Top 10 Reasons Why Galleries Reject Artists (It’s not what you think)

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 6.43.06 PM“Actors search for rejection, when they don’t get it, they reject themselves.”  Charlie Chaplin

Most artists harbor the fantasy that if they could only find one art dealer that loved and believed in their work, their career would be set. They secretly believe that there exists a special person that can catapult them to fame. Many artists spend most of their careers searching for “the perfect gallery.” And, as all quests towards perfection, it is never ending. If they already have a gallery, it’s not good enough; if they are looking for their first gallery, they dream about the moment when someone sets eyes on their work and offers them a solo show immediately. The harsh reality of the situation is having a gallery love your work, is only one very small part of what goes into the decision to represent an artist. From a gallery’s point of view, adding an artist to their stable is much like adding a stock to one’s portfolio. There are many complicated factors to take into consideration, and liking the “stock” usually has very little to do with the decision. There is no doubt that while liking the artists work is certainly the first criteria, there are several other hurdles that must be overcome before a gallery will commit to an artist. Understanding those hurdles will help you to effectively present your work to galleries and detach yourself from the inevitable sense of personal failure that follows when a gallery rejects your work.

Remember, these are very general assumptions, attempting to explain why even if a gallery LOVES your work, they can not take you on as an artist. Thankfully, there will always be some exceptions.

Too Similar: A gallery looks at the group of artists they represent, much like an artist looks at a painting. It is not so much the individual artist that is considered, but, rather, how that art fits into the existing group. Often galleries are reluctant to take artists that are too similar to an artist they already represent.

Too Different: All galleries try to create a niche for themselves by representing artists that are stylistically similar and would appeal to their core group of collectors. If your work is outside the arbitrary parameters they have established, you are out of luck.

Too Far Away: Unless you have already established a reputation elsewhere, galleries are reluctant to work with artists outside their regional area. Issues surrounding shipping costs and the inconvenience of getting and returning work in an expedient manner make it often not worth it.

Too Fragile/Difficult to Store: Regardless of how big a gallery is, there is never enough storage space. Galleries shy away from work that is 3 dimensional, easily breakable, heavy or hard to handle.

Too Expensive: Most artists undervalue their work. But, occasionally I will come across an artist with a totally unrealistic sense of how to price their work. Prices are established by the law of supply of demand (Read Pricing Your Art). If a gallery feels they can not price your work fairly and still make a 50% commission, they will not be willing to take a chance on you.

Too Cheap: Artists who only do works on paper, photographers, etc often can not generate enough income from sales to make an exhibition worth it to a gallery. If you have 20 pieces in a show, and each piece sells for $500, and your show completely sells out…your gallery has only made $5000… barely enough to cover the costs of the postage, announcement and opening reception.

Too Difficult: Entering into a relationship with a gallery is in many ways similar to entering into a marriage. It’s a relationship that needs to be able to endure candid dialog about the things that are often the most difficult to discuss with anyone…your artwork and money. Both the artist and the gallery need to have a level of trust and comfort that will guarantee honest communication. If a gallery perceives you as being a difficult person to work with, they tend to veer away.

Too Inexperienced: Many artists start approaching galleries too soon, before their work has fully matured. Most critics and curators say it takes an artist several years after college for their work to fully develop stylistically. Galleries want to make sure that once they commit to you, your work will not make radical and/or unpredictable changes. Even if a gallery LOVES your work, they may want to watch your development over a period of years to confirm their initial opinion. Artists must also have enough work of a similar sensibility to mount an exhibition.

Too Experienced: The gallery fear of failure is strong, particularly in this economic climate. Careful to be sensitive to a price point that is right for their audience, galleries may not be financially able to risk representing artists who are farther along in their career, therefore demanding higher prices, than emerging younger artists. Artists with a long sales history of gradually appreciating prices may find themselves priced out of the current market.

Yes, it is possible that the gallery just doesn’t like your work. But, hopefully, this article will shed some light on the situation surrounding galleries rejecting artists. By helping you understand the complex gallery criteria, you can more effectively represent yourself.
Good luck!


2 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why Galleries Reject Artists (It’s not what you think)”

  1. Clara Varas said:

    Apr 27, 10 at 9:20 pm

    let me start off by saying it has been amazing discovering this site, and you have provided me with a very important point of view wich is that of an art representative, so often as artists we overlook the fact that art is a business. I have a question for you, if it is not too much trouble. You mentioned that many times galleries shy away from representing artists that do mostly works on paper, but what do you do as an artist if using paper is an integral part of your work, and part of your aesthetic as an artist? In my pieces I often tear, or crumble paper it is part my works’ identity.Well at least here in miami I feel galleries are more willing to show works on paper, but I would love your advice. Thank you so much.

  2. ragnhild lunden said:

    Oct 14, 10 at 4:49 am

    Since I have a book of exhibitions at fairly important non commercial art spaces for instance museums in Japan and the Arab world, It has not been an issue to do pricing at all. Am I totally uninteresting for galleries then-too far in my carriar?What to do? Been to eager to exhibit at important spaces??