussed in class, a "vanity gallery"— so called because you pay to show—typically solicits the artist. There is always a financial charge to the artist, typically to be paid up front to the gallery. This financial arrangement distinguishes the vanity gallery from a commercial gallery, which does not charge the artist to show. Below is an example of a vanity gallery's offering to an artist. It was sent unsolicited to a friend of mine.

I have never heard of this gallery, nor ever received an e-mail from them (and as an art blogger I get A LOT of e-mails from galleries). Their "press" page consists of images of the gallery's advertising in various publications. Normally "press" constitutes reviews of the exhibitions. Note particularly the items in red.

Dear ______,

We recently reviewed your work online and would like to consider you for an upcoming group exhibition at X Gallery. In exchange for your assistance in paying some of your promotional costs, we will feature you in a show here at X Gallery as well as promote your work in print and online for up to 1 year. If you are interested in discussing this opportunity further, I can put you in touch with the gallery Director or the head curator. Details regarding specific exhibitions and marketing plans should be discussed directly with them. Also, we are not negotiable regarding marketing expense or our commission.

Opportunities for solo or small group shows can also be discussed with the director on an individual basis. This letter is not an opportunity to exhibit; it is to express our general interest in working with you.

Gallery Compensation: 50% commission on all sales
Gallery Advertising cost due up front: $2,500

There's more, but you get the picture. No wonder they were concerned that I was commenting on their practices. I'm guessing they don't want to lose their clientele. And they're not alone; there are other galleries with similar arrangements. New York artists know that pay-to-show galleries have no credibility here. Get, say, 20 artists in for a group each month, and there's 50 large to pay the bills, the staff, the gallery expenses. Why bother to sell anything? The money's been made. The galleries are then free to spend their time and effort soliciting the next batch of artists for group--or "solo"--shows.

Legitimate commercial galleries assume the cost of showing an artist's work. They do not solicit for artists; they receive plenty of submission packages.

There are situations in which artists may legitimately pay to show their work—such as the entry fee for a juried show, or membership dues to a co-op gallery—and these options come with some benefits.
. A good juried show (I'm thinking of the annual NYU Small Works show, for instance) attracts a good juror, tpically a New York dealer, critic or curator, and the possibility for networking at the opening. Some artists have found representation, or inclusion in gallery exhibitions, as a result of the exposure.
. The co-op gallery, which typically requires a membership fee, dues, and time requirements, is as the name implies, cooperatively owned and run. You don't give your money to an owner; you are a part owner. Co-op membership comes with a built-in community of artists and an opportunity to present work that doesn't have to be commercially viable. Both can be good opportunities for an emerging artist. Many artists have moved from co-ops to commercial galleries (this is true of gallery directors as well).

Another gallery I know of that solicits artists in a pay-to-show arrangement: Agora Gallery.

Others advertise regularly in the classifieds of the monthly art magazines. The websites of these galleries may not post the financial arrangements, but you you can confirm for yourself the financial nature of the arrangement by letting them know you are "interested" in showing with them. They will lay out their terms.

And check out my blog post, An Offer I CAN Refuse, about a solicitation I received from Gallery Gora in Montreal.

While we're on the topic, who else has received the "invitation to exhibit" at the Bienniale Internationals Dell'Arte Contemporanea in Florence, Italy? Gilbert & George, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, David Hockney and Richard Anuskiewicz have received honors in previous editions of the fair, and Marina Abramovic will be honored this year. The hoi polloi, the not-so-famous artists may participate for the fee of E2700, or something over $3000. Hundreds, I mean hundreds--of artists participated in 2007. An average of 500 artists at 2700 euros is, let me see: one million three-hundred-fifty thousand euros. Nice take. Image from

Am I being cynical and suspicious? Has anyone participated in this? Please share your experience. Any encouragement or caveats for this blog's readers?

And in general, I encourage you to share what you know for this post. Has anyone ever found themselves in a pay-to-show situation? What was it like? Who has been solicited by a pay-to-show gallery? Do you know of other pay-to-show galleries here or in other cities? Feel free to post anonymously if you're uncomfortable with the topic but have something to say.


Eva said...

One time a gallery in Seattle was interested in my work. They approached me - how often does that happen? This was back in the day when it was hard to do a lot of research online - maybe it was 1999 or so - and I couldn't find any reviews of shows there ... but nonetheless I went up one weekend with some paintings. It was only once we had a meeting (and of course he just "loved" my work) that he told me that I would have to pay 1800. for a show! And wow, he would put my work online too (what an offer!). Well, of course I declined. There was no proof that this guy would work for me at all. He had no impetus to sell or promote in any way. His money was made. And to this day, I never hear of that place, I never hear of shows he produces.

nathaniel said...

I hold the same cynicism as you, and immediately delete any such form letter invitations - which I realize I get fairly often when I think about it. I didn't always, and am - even now - not inherently against sharing fees or even covering fees in some instances (an artist-run space or fundraiser or student-run show, for example), but even in these cases, the gallerist or curator should do their research, showing they know and definitely want my work (even specific pieces), investing at least their time in it. I am very wary of anyone who thinks I should be thanking my lucky stars to show with them, and that everything should be "on me". It's not that I don't have a good understanding of how hard it is to be an artist - trust me, I do, and recently took on a full-time job so I could raise a family, while still trying to maintain an art career - but that such relationships enable the ongoing devaluation of art (and artists) rather than adding to public discourse and appreciation of it. I also understand how hard it is to run a gallery, that this is done out of love and that they struggle, often as much as artists do. But as always, there are some who - consciously or not - will take advantage of those (perhaps also?) in a bad situation. I love it when Winkleman says artists need to do their homework when approaching galleries; I'm wary of anyone who doesn't do theirs, and then asks for my money in return.

Eric Gelber said...

I wouldn't worry about any lawsuits Joanne. They definitely don't have a case against you or the money to present you with a lawsuit. It is all hot air that just makes them look guilty as sin. The danger of these vanity galleries should be pointed out again and again, because they prey upon the vulnerable. Artists who are struggling to find people to buy their work would be better off using eBay or Etsy.

Anonymous said...

Joanne, you've now skyrocketed Marketing Mondays into the stratosphere! While I'm sure you probably didn't savor or relish receiving the ol' 'c n' d' letter, it's provided a very powerful topic for discussion.
Or as Norah Ephron's mother taught her, "everything's copy." (This Norah revealed shortly after publishing the roman a clef novel Heartburn, a thinly veiled account of her marriage to Washington Post reporter and co-beaker of Watergate shennigans Carl Bernstein after he was unfaithful to her DURING her pregnancy.
Anyway Joanne, onward and upward Christian soldiers! xo

Anonymous said...

I'm going Anon. on this one because I don't want to be attacked or inundated by any Vanity Galleries.

I had several similar experiences to Eva back in the early 80's and 90's, and all with NYC spaces. Some of the galleries are still operating, and it's both amazing and sad that they are able to convince artists that paying to exhibit is the way it really works. There are a couple galleries that charge over $1500.00, but try to justify it by saying you can earn it back, through a portion of any sales - along with your "commission".

Problem is there are seldom any sales, and you'd need quite a few in order to earn back the !500-2000 you would pay up front.

One gallery said I would get an additional 200.00 plus the "artist price/commission" (part of the dupe - because the artist price/commission is like selling wholesale or below).

The gallery puts their own price on the piece (i.e., artist says they need to get $2,500.00 for their share - the gallery could put the price at 10,000., the artist would get their 2, 500., plus additional 200. if anything sells). Regardless of if there's a sale, the gallery is still getting the upfront fee (from several artists at once, because it's almost always group shows).

One time, I took 12 paintings to a NYC gallery at their request - all seemed to be going along legitimately, until I asked about a contract. First I was told they didn't have contracts - only handshake agreement - after further discussion, they produced a contract - which included the "cost to artist" to exhibit. When I tried to negotiate different points in the contract (especially the fees) they said "There's no negotiating. Either you accept the contract as it is or we won't exhibit you." So I left with my work, after 2 1/2 hours, plus the schlepping, and then the parking lot where I had left my car told me I had to pay the full day rate, despite the fact that when I left the car, they had agreed to only charge me by the hour!!! So it was a costly lesson but I learned from it.

Now, anytime I talk to a gallery or contact them via email or snail mail, I always ask if they charge any fees for showing; is it consignment or actual representation/exhibition agreement; what is the gallery commission; do they use a contract, if so, I would like a copy in advance to review; And for pricing, I ask that we discuss and agree on what the retail price will be, and that we work on a 50/50 split.

This is not always well received, and even a few legitimate galleries took issue with some of these points. I stood my ground though, even if it meant not being able to work together. I currently have representation with several galleries, and everything has worked out splendidly with them. contracts/agreements were negotiated with the best interest of both sides, and I am always paid within 30 days of sales.

Artists need a strong belief in your work, don't sell yourself short - stand up for yourself and beliefs.

Avoid desperation if you can, and don't pay to exhibit your work at a vanity gallery.

Be aware that some of the internet exhibitions are fee based, and not much chance of a sale, and the juried shows that are sponsored by vanity galleries - some are just scams too,.

Rico said...

Every book I've read on making a career as an artist has lambasted these "pay-to-play" galleries, without exception.

While a few may have genuine (though somewhat misguided) intentions, they seem to be the exceptions. The idea in-and-of itself is not without some logic, for all involved; unfortunately there are many people who prey on the vulnerability of those with hopes and dreams.

The very fact that you would get such a thinly veiled threat seems to give more validity to your already just position.

What about the preponderance of these types of "galleries" online? I guess that opens a discussion about the online juried show, no?

I do have a few questions; do you think the average non-art person knows a vanity gallery from an established gallery? Do shiny floors and white walls instantly convey legitimacy to those who simply enjoy going to openings and those on the outset of building a collection? Do you think complaints against these galleries come across as sour grapes? I certainly don't feel that way, but I wonder.

Chris said...

Any gallery soliciting artists for shows by email is bogus, period. That's not the way things happen. A gallery hitting artists with emails like that is the inverse of artists sending out their packets to galleries at which s/he knows no one or has never visited. (BTW, anyone with a gallery, or who is friendly with a gallery director: ask them to show you the box of unopened packets sent by artists from everywhere. I just saw the latest batch at a gallery the other day- it's quite sad, actually. Things don't work that way.)

One thing about your posting the gallery's letter, and this likely doesn't apply here, but shows the complexity of posting other people's content whether or not you agree with general re-use guidelines: if the entire or partial contents of the letter, the exact wording, is also on the website of the gallery that sent the letter, then the gallery can say you've used their public content.

This would also make possible the scenario searching on this content would lead to the website of that gallery, thus making the gallery identifiable. Additionally, a web search would then return URLs to their content at their website and at yours. They can claim a violation there.

As ridiculous as this sounds, and whatever you think about re-use, the law often seems to favor the original content creator or owner, so the gallery would have a leg to stand on, even though it may be a short, skinny leg. In my day job at a major university I have had to field and handle claims from companies and authors about content that professors and students have posted to their own websites, fully attributed, that had to be taken down. The always wonder, gee, how did they find their content on my site? It happens all the time. It's not pleasant getting a letter from a lawyer, even when you're pretty sure you're right.

It's not likely that the contents of that letter is on the gallery's website and so we can't identify the gallery from the letter you post, but these things are not always as simple as they seem at first- the Web is a big tangly mess that can come back in ways you never anticipated to trap you when you aren't looking.

LXV said...

Joanne, I've received communications very much like the one you've shared with us here. They are mighty suspicious in tone, and they are crafted to suck in the desperate. And who hasn't been desperate at some time in their career? It was always my understanding that teachers would sometimes use a vanity gallery because the terms of their employment depended upon ongoing exhibition, so I always looked on them as a necessary evil.

But, the only time I have put up money to show my own work was when I was doing it myself or sharing the costs among fellow artists. And I've put up plenty, along with a lot of sweat equity & heavy lifting too. We all do what we can, but it's important to avoid being taken to the cleaners by these unscrupulous outsiders. How presumptuous of them to accuse you of not knowing the gallery business, with a track record like yours!

My own experience with gallerists teaches me that if they feel like leeches, they probably are and you want to jump out of that pond pronto. The people I work with now are very respectful of me and aboveboard in all our communications (or so it seems, anyway—but I leave the selling to them). The gallery business requires a lot of delicacy, that may at times appear to border on concealment or dishonesty. Artists should remember that they are partners in the deal (handshakes, contracts, whatever) and not be cowed by snotty attitudes and refusal to negotiate. End of Rant

Joanne Mattera said...

Hi, All--

These are great responses. Please share this info with other artists.And keep your comments coming. I'd like to hear real gallery names, too. You may post anonymously.

I have a few responses to specific comments. Rico asks:
. Do you think the average non-art person knows a vanity gallery from an established gallery?
A: Probably not. But the average non-art person is not hitting the upper floors of the gallery buildings where most of these galleries are located. Word gets around as to which are the pay-to-show venues.

. Do shiny floors and white walls instantly convey legitimacy to those who simply enjoy going to openings and those on the outset of building a collection?
A: Well, everyone wants to show in the classic clean, well-lighted space. But if someone is lookig to build a collection, they also need to do their homework. It will be apparent which galleries are helpful in that regard.

. Do you think complaints against these galleries come across as sour grapes?
A: No. Sour grapes implies that you didn't get something you want and as a result are speaking negatively about it. With the pay-to-show galleries that's not the issue. Speaking for myself, I can say only that this is a reported story.

Chris offers some legal advice on reuse. Thanks for this, but I believe I'm OK. For one thing, I am reporting a story, and in so doing I must present the facts as they exist.That's the nature of reporting.

The terms as laid out in the letter are not listed on the gallery website anywhere that I could find. (If I were going artists' money, I'd be embarrassed to post those terms, too.) And there's nothing wrong with listing the names of galleries that I know to have a pay-to-show policy.

Lady Xoc says: "The only time I have put up money to show my own work was when I was doing it myself or sharing the costs among fellow artists." I think we have all at one time or another done exactly that. But the important issue--as with co-op galleries--is that WE create and control the terms of involvement, and WE are the ones who benefit (or not) from the result. That's very different from handing over $1500 or $2500 over to a gallery that never gets written about except by its inhouse publication.

Unknown said...

Re: Bienniale Internationals Dell'Arte Contemporanea in Florence, I was "selected" for the upcoming exhibit in Dec. 2009. On looking at the e-mail-invitation letter I had the feeling it was a pay-to-play deal and probably not critically recognized. But with the big name artists they had thrown into the mix I decided to check out the details. I am director of a study abroad program to Italy in summers, so I am familiar with many of the established exhibitions in the country, and this Bienniale in Florence did not ring a bell. I contacted several of my Italian friends in Milan and Florence, one a PhD in art criticism and two private art collectors. All came back with a similar responses. In so many words they stated, the Bienniale Exhibition in Florence is more about the producers of the exhibition and less about the art and the artists. My friends that live in Florence said they went one year out of interest and found the quality was very uneven. They stated that the audience was mostly the exhibiting artists and virtually no collectors, curators or outsiders seemed to attend. These friends are connected with the Gallery scene in Flo. and they said the galleries there don't take any notice of this Bienniale. I also contacted an artist from Canada that did participate two years ago and she said it was very expensive, not well organized and did not draw the crowds she expected. So, out of four people having similar observations on this exhibition it confirmed what I suspected and I am not pursuing this venue.

Donna Thomas said...

Sometime last year I received a very flattering e-mail from the Agora Gallery offering me "representation." The price of the representation made my head spin. I then did some research on the Web and came to understand the term "vanity gallery." I declined their offer.

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of e-mail offers for advertising spreads in various publications. These are quite expensive. If I had that kind of money, I'd be using it to pay down debt! Yeah, thanks, but, no.

Catherine Carter said...

If the gallery you mentioned was indeed a "real" gallery, they wouldn't have time to be composing threatening letters. Instead, they would be sending out press packets, wooing collectors, painting the walls -- i.e., doing "real" work.

I sincerely doubt, in the highly unlikely event that this ever did make it to court, that any judge would do anything but read over the case, roll her eyes and throw it out of court.

Casey Klahn said...

Joanne, you didn't invent the name "vanity gallery" - it carries it's own meaning. What is their motivation to sell your work? Not as much as the standard gallery.

I did participate in one in Seattle early in my career. I had a personal (face to face) invite and this is consistent with what I consider the right way to get involved with a gallery. Be invited or referred via word of mouth.

I only made half of my $200 per month back, and so ended this after @ 9 months. They were nice people, and I am open to all forms of commerce without prejudice. However, it wasn't the direction my career needed. I advise against vanity galleries.

Now, I'm off to cash the check from my regular gallery sale (SEG)...

Anonymous said...

Bienniale Internationals Dell'Arte Contemporanea in Florence is a wonderful chance for mostly retired people who have the time and money to get back to their love 'ART'.
They get to have good communication with the other artists in the show. There is usually a car or something. Everybody enjoys. There are always very important people involved. So the quality is top notch. Important people don't lie. And when I was there a visitor come in..

The exhibition gives people a chance. It's about peace. And chance costs money. So does peace!

Artists come from all backgrounds - bankers, teachers, hairdressers, and some even in the lawn-mowing business.

These are all successful people who have reached a crossroad. They made a choice. They are artists - and they have a show.

Take a look at the people on the Florence Jury. All very important people, and successful. Look at the names and read them. Note that they are there to ensure trust and quality. They would not be involved otherwise.

Here is a list of the people, involved past and present, taken from the Biennale website :

"The 2009 International Jury

The international jury has, for many years, played a very important role in the life of the Biennial. Its role is to assess the artists that take part in the exhibition and provide them with the international award for art and culture "Lorenzo il Magnifico".

In past editions famous art critics and historians such as Barbara Rose, Dore Ashton, Teresa Ortega Coca, Veronika Birke, Former Director of the Albertina Museum of Vienna and Julian Zugazagoitia, Director of the Barrio Museum of New York, have been part of the event. The art critic and Art Director of the Biennale from 1999 to 2005, John T. Spike, was also a part of the jury.

The jury had the honour of awarding important artists in the art world such as Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Richard Anuszkiewicz, David Hockney, Mario Luzi, Alfredo Zalce, Carla Fracci and Ferruccio Soleri. Furthermore, important institutions such as the Restoration Laboratory of the Vatican Museums and the Ferrari have also been awarded."

Joanne Mattera said...

Are you an artist? Have you participated in the Florence Biennial? Have you been there? You sound like the PR person for this event.

bill said...

Anon's "response" is actually an ad the way I read it.

Anonymous said...

In a sense it is an ad, Bill. Yes I am an artist and I have participated.

Just because you are 60 or 70 doesn't mean life is over. Artists get to meet some very important people. They enjoy the sights. And on the final evening there is a dinner with distinguished quests and a glass of wine. There is a presentation, the special guest artist calls 'bingo'. There are songs and much much more. There is even romance. Dancing goes on till the wee hours. Card tables can be set up. Some prefer to do a few late night laps around the castle. It's a village full of similar aged and like-minded people who have come from all over the world. Once a member you are free to return at a modest cost.

One returning artist says, 'This is my 5th time. I've met new people. My art has got better. I've had fantastic critical advice. Life is full'.

And indeed, it makes no sense running on half-empty.

Making A Mark said...

Joanne - an excellent post and I'll be highlighting this post on 'who's made a mark this week' next Sunday and recommending people come and read it.

I've not seen one of these letters before but I've certainly heard about the nature of the terms of business that this type of gallery insists on.

What really puzzles me is why various artists and art organisations advertise some of these galleries - like the Agora - through links on their websites.

To me, it's like advertising the fact that the only place you can get your work shown is in a vanity gallery. I'd expect that any reputable 'normal' B&M gallery which saw advertising for a vanity gallery on a website would run a mile from the owner of that website. It certainly doesn't seem like the best idea if your business goal is gallery representation - by the vast majority of galleries who work to a completely different business model.

Anonymous said...

I received an email from Agora Gallery stating that my website had been added to their links page and they were requesting a reciprocal link. I replied that I did not have a links page on my website and that I would not be adding them to my website and that I was not interested in exhibiting with them. Last I checked they had removed my website from their links page.

Probably some artists get caught in the same situation and provide the reciprocal link. I, however, wanted no connection to them.

ska said...

As an artist for over 40 years and a college gallery director for 15, I have come across many variations of the vanity gallery. One DC gallery (no longer around) asked me to travel 100 miles and bring 12 paintings for show consideration. After offering me a show, it was then explained that it was required that a catalog of my work be printed at my expense. I declined and the show evaporated. Other versions include some non profit co-op galleries (2 in Richmond, VA), that require members and/or non-members to pay for their solo exhibitions, saying they need the money to pay the rent. I still consider this a vanity gallery "practice". Particularly since such co-op galleries expect members to pay for their invitations, reception food and a commission as well. Double dipping. Such practices take advantage of artists wanting increased visibility and shows and, while many artists do this when no other choice exists, its a bad practice and unprofessional. The third verision of vanity gallery practices I have come across is the "commercial" gallery that doesnt handle sales and sales taxes. This forces artists to lie to the IRS and state or to pay for a City license to practice, even if no sales occur. The artist must then file quarterly and prove they have made no sales. I cancelled a scheduled show last year in Virginia when, two weeks before the show I was told that I was responsible for handling sales and sales taxes.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 2:07,

You're describing a cruise ship.
If you wish to participate in this biennial, bingo and all, that is of course your prerogative. My point is that in terms of professonal advancement--and here, I'm thinking of "advancement" as something that propels one's career forward with legitimate galleries, museums and collectors--then this venue does not appear to be viable in that regard. Paying to show is not the best way to advance your career (the exceptions being what I noted in my original post).

Personally, I'd rather spend my money in Firenze on an actual vacation. But that's me.

Anonymous 7:20,
I have also received the e-mail invitation from Agora to link to them. I said NO, IN CAPS. Now I'm going to go check again. The last thing I want is to be connected to that gallery in any way.

I took pictures there, by the way--all the "solo" shows are set up in booth-like spaces, so each month about 15 artists can have "solo" shows--an oxymoron, since a solo is by definition, one artist, one gallery.

LXV said...

Joanne: "...all the "solo" shows are set up in booth-like spaces, so each month about 15 artists can have "solo" shows--an oxymoron, since a solo is by definition, one artist, one gallery."

Yes, I remember this from one of the "Invitations to Exhibit" that I received a long time ago. The letter (2 pages, both sides) went on and on about exactly how much wall space (to the inch) would be provided for my "solo" show. In fact, it wasn't until these details were revealed that my suspicions were aroused. Needless to say, the letter went straight into the round file.

On another point raised here, I generally feel it is only good manners to ask permission to include a link on one's website or blog, unless it is a public institution like a museum. However, I have gone and linked to yours and many other art blogs without asking, with the idea of "sharing the good news" or "getting the word out". I also enjoy the spirit of reciprocity among artists. It seems like a supportive thing to do. But I hate the idea of chasing down links in places I do not wish to appear connected.

What is your sense of proper protocol in this regard?

Joanne Mattera said...

Good, question, LX.

I never ask permission to make links to my blog. Blogs are all about communication, and their very nature allows for links to be made easily to artists, galleries, museums and other blogs.

And I never mind being linked to other blogs. If a blogger asked me to removce the link, I would. On occasion I have been asked to change a listing, or to remove a defunct URL. I do.

As for websites, I take them on a case-by-case basis. I have a Google Alert, so when my name pops up, I check it out. Most of the time I am happy to be linked. But when a vanity gallery or hobby website or what I perceive as a suspect commercial enterprise wants to link, I say no. And if they have already linked, I ask them to remove it.

Part of the price we pay for such accessibility is that we do have to be extra vigilant in how and where we are linked.

Anonymous said...

I was fooled by three different galleries (that are still in business) in the 1990’s. They include Denise Bibro who seems to have gone straightish, Walter Wickiser, who used to want lots of money but who knows now and another dealer at 526 W. 26 st- Caelum Gallery. This one stills smells of vanity when I pass by. I was so angry when I got caught in the webs of these people as I had took them for legitimate. I think one of the posts was accurate about professors needing shows to get raises or tenure and they help to make these thieves possible. Caelum feeds on foreign artists desperate to show in New York.

This is a quote from the “about” section of Wickiser’s gallery “Clients and visitors to the gallery have included Woody Allen, Betsy Bloomingdale, Kim Catrall, Leo Castelli, Michael Douglas, Alex Katz, Phillip Pearlstein, Sally Michel Avery, Sarah Kuniyoshi, Ted Koppel, Jacklyn Kennedy Onassis, Geraldo Rivera, Sam LeFrak and Paul Volker.” It is weird since half these people are dead!

Any real gallery would never advertise the "famous" people who frequent it. But since there are photos to prove some of the text perhaps Woody Allen was once there. But is this a reason to show with someone?

There are so many legitimate dealers out there that it is a pity that a few bad apples spoil the mix.

There is nothing wrong for my money for artists who are having solo shows with a gallery to put up some funds for catalogues or ads if the dealer is unable to pay for them but I don't like it and prefer my agents to pay for these things. But in tough times one might have to bit the bullet.

The best way to identify a vanity gallery is to talk to other artists, gossip travels very fast.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon 5:58,

Thanks for this report. You are absolutely correct when you say, "gossip travels very fast." I can tell you that no money changed hands at Bibro when I curated the recent Bloxpix show there; everything and everyone was very professional.

Another thought here: Look at what galleries get reviewed in the Times and in the national art magazines. Not that every gallery does, but the vanities definitely do not.

Todd Camplin said...

Vanity galleries do nothing to promote your work to museums and important collectors either. It is an art to pick a gallery. I took two classes in grad school on the subject and it really help me think about my choices of displaying my work.

NURKIN said...

Hey Joanne... I stumbled onto your blog and I love it. Thanks for being such a great resource.


Anonymous said...

Joanne, it may sound like a cruise ship but it's the art experience that counts. With over 700 artists and 45 visitors attending you do the math. That's 744 people looking at your art. And if you are looking for a more tanglbe return, as mentioned, there are the late night card tables.

During the day I sold postcards. Others had belts and bags brought from their respective countries. There were trades and outright sales. I don't think you can call that Vanity.

Thank you... see you there!

rebel belle said...

Good post Joanne!

I think you'll be seeing a lot more vanity type galleries pop up now, or a new hybrid of legitimate venues charging for things that ordinarily the gallery would have sucked up themselves. We're entering a new realm of disaster for the mid tier galleries. The question they are asking themselves is how do they stay in business and remain ethical.

The Florence Bogus Biennale is really a travesty. It's sad that the uniformed are duped into thinking that this is a legitimate venue.

Joanne Mattera said...

Rebel Belle says: "We're entering a new realm of disaster for the mid tier galleries."

Next Monday's post is about exactly this: changes in the ways galleries do business. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joanne Mattera said...

I removed that last post. It was from the Anonymous who seems to be an advertiser for the Florence Biennial, or such an apologizer for it that the PR is tiresome. As they say in Firenze: Basta

Franklin said...

With over 700 artists and 45 visitors attending you do the math. That's 744 people looking at your art.This is hilarious in too many ways to list.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Franklin. Finally someone has read. And gets it:) Totally absurd.

And here's me scratching my head wondering... why doesn't anyone pick up...


vivien said...

I get these all the time and they go straight to spam

I totally agree - no decent gallery uses these tactics

AND they still expect their 50% commission I notice!

I have occasionally done a show with friends and hired the local gallery (as well as the commercial gallery, no fees route) and we hire for about £100 for the week and take care of most of our own publicity.

Tim McFarlane said...

I've received my share of suspect emails about the bogus bienale as well as some from vanity art mags promising the world for a lot of hard-earned cash. In fact, I was shocked recently when I saw an acquaintances email announcing their inclusion in what is clearly a vanity publication that will likely not be seen by anyone serious about collecting art.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is really a one sided argument here isnt it. I represent Ico Gallery, the gallery in question. The letter Joanne has posted has been edited to support her argument. She forgot to post the second half of the letter which goes into detail about where your money goes and what exactly you pay for. I am not claiming that Ico Gallery's offer is for everybody. I am quite concerned however that Joanne feels entitled to edit information that was not sent to her and post it publicly to slander a corporation. I am happy to provide the exact letter as was sent to anyone interested. Ico Gallery represents artists on many different levels with varying financial agreements. The $2,500 dollars solicited in the letter goes towards catalogues, ads, invitations (both physical and online) and mailing expenses. We offer artists many different ways to gain exposure, promote, and sell works. This can be beneficial to certain people and for others maybe not. Learn to make a decision for yourself and dont let other artists who have had poor experiences intimidate you. BTW major advertisements in credibly art magazines cost a TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF MONEY. Gallery's that advertise the most are typically the ones who receive the best reviews. Does this mean that art publications are "Vanity" publications? This is a business people, you can reduce everything into a simple format that fits neatly into a little box wrapped in ribbon.

P.S Please do not delete this as you did when one of my associated posted on your blog 2 weeks ago. If you do not allow free speech concerning our copyright material we will pursue this matter further.

Joanne Mattera said...

Art Guy says: "The $2,500 dollars solicited in the letter goes towards catalogues, ads, invitations (both physical and online) and mailing expenses."

Art Guy, those expenses are WHY a gallery takes a 50% commission. The artist makes the work; the dealer markets and sells the work. Both parties share in the sale.

Re deletion: If you had identified yourself as the Ico gallerist, I would not have deleted the post. (Was it with regard to the Florence Biennale?) I'm not trying to shut you out. If you follow this blog, you know that it's about inclusion, not exclusion.

But I must again respond to your your "slander" comment by repeating myself: It's not slander if it's true. Of course you have every right to run your business as you see fit; it's your business. But as an artist who has been showing for many years, I know that paying to show is not in the best interest of the artist. And as an artist, and a blogger, I state my opinion. Opinion is never slander; it's free speech.

Also, I did not identify your letter as having come from Ico Gallery, you did. The letter could have come from any one of a number of pay-to-show galleries.

MrMiner said...

Opportunities to emerging artists do not come often, ESPECIALLY in New York. A gallery that charges $5,000 for "pay-to-show" is not appropriate. A gallery that charges $2,500 and OFFERS YOU marketing materials, advertisements in major publications and a foot in the door with their established patrons is A GREAT DEAL if you can afford it.

Being a gallerist and an artist, I see both sides of the argument. I've learned over the years that unless everyone knows your name, things will not be handed to you on a silver platter. This is true for both artists AND galleries. Being an artist is running your own business, and as I'm sure everyone knows, starting a business requires a FINANCIAL INVESTMENT. Every wonder why companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising each and every year? I've had my artwork in many juried shows to add "lines to my resume," but they don't do anything more than that. $100 a pop adds up quickly for "filler" on your resume. If I invested with a gallery that would actually have done something for me five years ago instead of wasting money on jury fees, my painting career would probably be a lot more profitable right now.

Some galleries show emerging artists at no expense, but the gallery owner makes their money from buying and selling Picasso and Dali prints in the "back room." If you are LUCKY ENOUGH to find a gallery to that will invest $40,000 into you, please TAKE THE OFFER!!! Most artists will NEVER receive such an offer and have to work really hard to struggle through life. If you can afford the expenses that a reputable gallery charges, please do so. It might just be the million dollar lottery ticket that you've prayed for. Just MAYBE you will be lucky enough to have a celebrity or an aristocrat see your work and buy one of your paintings.

Imagine working at a gallery for a minute. Most gallery owners invest thousands upon thousands of dollars of their own money and only see one or two paintings sell a month. I put my heart and soul into my gallery, but If I don't sell a painting this month, I can't pay the rent for my apartment, let along pay for my operating costs. There is no money to be made working at an art gallery. The gallery business is a labor of love, and I'll be damned if I'm criticized for trying to help a fellow artist put food in their mouth.

To expect fame and fortune to be given to you is ridiculous. Unless your willing to invest time and money into your career, you're probably going to starve. Seeing that your art career is a business, 80% of you are going to fail trying to establish yourself. Complaining that no one buys your work (no one will buy it if they don't know it's available), or stating "I don't pay to exhibit my work" (again, no gallery will pay to show your "average" paintings) is not going to elevate you to the 20% that are able to successfully make a meager $30,000 to survive as "professional artist."

Joanne Mattera said...

I smell another ad here. "MrMiner," please identify your gallery, otherwise I'm going to assume yours is a pay-to-show venue, or that you are a shill for one.

I'm going to quote from Jackie Battenfield's new book, "The Artist's Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What you Love."

Here we go, page 131: "Beware of vanity galleries...They are not career builders. Reputable galleries do not charge the artist for shows. Your art will be better served if you spend your time and money looking elsewhere."

Artists, here's a simple test:
Look at the names of the artists who have shown at vanity galleries. Have you ever heard of even one of them?

Here's another:
Look at the resumes of artists who have met with success. Do you see the name of a vanity gallery on there?

MrMiner said...

Please READ my post AND address what I have typed. It makes for a much better discussion when you actually respond directly to the previous post.

You know what happens when you ASSume something, right Ms. Mattera? Just because you read something doesn't make it true! Do you believe everything you read? I hope that is NOT the case.

Look at any gallery website and see how many names are "household" names. There are 100,000 working artists in NYC, and you might know the name of 100 of them. There are over 350 galleries in Chelsea alone; if 100 galleries have one "household" name, that would leave 250 galleries with only "nameless" artists.

Let's look at the bio of Chris Ofilii, one of the most famous contemporary artists. He was brought to the limelight by Charles Saatchi, owner of Saatchi Gallery. This is a gallery who rents out its space to ANYONE for money. A vanity gallery? No. It's gallery who understands how the world works. Why would you pay to ONLY exhibit your work there? Because the gallery is international famous. How did Ofili get FAMOUS? By creating SHOCKING art that garnered attention. What did he do to MAKE MONEY as an artist? He made dishes to be sold commercially!

Ever wonder why people pay Agora Gallery? Because EVERYONE in NYC knows Agora's name and goes there to see artwork and attend lavish parties. You pay for name recognition. Ever wonder why a Mac costs twice as much as a PC? Why does Sony cost more than Insignia? You get what you pay for! Every wonder why companies give celebrities free products? EXPOSURE! Would any gallery in the world pay for an exclusive to recently found Jackson Pollock's? Of course! Would they cover the cost for a no name artist from Williamsburgh? Of course NOT!

Joanne Mattera said...


Identify yourself, with an actual website, and I will address your issues. Otherwise, I will see you simply as a shill for a vanity gallery and this post will be closed to further comments.

No New Yorker with any serious involvement in the art world goes to, or shows at, or writes about any show at Agora or any other pay-to-show gallery. No one, never, nothing. It's the out-of-towners who get reeled in. So readers, caveat emptor.

Art Pugilist said...


I cant help but notice that one of the galleries you curated at has been accused of being a vanity gallery. Is this true? Cause it certainly wouldnt help your argument. When you say that no money exchanged hands do you mean that no sales occurred or that no artists paid?


Joanne Mattera said...


The curators were invited by the gallery, and the curators in turn invited the artists. No one paid anything to show. If there were sales, they would have been handled by the gallery with the appropriate commission being split between artist and dealer. The gallery handled the invitations, the PR and the opening. In my experience, totally legit.

Reggie said...

So the gallery didn't sell any paintings? That must make it a "vanity gallery" since they didn't "try" to sell any paintings. Someone had to have paid the rent that month.

Joanne Mattera said...

I think you have read an entirely different post from the one I just wrote. Let me introduce to to "MrMiner," "ArtGuy" and the Florence Biennial person and you all just chat among yourselves.

Unknown said...

I am an artist who lived in Florence for ten years, and have been invited to show at the Biennale several times. I declined, firstly because the art market in Florence is not pro-active nor alive, and the goal of the event seemed more like a desire to imitate real art events and make money on the part of its founders. With the many artists I know in Florence, I never heard one of them mention that they even attended, and I never did either. I know, that's supposedly very bad of me to not go and see this incredible new art vibe in Florence (haha), but I think it's bogus to attend, pay the entrance fee, and thereby support the idea of screwing 2700 euros from emerging artists to provide awards to the famous ones.
The second reason why I would never apply is that I also personally know John Spike, the art critic and one of the jury members for several years. He decided to attend the "hanging" of a show I put together with fellow artists. He pulled aside one girl and her painting and said, "I am now going to tell you why this is not a Manet." Another time he cornered me at an exhibition of mine to inform me that since I had given one of my paintings a certain title, and he didn't like the title, he was not going to buy the painting, even though he loved it. I just said that's nice more or less, because I got the feeling he was looking to have fun debating with an unknown artist and making the artist feel bad and himself important, and I didn't feel like boosting his ego.
Not so long afterwards I started receiving the invitations....

Nancy Natale said...

Wow, you sure stirred up the nut jobs with this one, Joanne. Do those guys really think that artists will take them seriously? Apparently they believe their own PR. I hope that inexperienced artists who read your blog will learn something from this post (and comments) and be less trusting of these con artists.

Franklin said...

Let's go over this again.

If you pay a gallery to exhibit your work, they will make money whether they sell it or not. Reputable galleries - galleries with which you will benefit from association - will not ask you to do this. Reputable galleries will invest their own resources in the promotion and sale of your art, confident or at least hopeful that their commission from sales will exceed their expenses. If they don't agree to that arrangement, they are not committing themselves to your work in a serious manner. You would better spend these four-digit sums producing and distributing your own materials, taking out your own advertising, buying supplies, buying time to work, or really anything else.

Joanne hardly needs my assistance, but I would happily take apart MrMiner and ArtGuy point by point, especially the risible one about the "recently found (cough) Jackson Pollock's." Suffice it to say that they are talking rubbish.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Franklin, Nancy, Rebecca and all. The bottom line here is that owners of pay-to-show galleries have a vested interest in maintaining their businesses, thus maintaining the illusion that a pay-to-show gallery is a worthwhile expenditure for an artist. They can blather all they wish but we know better--and I hope other artists understand that we have no vested interest and can thus speak the truth about them.

With the economy what it is these days, a do-it-yourself approach--whether it's creating a print catalog, a great website, a short-term cooperative venture, a print project, you name it--is a better use of an artist's precious promotional dollars. Artists control every aspect of the project, and any profits go directly to the artists.

Artists, caveat emptor!

Larry said...

Joanne: "Thanks for this report. You are absolutely correct when you say, "gossip travels very fast." I can tell you that no money changed hands at Bibro when I curated the recent Bloxpix show there; everything and everyone was very professional."

I can believe this. I know two of the people at Bibro quite well, and I consider them both very professional. I recently purchased one piece from them and hope to acquire more in the future. And they have some very good artists: for example I only wish I could have afforded one of the mixed-media constructions by David Barnett they showed about 3-4 months ago. As a collector, if I had any sense that Bibro was a vanity gallery, I would not patronize them; on the other hand, I have stopped in at Agora twice and seen nothing I considered of distinction there.

george searing said...

for the artist that wants to get known you need to get outand show your work. I recall the story of how Calder got his start. he rented a space in the city paid for it and sold his early peices for 50$. the rest is history! Doing the outdoor shows the ones that have a good following are a good way to start . You may get lucky and sell to one who can give you a leg up . I remember when I sold paintings at one of these t shows to the financial analyast for Sotheby's his job was to travel around the world and keep an eye on the art sales and trends for the company. I also met a lady who also bought work form me and it turned out shewas the art ed director for Lincoln Center. The art buisness is a crazy way to make a living but for those of us who cannot stop trying its never dull. Vanity galleries are a joke just go out and do what you can to get known just stay away form the parasites. PS Johanna check out my website I think its up your alley.

Pretty Lady said...

My God, Joanne, I cannot believe this thread is still active, much less that someone from Ico Gallery continues to defend the indefensible. I blogged about Ico awhile back; probably their 'cease and desist' letter never reached me because I blocked their correspondence. If they wish to court good press in the blogosphere, it is unwise to insult bloggers who decline their oh-so-generous offers.

It's probably useless to confront MrMiner with facts, because his understanding of economics is as shaky as his English language skills, but for what it's worth: MrMiner, artists DO invest financially in our work. A partial list of what we invest in:

*Art supplies
*Studio rent
*Power tools
*Photographic equipment
*Digital imaging equipment
*Computer equipment
*Transportation of self and artwork
*Opportunity cost of NOT working a full-time, paid job that would absorb our creative energy
*Time spent on activities like blogging and attending openings, wherein we display the brilliance and scintillating personalities which genuinely attract fans, patrons and reputable dealers.

Asking an artist to pay their dealer's expenses is to insist both that artist's investments have no value (which is a pretty poor platform upon which to sell art) and to expect the artist to do the dealer's job. It's parasitic and insulting.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thank you for this response. The reason this thread is still active is because it's such a hot-button issue. Who among us has not been approached at least once by such a gallery?

Folks, if you are still hanging onto this thread, by all means click on over to Pretty Lady's blog to read her post about the same topic.

Pretty Lady said...

Who among us has not been approached at least once by such a gallery?

And what a relief it is to know this! Whenever I am approached by these galleries I start to wonder if I've got 'idiot victim' tattooed on my forehead, or at least on my paintings. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Your red squares will never sell, that's probably why you should pay them!

Anonymous said...

As much as I have a problem with Vanity galleries, you aren't exactly correct in telling your students that regular galleries don't charge artists... actually they do and it's called a commission.

Galleries are a business (as a artist, I don't like this end of it either), but they are making money one way or another- they have to. Money is either made up front or after a sale, but the artist pays one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for this information! I am a new artist and was recently contacted via email by a gallery in San Francisco. I inquired by email as to what the fees were and they insisted on a phone meeting to discuss details. The fee is $400/ month to show in a cubicle and 40% commission on top of that.

I was so intrigued because of the location of this gallery and the high profile they convey on their website. But during the phone call something felt "off", like they were trying to sell me too hard. I then started Googling about art galleries that charge fees and ended up here. Thank God! You have saved me grief and a lot of money!

Being self-taught and without much connection to other artists, I never would have known about this if you had not warned people here. Thank you!

Karen Borga said...

Yikes. I think I may be getting in over my head... but here is my question. I am in the infancy stage of starting a spiritual center in town. I have envisioned having an art gallery that can be used as a yoga room, or class room if need be.

I was considering renting space to the artists, just like I would be renting space to the reiki healer, massage therapists, and other practitioners.

I now read this is a vanity gallery... and well, don't want to be considered less than positive. I wanted to make a place where people can share with their gifts and all benefit.

This is the first site I have read, and now I have no idea if I should consider this for the local artists. Amazing. I thought it would be an incredible opportunity for everyone.

I thought openings would be great for all the players involved... and having a place to show their work in town would help. We don't have any artist galleries in town... except the hospital.

Can you please help me with this? I am a bit saddened. Thank you.

Joanne Mattera said...


Your thinking is coming from "community"--a far cry from the motive that propels a vanity gallery.

The very fact that you're thinking as you are means you are not a vanity gallery. WHo are the aritst in your area working with spiritual themes? Or who are involved in community-based art projects? Are there non-profit arts organizations in the area that might share some info with you?

One thing you might do is get together a group of local or regional artists as a "board" to help you select artists, or perhaps to jury artists who are interested in showing in your space. You might even want to think about incorporating as a non-profit, which might make you eligible for grant money, and certainly for some tax breaks.

Good luck.

Tina Mammoser said...

Ah dear. ArtGuy your COMMISSION should go towards all those expenses. Oddly, most galleries work that way. :)

Joanne, while Ico have outed themselves as the sender of the letter I do know a different NYC gallery has made similar threats online in a forum. Unfortunately (as a moderator at the time I saw all the background communication) while we welcomed them to post in the thread, which they did, they seemed unable to offer more than insults about the artists who knew so little about the gallery world - many of the participants in the thread being fulltime selling artists who have worked with galleries.

Unfortunately the gallery's legal representation was stronger than the forum's and the threads were pulled simply for financial reasons.

I will say that vanity galleries, or pay to display, aren't necessarily bad. But the ones I have used (and in fact am using at the moment) are essentially hiring walls. The price reflects that fairly and it's down to artist intiative. So if you have a particular show in mind, a strong mailing list and simply no space at the moment it can be a viable alternative.

The costs of catalogues and ads keeps coming up, yet so many successful galleries don't use those methods - knowing that traditional print routes are pretty lean on returns. An emerging artist doesn't need a catalogued show - they need a show that shows the work well, with enthusiastic staff, and a great viral cooperative promotional campaign. That can include some print, but not in inapprorpiate places that costs thousands of $$. If the return were that good on these expenses outlays then the galleries in question wouldn't have to charge artists - the volume of sales would compensate and their commission would be their return on investment! Again, like most regular commercial galleries.

Anonymous said...

I’m new to all of this. I don’t know, but the Agora model seems like a legitimate business model. If it so hard for an artist to break in then why not pay for representation? This is sort of like paying a career coach for mid to upper level executives. How does this differ from paying a couple of hundred dollars to have someone do a portfolio review for me?

Joanne Mattera said...

If after everything you've read here, you still think Agora is a good business model, go ahead and pay them your money--somewhere between $2500 and $4000. Don't expect sales, because the vanities have your money up front. And don't expect any critic, curator or commercial gallery to take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the Agora Gallery model, you are paying about 3 grand for 10 linear feet of wall space for ONE show. And they don't do anything in the way of actual representation. I've seen their contract and terms. It's simply a con.

Unknown said...

I wrote a long, wonderful post but got a service error. Suffice to say, vanity galleries prey on artists desperate to show.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, great discussion, interesting views.

...and then, of course, there is a relative of Vanity Galleries - Vanity Art Publications (with their own e-mail templates, fees and promises).

kimberly said...

Thanks for being a beacon shining a light in the darkness where these cockroaches would prefer to hide. I was not aware of these Vanity Galleries, and am so glad you have shared this warning with us. It is shocking they charge $2500!!! Don't worry about a lawsuit, they are just afraid of you. They are probably too stingy to pay I a lawyer's fees anyway. The comments are just as fascinating, I've learned a lot! THANKS!!! I popped over on the link Gwen has on her blog.

Anonymous said...

I was once contacted by email from "Amsterdam Whitney Gallery" in Chelsea NYC. It said they were interested in giving me a show. I responded asking where they saw my work (I live in Indianapolis) and wanted more info.

I immediately got a response...not answering my questions, but telling me I was "accepted into their family of artists". I was aked to complete a from that would be arriving in the mail and return it to the gallery. I got the form, saw the fee. At that time it was about $1500/year for a one month show on a 10x10 ft. wall space in the gallery, press material and coverage, opening , etc.

I never responded and decided it was a scam. The owner of the gallery called me at my home one day!!! I was shocked. she asked when I would be sending the contract. I asked her a couple questions about the gallery...How long it's been there? What galleries she had been with before, etc.

The woman transformed into Cruella Deville, told me that was not relevant to our business together, told me to decide and send in the contract if I wanted to be part of "the family of artists" and ended the conversation. YIKES!!!

Needless to say that was the end of it. I admit to being taken in initially. It was disappointing. I had not heard of this kind of gallery before. It's a bit sickening: preying on artists. Is it not hard enough for us? Tahnk you Joanne.

I think this gallery stills exists....AMSTERDAM WHITNEY GALLERY in Chelsea NYC.

Joanne Mattera said...

The gallery does still exist. I think you have said it all. Thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...

I got a contact email from my website today from the Ico gallery. They are now calling themselves the Ico Sahedron Gallery. Still in Chelsea.

an extract:
"...and fill out the submission form. This will assist both parties in determining the extent of your exhibition. Please note that if you are an emerging artist, with no sales track record or auction record available we may ask you to assist with the cost of your catalogue. If we determine that we are a match and can work together, then you will be compensated for your catalogue costs."

dendy said...

thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Is there any way to get out of a Agora contract? I was one of the suckers who didn't do enough research on them, and now my work is stuck up in New York with them until October. ugh....

Anonymous said...

Hello. I was formally "represented" by Agora Gallery. I can't say anything good about them - either how they handled my art or how they treated me as a person. The Gallery director is rude and snobbish and the assistants dismissive. Really . . . after spending all of that money? Thank goodness I only contracted for 1 year. All they really have to offer is an address on your resume. But, I will say that this address has opened many other doors for exhibiting and I am now represented by a real gallery in DC and have 2 museum exhibits on my resume as well. So, while I can't endorse Agora (and would fall on the floor laughing if they went out of business) perhaps there is a place for these vality galleries for artists who are trying to break into the art market?

Anonymous said...

I do not work for the Florence Biennial, but know curators in Florence who confirmed that this is a real event. The work isn't always exceptional but it is a United Nations event and real artists, like David Hockney, DO attend. HOWEVER, you are generally nominated and then juried into the exhibit and you will receive a very professional folder with information in the mail. I have heard of artists getting the E-mail and making payments and such and ending up being scammed. I am participating in this event, I was sponsored and did not have to pay, and was careful to be sure it was legitimate when I received the invitation (in the mail). As I said, although I was told the work isn't always exceptional, it is a fun event and cannot hurt an artists reputation because it is more like a juried show than anything else (you do not have the right to sell your work there). Just be wary if you get an E-mail because it probably isn't from the actual biennial!!

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that vanity galleries don't serve a purpose. Not every artist is on the same track or motivated by money or sales. Not every artist wants or needs accolades or to be written up in a magazine.

In an 50/50 art gallery, you pay to sell. You may not pay to show, but in the end, you pay money to get your art sold. Art costs alot of money to sell, bottom line.

I'm starting a new gallery in Santa Fe. We've lost so many galleries this year. We are the 2nd or 3rd largest art market in the US. Things are going to have to change and with my gallery. I'm doing a hybrid of a traditional gallery and a coop.

The artist invited will become a member but will not be involved in day to day operations ie working in the gallery, marketing, etc. They pay $100 for a large wall in the gallery and I do the promotion and "run" the gallery.

Since there is an up front cost, we have lowered our take to an 80/20 split - more like a coop.

Each member artist also has a vote in decisions such as deciding on opening dates, which artist to feature, basically the what, when, where and how of the business.

The reality is most artist have to work other jobs and can't work at a coop at the same time. Also, many galleries cannot rely solely on artist sales to pay the bills. This setup takes the risk out of the current "traditional" artist/gallery setup.

In the art world, we all have to pay to show and sell. It's always good to have choices in these matters.

Anonymous said...

I have a question as a young person interested in getting into the art world on the business/gallery side of things. I recently started an internship and realized that it's with a "vanity gallery." This is not the kind of gallery I would want to associate with in my future because I think being involved directly in the art community is very important, not merely taking money from artists while standing on the sidelines.

I guess my question is, as a young person with a lot of student loans (I cant afford most internship offers) and an incomplete degree (so not qualified yet to be considered for most jobs yet) is it worth staying around here to use it as "experience" or not?

Joanne Mattera said...

I am just getting back to this post. It has beenup for several years and people are atill posting. It has touched a nerve. I urge you to share it with friends, because the anities are still trolling for you. I'm responding to the commenters just above this comment.

C.R., You have described a version of a co-op gallery, not a vanity gallery. You sound sincere and aware, and your prices and terms are eminently fair. Best of luck with your venture.

Anonymous 9:18, Don't give up your internship if you need the money. Observe how things are done. You're in a great position to write an exposé of a vanity gallery (just don't sign anything that prevents you from writing or talking about your experience there). When you do start working with a real commercial gallery, either as an employee or as an exhibiting artist, you will see just how differently--i.e. better--things are.

Joanne Mattera said...

Line five: vanities

Ceri said...

Thank you SO much for this article and the comments on it.

I was approached by Agora and thought I'd do some research before shelling out so much money. I have never heard of 'vanity galleries' before and could have been suckered in, if it wasn't for people like you sharing your information and experience!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the information. It's so helpful as I'm an emerging immigrant artist who just entered the art world here.

A lot has been discussed about these galleries' upfront charges. Joanne, do you have any exposes on juried shows? I have received soliciting emails from a few, especially "Artists Wanted" and got sucked into one of their photo contests. In its call for entry, the guidelines were confusing while the promises were very attractive. Anyway I wasn't quick enough to spot the fishy smell and entered, and had a bad experience.

Now I am just about to enter Agora's annual "Chelsea International Art Competition", a juried show. A friend gave me this link warning me of Agora, but so far there have been no comments on the juried shows it organizes.

What's your take on that? The entry fee is only $35, should I give it a try or just stay clear of anything Agora does?

Many thanks!

Joanne Mattera said...


Why would you enter a show at a known vanity gallery when there are so many other places that have juried shows?

I have indeed written about juried shows. Use the "Search this blog" feature on the sidebar of this blog. Type in "Juried Shows" and the links to several relevant topics will appear in the main body of the blog.

Anonymous said...

I received the letter from Agora Gallery New York. Living in Australia I was not sure if this letter was a genuine invitation or not as the fees were expressed as marketing, PR, magazine coverage, gallery expenses etc. At first had my doubts that I was received the email although I have won a number of photography awards there and been had work published. Thought I would check reviews via Google and came across this post. So glad I did as we do not have such "vanity galleries" here that I am aware of? Hopefully others will do the same as myself and I will also let as many photographers here know as well. Excellent Post

Leann said...

Thank you for this information. It has been very helpful and greatly appreciated.

Terry Cripps said...

You have just saved me £6000 as I was so close to being taken in by this (Agora Gallery). A good friend who new your atricles put me intouch. These types of galleries are becoming more noticable in England to.
Its such a shame that the concept of pay for space is being disgraced when it could of been a great way for the new artist to get seen. But in stead operaters have teken the veiw af make money quick and take it quicker.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a great assessment of the 'vanity gallery' scene posted on New York Foundation for the Arts:

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a great assessment of the 'vanity gallery' scene posted on New York Foundation for the Arts:

Anonymous said...

Here is a link with a comprehensive list of these galleries and events posted by art

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an interesting blog! Thank you. I just wish I had read it before I signed up with Agora a year ago. Vanity galleries don't exist in Australia, so I was naive to the 'industry'. Although I had a very positive experience with Agora with sales and exposure, perhaps I was just lucky. I have since been contacted by "Broadway Gallery" in NYC, who are offering the world for a fee. I'm older and wiser now, so I'm a little sceptical about receiving glowing emails via my website. Has anyone heard of this gallery?

Pradeep said...

Got an email from a vanity gallery, googled them up, and landed on your blog Joanne.

Really interesting discussion points. Thanks for keeping the discussion alive!

Bobcat Arts said...

I contacted a gallery in NY about a show from a call-for-entries aggregate site. They were happy to show my work in their very exclusive space for a week - for $1200. Having never shown before, it seemed crazy but what did I know? So I talked to someone who did - MY gallery director. (I'm a budding artist and work for a gallery in DC doing operations support, but know little about "the fine art world"). She kindly explained about vanity galleries and that's what this probably was. So I let it go. The Florence Bienniale was another - $2000 to show my work in Europe? How did I know it wouldn't just be put in some guy's closet for a month and returned, if ever?

Then this morning, I received a solicitation from the Agora gallery. Finally! A gallery in NY interested in me! And then I saw they misspelled my name. And then seemed to have a similar fee-for-representation thing going on. So I Googled them and found your site, among many, many others, talking about these Vanity Fairs.
If nothing else, it gives me a little hope: My art presence is just growing enough to start getting above the bottom of the barrel. Good luck out there and look out for each other. We're all in this together!

Anonymous said...

Every single artist/painter/sculpter that is represented in ANY gallery that charges lots of money to show has devalued his/her art the moment he/she is associated with that 'vanity gallery' by paying it's high fees.
The reason: Because an original work of art is bought by someone who wants it, it is not paid for by an artist who has already paid for it by investing his time and money and long hours creating it. You've spent $$ creating art - then you'll spend more than most of the paintings are even worth just to have someone see them ?

There are costs to most exhibitions in life, someone somewhere is paying the rent. And thre's one of the foundations of the problem - Real estate has gone so far thru the roof that it has created a truly desperate DESPERATE situation for anyone who decides to put down a deposit on a space and sell ANYTHING. This is a fact.

I know that in South Florida the atmosphere is RIPE for the vanity concept. And wOw do some 'galleries' take advantage of it.
Here i see places charging high fees, yet they are almost never open, just a nice or semi nice window that ...once in a while has it's lights on so you can see a few pieces. MOST don't have anything near 'business hours' except once or twice a month open for an 'art walk' , and that's after 6pm.
Pay over 1000.oo to a vanity gallery , have them smile and put your paintings on their wall for a few weeks or even months - and you stain your reputation because the moment it is understood and gets out that you've dropped 1000. or more to show there - that's the moment that your art becomes nothing valuable for a long time. Because after all - no one wanted to buy it because there was no demand for it, there was ONLY a desire for your cash by a storage facility that calls itself a 'gallery' , not a desire for your art.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good and useful post. I found it because i have recently received spam from Angora. Luckily, i was already familiar with vanity gallery tactics.

I would like to say one thing though, having read nearly every post, legitimate galleries do contact people through email. And Facebook and tumblr and lots of other online non-paper means. Do your research certainly, but don't reject someone just because they sent you an email. I am not sure how old this post is but it is actually quite common to get offers from galleries online. The days of mailing slides or discs is coming to a close.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very helpful posting. Could someone give a list of legit galleries, then?

Ellen said...

I really appreciate reading all these comments about this important topic, so relevant to all artists who want a legitimate career in visual arts. I've received solicitations from vanity galleries too, especially Agora. I never accepted since I suspected that the ease with which they wanted my artwork without a submission really, was suspect.

This is my main comment though. I wonder why anyone who is interested in becoming a gallery owner would even consider this business unless she/he had already developed contacts with collectors or at least a social network of art buyers before opening the gallery. And because the product, artworks, need to be made by artists, it seems that the gallery owner would also need to understand that respect and fair treatment of the artists who will supply the gallery's product is extremely important for all to go well.

Is it too much to ask for galleries to understand that without artists submissions they will run out of what is keeping them in business.

And one more thought about vanity galleries which this blog is helping to do - if all artists would be aware of what a vanity gallery is all about - existing to take advantage of artists who have not found a real gallery to represent them - and if artists would just boycott these vanity galleries completely, then maybe we could run them all out of business.

Unknown said...

"ART FUSION GALLERY" typical vanity art gallery in Wynwood/Miami ...sub standard art
AVOID this gallery if you truly prize arts.
I think in 2012/2014 Art Fusion charges around 3000 for 3 months. During that 3 months your Art is not always on display, they rotate from their large backroom with many other amateur artists.
Also the owner William Braemer is a bad copycat "artist" don't show there! I've been inside Art Fusion Gallery several times, they have no prices on anything , and no one made any effort to give any info about any artist - just a 'hello' as you walk in. They make so much money in advance from several artists that there is no need for them to make effort to sell art. None whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Aspiring artists generally don't have contacts to serious buyers. Galleries do - or should. If the gallery asks the artist for money, then that gallery doesn't have the right contacts, if any. It is a sham. Plain and simple. The artist might as well lease her own space and take 100% of the sales. However, leasing should not be done unless the artist has built a serious buyers list of his own. Otherwise, you'll have only family, friends, colleagues and winos attending your show. They'll drink your wine and eat your cheese and crackers. Take heed: compliments and well-wishers get you nowhere. You'll end up at the bottom where you started minus the thousands you'd invested, and a potentially catastrophic blow to your self-esteem. Don't delude yourself! Better to be a struggling nobody than to pretend to be someone, even if it means forgoing your 15 minutes. I promise you that! This message could be the only reason I was born.

Anonymous said...

I am curious if anyone knows anything about ART Square Amsterdam. I am trying to find out the application process and am getting nowhere, however I know artists who have paid to exhibit their work from 1050 euro for 5m space for 4 days in a museum square in Amsterdam.

Anonymous said...

You can add M.A.D. Gallery in Milano to the list of Vanity Galleries:
I got a copied and pasted email from the "curator":

"my name is Sara and I am an Art Curator at the M.A.D. Gallery in Milan, Italy. I have found your art on Facebook and after a good look at your page I must say I have been amazed by your art and style.At our Gallery we always looking for new and talented artists to represent and give them the chance to show their work to art-critics and collectors here in Milan. Furthermore we always look for new and talented artists to represent and give them the chance to show their work to art-critics and collectors here in Milan. As you can see from our website we already represent more that 30 international artists, some emergent and some already established in the world of arts."

When I emailed her back, she sent me a form saying they charge 150 Euros to display each piece of artwork in their space..
Sigh... yet another Vanity Gallery..

Anonymous said...

Listen Up.You rent a "Vanity Gallery" for 1 day to 30 days.Hang your show yourself.print your own invitations & catalogs.Invite your own clients.Sell your art directly to your clients & keep all the money for yourself with no middlemen(art dealers) or commissions paid to anyone.Pay your taxes & keep updated on art laws.(Local & International).If your art is good & you have your own client list,most art collectors(clients) today prefer to buy directly from the artist.In 2016 it's important that artists remain "Indie","Do You" & "Own Yourself" 100%.The tired format of art gallery/art dealer picking you(the artist to exhibit) like you're in a beauty contest, is outdated & going the way of the 8 track tape.You don't need a art gallery or art dealer to be a rich,successful & happy artist.You need good art & your own client list.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! Agora just contacted me via email today. 100% glad I google reviewed them. Like other Australians have said,this vanity gallery isn't a thing here. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Just an update, this is my reply
Hi daisy ,

After reviewing your gallery and practices, I am politely declining your offer of representation. The type of services you offer for $3850 are quite unusual for a gallery in Australia, as that is part and parcel of usual representation (for the usual commissions of sale) . I understand that New York is obviously an art destination and you have huge overheads and so on.
If you had actually researched me at all, you would know that I've had sell out shows here... For moderate outlay of framing... Do you know how many shows I could frame for $3850+?
The world is not as big as it was. People row their own boats these days...Your model of business is very unappealing.
Thank you for contacting me, I would have had no idea that galleries like yours exist.

Also,thinking about this, it kind of smacks of people who've been in some kind of cult.There are people out there that are writing good things about agora. You know, where there's been great personal sacrifice ($$$$)you try and bright-side it. Because it's mortifying to realise you've been duped, so you hang in there, when really you should run.