In discussing the marketing of your fine art “products”, the Place is all those places where transactions take place, also called the “Channels of Distribution”. This not only includes where your collector buys your artwork, but all of those in between places where your artwork moves from you to the final sale.
Most products that you buy in a store, such as a food market, go through a number of in between locations call warehouses, perhaps operated by a wholesaler. For your artwork, you should have decided who will buy it, thus decide where is the place that is best for them to buy it at.
Traditionally artwork was either sold directly to the collector, but probably more commonly through a gallery or a private dealer. Today we would label a gallery which has a physical location as a “brick and mortar” place. In the Channel of Distribution, the private dealer was the wholesaler in the fine art market. They might buy from the artist and then to a collector or another gallery. They would also buy from a gallery some “excess inventory” to hold and then sell to another gallery. Yes, within the gallery channels of distribution, your artwork becomes “inventory”.
For photographers in the 1950’s, the place to exhibit and perhaps sell was on the walls of coffee shops and the rare venues were like those Stigliz had in New York. The first handful of commercial photography galleries started up in the 1960’s. Today, you can find photography exhibited with almost any other medium. Likewise, today, we have that relatively new channel of distribution, the internet, where artists can have their own on-line gallery and sell directly to the collector.
So the question remains, who is buying your artwork and where and how is the best way to make your artwork available? For established artist, this may not be as daunting of a question, but even then, they also wonder what the better approach is, such as exclusive representation or multiple gallery representations. For each potential channel of distribution, there are pros and cons that you have to consider. So a quick overview;
Direct sales; you as the artist sell your artwork directly to the collector. This can be accomplished with a web site, displaying at art fairs, buying display ads in fine art magazines and networking with friends, also called “word of mouth”. You could also establish your own “brick and mortar” gallery for your work in your city and perhaps represent others as well. One benefit to selling direct is you do not have to share the sale of your artwork with anyone, as galleries will take at least 50% of any sale as their commission.
There are a number of downside to direct sales, first is that you can spend a lot of time trying to sell your artwork when you could be creating more artwork. This can amount to 25% of your time and more. Selling direct may or may not connect you with established collectors and the chance that they find out about your work may be a bit random. There are also corporate buyers who create collections within large corporations that you may not have access to as they usually buy through galleries or dealers. Last, selling direct, you need to establish the infrastructure to help make the sales occur, such as the ability to accepting credit cards, although PayPal had made this task a little simpler.
Indirect Sales, e.g. Gallery representation; which is where you select or probably better yet, you are selected by a gallery to be represented. You create your artwork and then make it available to the gallery and they in turn use their connections and location to a track and obtain sales. This channel has also become available on the web, with web portal Galleries that will create your personal gallery within their gallery to help create sales.
I think that many artist perceive that a big con to selling through an established Gallery is the loss of 50% of the sales price. Trust me, there is a lot of work that is being done by a Gallery to understand the market, cultivate collectors and help with the promotion of their artists, and finally, the investments that they make just to stay in business and make a decent living. You can also spend more time creating your own artwork and less of your cash on promoting yourself.
Bottom line is that you need to decide which of these two routes you want to travel, as they are pretty much mutually exclusive. A Gallery that represents you and makes investments to promote you does not want you to be competing with them and selling directly to collectors. You may have to sell direct while becoming more established until such a time that a Gallery will decide that you could be a good artist to represent because you artwork will sell.
Best regards, Doug