Artist Lori Putnam: ‘What’s the right length of time for a gallery trial’?

Q: ‘It used to be that you and a gallery mutually agreed that a 3-6 month trial was long enough to see if you are a good fit for one another. Now everyone wants to give it longer than that, and some galleries are determined to keep your work (with or without any sales) just to keep your name on their list of artists. How long is too long to allow your work to be in a gallery that has produced very few or no sales?’ Lori Putnam, Artist.

A: When a gallery takes you on, they will (or should) market your art to their collector base in order to sell your work. From your point of view, of course, sales should happen sooner rather than later. That said, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. To me it seems that a trial period is somewhat dependent on the nature of your entire agreement with the gallery.

For example, your representation contract may contain an exclusivity clause in which the gallery not only requests a 50% commission on the art that they sell for you, but also a percentage on all other sales you make, either directly out of your studio or through another agent. If your gallery has not sold anything for you during your trial period, but does expect a percentage of all of your sales, I would certainly take this into consideration when you decide to stay or leave.

If, on the other hand, you have consigned 10 works to the gallery and they only receive a commission on the sale of those 10 works, you could consider giving them a bit more time, particularly if you can see that the gallery is really trying. Don’t forget that art is a luxury good with, generally speaking, a lengthy sales cycle. Being listed on the website of a (reputable) gallery works in your favor too: showing collectors and other galleries that your work is in demand.

I believe that communication is very important here, particularly prior to signing the representation agreement. Discussing and documenting the rights and responsibilities of the artist (i.e. how many works will you produce for each show) and the gallery (i.e. how many exhibitions will they organize for you per year; will they show your art at fairs) will better manage the expectations for both parties.

Please note that the author nor Katapult Art Management are lawyers. As such we cannot give you legal advice, nor should any advice we give you be taken as legal advice.