I was recently approached by a gallery in New York and became very excited. Exhibiting in New York, this is it, it my big break! ….But then I thought, this seemed too good to be true, After my initial excitement wore off, I did a bit of sleuthing and discovered it was a vanity gallery.
A vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges the artist to exhibit in their space. This fee may not be mentioned in the initial approach letter and they won’t call themselves a vanity gallery either. These spaces make money off of you (the artist), not the sale of the work. Artists are unknowingly keeping these spaces in business and being tricked into the false appearance of success.
Vanity galleries are pay-to-play. Usually it costs you more to exhibit and work with the space then it does the space. They often disguise themselves as offering representation for a fee. This fee can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to 20 thousand plus. Basically, you are covering the cost to rent the space and the other operational costs . Vanity galleries make money off of you regardless if you sell art or not. They can also take a commission off anything that sells making it very difficult to break even.
Exhibiting in New York, this is it, it my big break!…But then I thought, this seemed too good to be true.
Vanity galleries usually find you! These galleries approach and contact you. For how difficult it is to get a show in New York at a professional gallery space, there is no running out of artists who would gladly exhibit in a an art gallery in NYC.
Think about it….many of these spaces have probably reached out to many local or nearby artists already with many rejections due to their unfavorable business model. Locally, the “shtick” is up. These spaces have made a reputation for being a vanity gallery and need to reach out past their local regions to artists who don’t know their end-game yet.
Read their approach letter or email, and discover how they found you. My email stated a local curator found me. No curators name and no source was mentioned. A vague reason how they found you should be a red flag.
Take a look at the vanity gallery’s social media stats. Take a look at their social media numbers, their followers and number & quality of posts. This is where my first red flags started to pop up. This gallery talked about their successful marketing, but only to find they had less social media followers than I did.
These spaces make money off of you (the artist), not the sale of the work. Artists are unknowingly keeping these spaces in business and being tricked into the false appearance of success.
Exhibiting in a vanity gallery can hurt your professional reputation Having a vanity gallery listed on your resume can actually hurt you. This is why its important to have done your homework and research the space before you agree to work with them. Because these types of galleries want to make money off of you, the artist, the content and quality of the art doesn’t play into why you would be a good fit for the space. Good curators also know who these galleries are. Having a vanity gallery listed under your professional exhibits doesn’t look good for you and can exclude you from opportunities in the future.
Be careful to jump at this opportunity. The decision you decide to work with this space should be because the gallery aligns with your work and is in tandem with your career trajectory. Be careful to not let past criticism or rejections be the reason why you work with a vanity gallery. It can be a band-aid for past hurt and create a false cover for legitimization or “making it in the art world.”
Remember, finding a gallery for representation takes time, its a lot like dating. You need to take the time to figure out if the professional relationship works for both of you. Representation or a big hit solo exhibition does not happen over night.
Vanity galleries make money off of you regardless if you sell work or not.
If your still unsure, Google it: A simple google search can usually field a good response to who this gallery is and whether or not you want to work with them. I found my letter was the same exact approach letter that other artists have received, word for word. Ask your fellow creative colleagues also if you still need another opinion.