More Secrets to Understanding the NYC Art World: Beware the Vanity Gallery


Beware the vanity galleryIf you are like most artists who take their career seriously, you are willing to give almost anything a try.

And if you are like me, you put a lot of care not only into creating your art but into the business side of your art.

You love to create, right?

And, of course, you want your work to be seen and appreciated, right?

So you take the time necessary to have gallery openings and exhibitions.

In two of my previous articles Secrets to Understanding the NYC Art World and Top 3 Ways to Meet NYC Art Dealers, I showed you how to find the right galleries and some simple ways to meet the owners or directors.

But there is one category of gallery that you must stay away from: The Vanity Gallery

There are somewhere around 1,200 art galleries operating in New York City at any given time.  About 300 of these galleries are in the Chelsea Art District.

The rest are scattered around the city from The Upper East and West Sides, to Soho and Tribeca, and down to the Lower East Side.  There are galleries in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

They operate in many forms from simple private art dealers who sell out of their homes to elaborate multi-million dollar operations.  Most of these businesses are legitimate and can really help your art career to grow.

But the vanity galleries are not legitimate galleries like the vast majority of the others.  The vanity gallery has no interest in helping your career grow.

They have one interest and one interest only: getting your money.

I'm going to show you some differences between legitimate galleries and vanity galleries so you will be able to tell them apart.

How the Vanity Gallery works

A vanity gallery has no real collectors or clients who buy art from them. Their main income source is renting you gallery space by the month, week or other time frame.

So the foremost sign you are dealing with a vanity gallery is that they will be asking you for money to show there.

They are not affiliated with the art critics or major art publications such as Art in America. So they are not well-connected to the right people in the real mainstream art world.

They have no interest in helping your career grow, nor could they even if they tried.  They cannot really help your career.

You give them your money and they sell you dreams.

How the Real Mainstream Art World Works

A real mainstream art gallery or art dealer will have many avid art collectors and art buying clients who fuel their business.  They will not ask you for money to show your work in their gallery.

And they will have many affiliations with art critics and art publications who can review your openings and publicize your work.

They have a great deal of interest in helping your career to grow, because the more paintings you sell the more money they will make.

Please note: In these tough economic times, some legitimate galleries may ask you to pay for your own invitations or other expenses relating to an opening.

But they shouldn't be asking the artist to pay for exhibition space. The rules for real mainstream galleries are constantly changing and we are living in difficult economic times. More and more the mainstream art world is asking the artist to share the cost of promoting their work.

If you are asked to share expenses for an opening in a real mainstream gallery, I think for sure you should go ahead with it.

Final thoughts...

Let's face it, the art world in New York City is small.  The real, legitimate mainstream galleries know who the vanity galleries are and how they operate.

Showing in a vanity gallery is not going to help your career. In fact, it can actually harm your career.

Having a show in one of these galleries can brand you in the eyes of the real mainstream art world as an extreme novice, or a desperate artist.

Don't waste your time with the vanity galleries.

If you have a story to tell about your experience with a vanity gallery, please share it below so other artists can learn from your experience.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Wiztek Computers

    Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks and look forward to hearing more from you

  2. Betty Anderson

    Interesting – have received a request from Agora Gallery, is this a Vanity Gallery?

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Yes, the Agora Gallery in NYC is a vanity gallery.

      1. Sarang Bhand

        Thanks for sharing all this info.

  3. Douglas

    What web site do you recommend for a fine artist? Would a “Go” template work? or are there others you suggest?

    1. Gary Bolyer

      I recommend a WordPress blog. This is much better than a static website for a lot of reasons.

  4. Alexis hunter

    There are vanity art fairs as well that artists will waste their time on, x Alexis

    1. Denis

      Good point Alexis

  5. Denis

    Gary, you forgot to mention to watch out for ‘flattering’ emails… and emails that promise ‘art-feature’ in associated on line magazines…all for less than $2000

  6. Antonia

    I was contacted also by Agora gallery recently. I had just made a sale of two large paintings to a serious Australian collector, and then in the same week got an email from Agora, saying they had seen my work via my website. I thought, “could this be the moment my career gets a big boost?”. But, thanks to Gary, whose marketing advice I’ve been following, I was warned not to go there. Being in Australia and not in the “scene” over there makes it hard to know. Antonia

  7. Paula Adams

    Thank you for publishing these valuable articles. I am glad that I connected with you. I need to begin blogging, but need to fine an audience. How ? Thnx.

  8. Susan Feder

    Being on the “Left” coast, our art scene is slightly different in some ways. But I was wondering if being in a “Co-op” gallery has the same effect as a vanity gallery?
    Thank you

    1. Gary Bolyer

      I think Co-op galleries are fine. I have been in several myself over the years. They are much different than vanity galleries.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.