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

Chelsea Art District in Manhattan

If 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.  These vanity galleries have 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.

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 here 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.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. kfmoment

    Many thanks for the warning about vanity galleries. It is very useful to hear clearly what the difference between them and legitimate galeries are.

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