Welcome to the 5th edition of Open Call! Today we are talking about whether or not geography should factor into your prices and when you should seek the help of an agent, or if you even need their help at all.
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Hi Mr. Shillenn,
I wanted to be thorough with this great opportunity, so I have quite a few questions! I messaged you when you first announced this on Beautiful Bizarre’s Instagram. Arch Enemy Arts is a gallery I really want to exhibit in the near future.
Is it unusual to ask the gallery their opinion on how much to charge? My biggest fear is pricing work. For one thing, you may be new to the art scene. Also the geographical location of the gallery, its reputation and commission fee needs to be considered.
(And) What are the standard exclusive representation rights? I understand a few galleries in San Franciso have a requirement where you can only show your work within a certain mile radius of the gallery. Is this true?
Again, thank you for offering your time and brain.
I don’t think it’s unusual at all and we always have some sort of pricing consultation or discussion with our artists. Sometimes is pretty brief, especially if the artist has a way of pricing that they’ve been working with prior to our relationship and gets good results, but even in that case there’s usually a quick run down of their pricing so we can better understand it and relay that to our clients if needed.
With emerging artists or artists who are still trying to figure out their sweet spot for pricing galleries can be a good resource since they have the benefit of being a first line for a lot of the retail side of art and will hopefully have opinions and data that they can share about different trends and experiences and what works and what doesn’t.
Personally I don’t think geographic location should factor very much into pricing, and this sort of folds into your second question about representation rights. While this may have been a bigger consideration in the past – I think it’s more important these days to keep your pricing consistent. Then when you are starting to see a lot of success in the sale of your work you can start increasing those pricing incrementally to adapt to the demand.
Take us for example, we are located in Philadelphia which is a big city, and one only about 90 miles from New York City and with a generally lower cost of living. However, our clients are not limited to our location, for us the people who are taking home work from our shows live all over the US and lately we’ve been working with more and more collectors who live overseas and in other countries too. We have a strong base in Philly, but as we grow and more people catch on to what we do the percentage of sales we do locally has gone down – not because less people buy in town but because more people are contacting us from other places. This gives us new challenges and goals and encourages us to have to start to think a little more globally when we’re working with our artists and promoting the shows and Arch Enemy, and this is what artists see too more and more, so for me pricing work at $xxx for Philly, and this much more than xxx for NYC, etc, etc. just seems like it would cause confusion over the value of your work because the same people are going to see all these irregular prices.
With that said different galleries have different policies regarding exclusive representational rights and obviously this should be part of your conversation when you are talking to different options and deciding where you’d like to show. There are a couple smaller short term geographic points in our contract that only applies to solo and feature shows, but for us the conversation with an artist about a particular feature show tend to have more emphasis on the demand for their work and the marketplace as a whole, and less to do about the city of Philadelphia. In other words, we work with some artists who can not only handle the workload, but there’s already the collector base in place who will support multiple bigger collections per year and it’s not uncommon for those installments to happen at different galleries, and personally that’s okay with me as long as it’s to the benefit of the artists overall plan and growth, and everyone is working like we’re all part of a larger team. At the same time we have other artists who will do one big show every year, or two years – with group shows and special projects in between. If that’s what works there would probably be a conversation about the risks if that artist came to me and said they were thinking of adding on 5 more solo shows in the course of a year, but my concerns wouldn’t have very much to do with where those shows were.
Hope this helps!
What’s the best way to have a gallery consider your work? As a published photographer in Europe, I have a hard time finding work in the US… what am I doing wrong? And is it always smart to look for an agent when you are forever “emerging”?
In my experience, so far, only a handful of artists who I work with at Arch Enemy have an agent or manager involved. In those cases it’s typically an artists who has built a bigger business behind what they do and needs someone to help manage a heavier workload of commercial projects and publishing, is coordinating on a more regular basis with their legal representation, things like that. I wouldn’t say I work with any artists who are using an agent specifically to create gallery opportunities. This may be something that other galleries deal with more often but I do not personally.
Generally speaking, I do not think emerging gallery artists need agents, publicists, etc. right out of the gates, and I do think that there is such a thing as being too early to put that kind of team together. I’m sure there are examples or anecdotes about someone doing this and it being successful for them, but in my experience I’ve seen more examples of artists just starting out and feeling like they have to rush into the whole agent or PR thing have negative results, or no results at all.
On the other hand, as a photographer who is looking for more opportunities to succeed and publish in the US, it could help quite a bit to find a US-based agency to help represent your work in those areas. The most important thing that these people should be bringing to the table are relationships, and while it’s important for me to say that I do think that you can get published or get good press without an agent or publicist, there certainly are benefits to having someone whose job it is to talk to and build relationships with editors and writers and art directors, etc on a daily basis, and have them lobbying on your behalf.
With galleries though, I think it’s more a matter of choosing several who you believe do good work, and who you feel would be interested in your work too. Then I would suggest you reach out to those galleries and instead of pitching your work right away or asking for them to review your portfolio, you simply ask them what their preferred method is for submission. Different galleries have different policies and I think this extra step usually gets you further than introducing yourself with a pitch.
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Patrick Shillenn is the co-founder and director of Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He just wants to have the conversation.
Follow him on IG @pshillenn & Twitter @mathclub