INTERVIEW WITH RADIUS GALLERY OWNER JASON NEAL – TOP QUESTIONS ARTISTS ASK!Mar 03, 2022
I’m very happy to share this interview I had with Jason Neal of Radius Gallery in Missoula, Montana. This is a gallery that I adore and love. They have represented me for many years and my experience with them has been absolutely wonderful!
This article is going to help answer many questions that I’ve received from many, many artists regarding galleries. I organized an interview with Jason Neal, who is the owner of Radius Gallery, to answer these questions.
Jason runs Radius Gallery together with his lovely wife, Lisa Simon. They opened the gallery in 2014, but prior to this, they both had other careers not related to the arts. They also had no experience operating galleries. They were just regular people that were fond of frequenting galleries. As a result of their desire to change careers, they decided to open an art gallery.
A couple of years before starting Radius Gallery, they had been thinking about the small businesses that they could start. They settled on the art gallery as a good fit because they were often meeting and becoming friends with a certain critical mass of artists who were making what they (Lisa and Jason) thought was really wonderful work yet wasn’t being showcased anywhere either locally or even in the state because the artists that worked on that kind of art were far outside the “norm” of Montana’s traditional western art. That meant there wasn’t much opportunity for such artists, and that moved Lisa and Jason to reflect on how to address the need to showcase contemporary art. They also wanted to simply wrap their hands around how an art gallery works and how a consignment-based business works.
Lisa and Jason convinced themselves that there was something about art galleries that really piqued their interest. There was a lot about running an art gallery that they didn’t know at the time when they first started Radius Gallery. Nevertheless, they took a riskand, reflecting on their experience, they reckon it has been “terrific”, a wonderful business, and one that has exceeded their expectations in terms of the variety of work that it offers and the tremendous people they get to meet, both artists and clients.
Lisa and Jason say that, true to their expectations, working with artists is enjoyable, and that the gallery business also gives them the enjoyment of meeting collectors and getting to know them, as well as the creative experiences many of them have.
Radius Gallery adds so much value not only to the local community in Missoula, Montana, but also to the entire Pacific Northwest and beyond. That is not just because of their ability to create a pleasant atmosphere for the artists that they carry, but also due to their ability to go out of their way to bring in artists from other states. They therefore embody an admirable, ever-changing environment that is high-end as well. When you walk into their gallery, you feel the spectacular visual gratification that makes you want to keep coming back to relax, muse, admire and have a good time.
1.2 The Uniqueness of Radius Gallery
Radius Gallery represents about 25 or so artists. It is also an exhibition-based gallery, which has been the case from the beginning. Every six or seven weeks, they showcase new artists’ work. Their shows are usually rotational andthey prefer mixing things up with the artists they represent.During these shows, Lisa and Jason invite and introduce the community to a refreshing mixture of artists and artwork.
Jason usually handles the hanging of the artwork in an awesome way in terms of presentation, using movable walls and shelves, as well as moving things around in a way that reinvents the space that he has every time. It feels great as an artist to witness a gallery owner putting in such amazing dedication to represent their art!
- Top Questions From Artists About Galleries
These are the top questions that I hear again and again from artists. They’re universal questions about what galleries have to say which artists would like answers to.
Pamela: How do you approach a gallery? How does Radius Gallery wish to be approached? Do you solicit entries or do you describe submission guidelines on your website? If yes or no, why?
Jason: As Radius Gallery, the majority of our current shows invite artists to participate.We’re kind of proactively seeking out artists. However, we get inquiries all the time from people who are interested in showing their work in the gallery.
We’re currently soliciting submissions in an ad hoc way that entails people reaching out to us via email or just walking in the front door to make enquiries. Walking in to make enquiries is fine, but there are better ways for artists to make enquiries than others. It helps for artists to be considerate that Radius Gallery has very few members of staff, which means that walking in without an appointment will result in an almost certain interruption of something that is going on.
Scheduling an appointment is therefore a good idea for approaching a gallery. At Radius Gallery, we encourage artists to bring along good images of their work when they come for their appointment. The images can be on a laptop or printed out. We don’t particularly love looking at artwork from an artist’s phone because it’s just an annoyance and we don’t think it serves the artwork very well.
I therefore think that approaching a gallery, and Radius Gallery for that matter is not complicated, and artists don’t have to be very formal when approaching a gallery. However, setting up an appointment and sending some things like a website or some images via email, which the gallery can look at first before we have the conversation, is appreciated. The truth is that such prior arrangements can help to save everyone’s time—if we feel the artist or artwork is not a good fit for the gallery, we can inform the artist without waiting for them to come for a conversation. Even so, Radius Gallery is pretty open to a lot of different things, which means that artists shouldn’t assume that their work is not going to be a fit or that it is.
An important encouragement for all artists is that if they think their artwork is good for any gallery, they should just approach the gallery and when they do so, they should come ready to explain the whys of the artwork—they shouldn’t just let the artwork do the talking!
For artists that would like to approach Radius Gallery, I would really welcome a conversation about what they see in the gallery that makes them think their work is going to add a good dimension or a dovetail to the program.
But let me also be quick to say that if what I have said sounds intimidating, just remember that you should play this a little more formally than just walking into a gallery. You should also approach galleries prepared to talk about how your work fits in with the gallery. Also, don’t be too intimidated because gallerists are hungry to meet artists whose work they really want to carry.We're always expecting to be surprised and thrilled by someone who appears unexpectedly in our inbox and whose work we've never seen before.
Pamela: Do you find that there are way more artists than you can physically represent or carry in group shows or in your stable of artists, or is it that you’re finding it harder to find work that both you and Lisa really want to represent (is it that you have too many or is it that you want more)?
Jason: As Radius Gallery, the majority of our current shows invite artists to participate. We’re kind of proactively seeking out artists. However, we get inquiries all the time from people who are interested in showing their work in the gallery.
There is certainly a big difference between the number of artists that we want to show in the gallery and the number of artists that we want to represent. We’ve shown artwork by some crazy number of artists, maybe close to 500 different artists, but generally we work with about 25. Representation for us is kind of a slow process to get there. We first put those artists in small group shows, or maybe a couple of times, and then we gradually escalate upwards over a couple of years. And by that time, we’re showing their work in the gallery so regularly that the step toward representing them is not a very big one because not many changes happen in the way, even if some do.
There is a lot of really good art and artists out there, in my opinion. It’s not hard to find good ones. I don’t know how it feels from an artist’s point of view, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it feels pretty competitive.
Pamela: Could you please discuss your commission rate, which varies from gallery to gallery, but they’re becoming more consistently 50/50)? What do you do for the artists that are included in your percentage? Do you offer discounts for, say, repeat clients?
Jason: Our consignment fee is usually 50% of the sale, and that is true for all artists, as we don’t vary the fee from artist to artist. What we offer for that is a number of things: we have this really beautiful exhibition space that is right in the heart of downtown Missoula. We also have a pretty good-looking website, which I think is a complete e-commerce site, as we can sell directly from it to people all over the place.I think most galleries will offer those things, but we also take promotion really seriously and spend money on it. That is one of the ways Radius Gallery started to differentiate itself. We also try to make good use of social media, send out exhibition postcards, and create advertisements for the newspapers and occasionally for magazines.
We essentially put a lot of time and energy into making sure that the content is pretty high quality and showcases the art and the artists pretty well. The fourth leg of that chair, which may be the most important, is that, over the last six years or so, we’ve developed a pretty good core client base. We know these people pretty well; we've been to their homes, seen their art collections, and we really know what they’re interested in – thanks to Lisa’s expertise and specialty in making these connections.
This string client base comprises people that are beyond those that just regularly come into the gallery because of their interest in the kind of work that we carry there. They’re people that ask us to proactively go to them when we have work that we think they might be interested in. These people are not only in Missoula. Some of them are spread out around the country. So whenever any new work comes into the gallery, Lisa immediately starts ticking through the Rolodex in her mind, thinking of whom she might know who might be interested in the work.
I may not have the exact statistics, but I think somewhere between 35% and 40% of the artwork that we sell is never hung on the wall – it sometimes gets sold before it even physically comes into the gallery, or is sold on the website. That is an important thing for artists to keep in mind – that if you have a relationship with a gallery, and they’re really working for you, it’s much more than getting your work on their wall.
I may not have the exact statistics, but I think somewhere between 35% and 40% of the artwork that we sell is never hung on the wall—it sometimes gets sold before it even physically comes into the gallery, or is sold on the website.That is an important thing for artists to keep in mind – that if you have a relationship with a gallery, and they’re really working for you, it’s much more than getting your work on their wall.
While I understand the satisfaction, fun, and rewarding experience that artists derive from having a show opening and inviting their friends and family to come to a nice gallery and seeing their artwork hanging on the gallery wall, please keep in mind that a gallery’s operations go far beyond that, or they should.
Addressing the question about discounts, yes, at Radius Gallery we offer some discounts. I know discounts are kind of controversial, or maybe they’re not controversial among artists because they generally don’t like seeing them given. To be honest, discounts have continued to be pretty important sales tools for galleries. I can’t speak for other galleries, but for mine, artists shouldn’t be under the impression that discounts are given because people come in and start negotiating the price of their artwork. While that happens sometimes, it is not where most discounts come into play.
Most discounts are never talked about, and are given to certain clients as a reward for spending thousands of dollars every year in our gallery. So they just get the discount automatically, and this approach has helped us to develop a client base of really loyal customers. I don’t think we would have such a good core customer base if we hadn’t done that. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many of those people that we give discounts to are people that financially don’t need to get it, and don’t ask for it – but the discounts that we give them are important to them, which means that they’re important to us too, because having a loyal customer is really key to running a successful gallery.
Earlier, when we started this gallery, we would split discounts with artists, and we still do so to some extent. However, our policy now is that for any sale that is under $1000, the gallery will absorb that discount. For artworks that are over $1000, we’ll call the artist and have a conversation about the split. And the discount that we give is almost always 10%. It’s rare that we go over that percentage unless it’s really under special circumstances.
But to be honest, artworks that cost thousands of dollars can almost never sell without some adjustments being made to the prices. Another thing about the pricing of artwork is consistency. The thing about consistent pricing, whether the artwork is in your studio or in a gallery, is that if consistent pricing is not ensured, it could get messy, especially when the client finds out. This can undermine the clients’ trust in both the artist and the gallery, because clients want to know that they’re getting a fair deal, at least when they make a purchase.
To wrap up the answer to the question about commissions and discounts, always remember that these two are issues that come down to good faith and good communication between the artist and the gallery owner.
Pamela: Thank you, Jason, for all the wonderful answers to the top questions that artists ask of galleries. Here is another question that an artist asked: I would like to know your perspective on what you and Lisa look for in your artists and how you weigh sellability when choosing your stable of artists.
Jason: Yeah, That’s a good question! Lisa and I usually start out in the most straightforward way. We start by asking whether the artwork compels us. It is the first conversation that we usually have with an artist. Quite fortunately, Lisa and I are both interested in a pretty wide variety of artwork in terms of subject and medium.
At Radius Gallery, we tend to steer clear of the more traditional western art. This is not because we have an aversion to it, but because we believe there are other avenues for that kind of art that are fully established in the community. We therefore differentiate ourselves by steering clear of such forms of art.
This decision speaks to sellability because the kind of artwork that we embody has a good market here in Missoula. Initially, this decision set us on a little bit of a tougher pathway in terms of what we thought we could sell. Even so, we had a firm belief in the work that we began to showcase, as well as a strong conviction that there are like-minded people out there who would want to own the artwork that we showed.
What we’ve learned during our journey as gallerists is that the whole issue of sellability is a challenging one, much as it is important to us, given that we’re in the business of selling artists’ work. We frequently structure our discussion around sellability, with queries or concerns about how large the pool of prospective customers is for a certain piece of art.
There are a number of things that can shrink that pool of potential buyers of artwork. One of these, and something artists tend to be very concerned about, is the subject matter of the artwork. Our experience with subject matter in artwork has shown us that provocative or highly political subjects normally tend to shrink the buyer pool. Another subject matter that I would like artists to really think about is abstract art. To be frank, the pool for abstract art is probably smaller than that of landscapes or even figured out artwork.
Price is also another factor that artists need to know has a huge capacity to shrink the buyer pool for their artwork. From our experience here at Radium Gallery, if an artist develops work that is all priced above $10,000, there aren’t that many clients that you can count on. This means that such pricing ranges shrink the buyer pool for your artwork. It is good to think about how many people can spend the kind of money that you attach to your artwork.
The physical size of your artwork also has a significant sway on the buyer pool and, ultimately, the sellability of your artwork. You can have a great painting and price it appropriately, but if the physical size of the painting is, say, 10 ft. by 10 ft., where do you expect the potential buyer of the artwork to place it in their house?
Therefore, we think a lot about the aforementioned things in terms of sellability. We are, however, very quick to say "Yes" to artworks that we think are really amazing and important for the community to see, even if they do not compel us in terms of sellability.
At Radius Gallery, we love the community to know us as a gallery that advocates for those kinds of artwork. Whereas we’ve not put up an entire show to showcase this type of artwork, we go out of our way to create lots of opportunities to showcase individual pieces that we think are amazing and that we would like people to see, even if they have a weak sellability rating in our opinion.
Pamela: Don’t you think that part of sellability, as you and Lisa articulate very well, is about galleries' being exceptionally proactive in educating their clients about artworks so that when they see something that the galleries have just brought in and they’ve never seen before, they do not shy away from it? Don’t you think that galleries could kind of get into the heads of their clients and help to describe what the artist was thinking and trying to convey in the artwork? Wouldn’t it be great if galleries proactively became the voice of the artist to their clients? I ask this because I have established that many people find a certain kind of artwork challenging (I personally find that a lot because of the fact that I tend to work non-objectively). Don’t you think that once the clients are helped to understand the thought process that went into the artwork, including the whys of the artwork, with the aim of helping them to appreciate the kind of art that is exhibited, it could be a value adding to the art industry by galleries?
Jason: Certainly! From my perspective, that’s the most wonderful thing. Broadening a client’s perspective about what they like and what compels them would be great, and I think we do that very much at Radius Gallery. I do not know about other galleries, but that would be a great thing for all galleries to espouse. I strongly feel that it’s part of the role of galleries to do that. Even so, I know it is not always easy to do so, but one of the things that is important toward that pathway is the issue of becoming a trusted business. Galleries are spaces that people come to engage with various kinds of artwork, and, with time, they gain a sense of reputation that makes people develop a mindset that whatever is in the gallery is full of valuable, valuable, and collectable work.
When people develop strong confidence in a gallery, it becomes easy to convince them about a new form of art that they’re not used to. Lisa and I are acutely aware of this, which is why we work hard to position ourselves to better represent artists to clients. We try to speak to the clients about our artists’ work and advocate for it in a substantial way. We don’t just tell clients, "Oh, isn’t that artwork great?" Rather, we try to articulate why we think the artwork is great.This sometimes requires us to return to the artist in order to gain additional insights into the thinking process that led to the work as well as the meaning behind the artwork.
Throughout our journey of carrying our stories of artists, we never hesitate to go back to the artists so that we can have a conversation regarding their artworks. This kind of relationship has helped us to better represent the artists and their artwork to our clients. Lisa and I are always eager to gather from artists how the artwork came to be, what kind of thought process it represents. That went into it, the efforts that were made in coming up with the artwork and the skillsets that were deployed. This information is firmly kept in our tool belt and used whenever a client engages us about the artwork.
The foregoing illustrates that even though some galleries may have a narrow focus where all work fits within a niche that they only have experience in, a lot usually goes through galleries compared to what is generally known. At Radius Gallery, we intend to be broader in our approach to artwork and working with artists because we see the artists as our business partners. That is why we don’t hesitate to ask artists, or in some cases, we just confidently speak about our artists and their artwork without having to revert to them because we have developed such a strong bond with them and understand their work in a way that makes us boldly speak about it without the fear of contradictions.
One of the reasons why we also have conversations with artists to understand them and their artwork better is that we have discovered that artists aren’t necessarily always the best at articulating their artwork. For us, advocating for an artist and their artwork is a very important part of not just selling the artwork, but also advocating for the artwork as well as the artists. This is what we do, and we definitely want to continue doing it.
Pamela: I think these artist talks that you feature in your gallery when you're either doing an exhibition or may be in downtown draw the audience in, and I think you’ve gotten such good participation that people really may think this is a great time to ask this: during the pandemic, can you do some virtual meetings with artists? It just popped out of my head because it’s so much fun for me.
Jason: We haven’t really explored that.
Pamela: From an artist’s point of view, including myself, there is a tendency to be scared stiffof walking into a nice gallery This question is on behalf of all of us who feel a little bit of fear. What advice would you give to an artist who thinks that they may be a great fit for your gallery but feels a little bit of fear and anxiety about approaching you? How can an artist feel more comfortable in this very competitive process?
Jason: What comes to mind is that artists should always keep in mind that galleries want to meet them. They particularly want to meet artists whose work they like and feel compelled by, and which they think they can sell. Your artwork could actually be exactly what the galleries are looking for. That’s why you should not be shy about approaching them.
At any given time that an artist is making what they’re making and they have the intention of taking it to a gallery, they need to develop confidence that what they’re making is string and made with the right intentions. I don’t believe that an artist who makes artwork that they themselves don’t believe in can get very far. However, if an artist believes in what they’re making, then I believe the rest is just about getting buttoned up and professional. I know we’ve addressed part of this when we were talking about making appointments with the gallery and going there with some reasoned thinking about why you think the work you want them to help you showcase is appropriate.
I understand how it can be a daunting task for artists that are just emerging and haven’t got the necessary experience with galleries. But I can encourage them by saying that galleries are small operations that are run by just a few people. So they should not intimidate them because they may not have the kind of bureaucracy that should melt artists’ confidence levels. They should therefore take courage from this fact when they make that step to approach galleries. They should always have the end game in mind when making the decision to approach galleries, which is to develop a business relationship with the gallery. Going to a gallery with a business mindset will certainly be very beneficial for any artist.
Pamela: I am thinking about an artist who is not a good fit for a gallery or one that comes to a gallery thinking that they’re a good fit, but when you actually meet them, you make the decision that they’re not a good fit. Could the entire process of approaching a gallery be likened to a dating game where you walk in with the intention of seeking and getting the right match, but you are faced with deciding whether it’s a YES or a NO? How do you explain it to the artists—is it a rejection when you're told your artwork isn't a good fit for a gallery or just a lack of chemistry between the gallery and the artist? How should artists feel if they’re told that they aren’t a good fit for a gallery? How can they look at the rejection decision more positively rather than begin to look down upon themselves in a way that will be a demoralizing experience?
Jason: I think there is a need for a broader conversation on this matter. In that conversation, if I were the one that dealt with the artist when faced with a rejection decision, I would convey the entire finding that the artist’s artwork is not good for Radius Gallery in a way that appreciates the work and courage that the artist has. I will try to think of where else the artist could try sharing their artwork with, including suggestions about other galleries that I feel may be a good fit for the artist. I will also be part of this conversation.
This approach to making the artist feel encouraged that the decision that his or her artwork is not a good fit for Radius Gallery is not to make them despair about their art and think that it is hopeless. I personally do this because I have very great admiration for anybody who carves out a major portion of their time to make artwork that they hope is great and has the nerve to put it out there in the world and invite people’s reactions to it. I believe that such an artist is very dedicated and daring in what they do, whether or not their artwork is appropriate for my gallery. I am also very impressed with them, even if I think they’re not yet ready in terms of experience or what they’re making.
I always hope that this kind of appreciation comes through in my conversation with an artist whenever I am communicating about their artwork not being a good fit for my gallery. Of course, I know it is very tricky to make this communication with an artist, but that is how I would approach the matter.
In fact, at Radius Gallery, we’ve made some calls for artists to submit three to four pieces of their artwork and understand what it means to communicate a negative response to an artist. We usually go through the submitted work and accept some and reject others. During this process, I try to write nicely about the reason for rejecting the artwork, but despite the keenness in doing so, I always feel terrible about making such communications. I am sure that the artists, especially those that had hoped to be in the show or in the gallery, feel bad when they receive regret letters. Some don’t hesitate to tell me how badly they feel about our decision. I usually reach a place where I begin to feel that I should not reject artworks. However, let’s be honest, a gallerist’s work has ups and downs just like that of the artists. So let’s accommodate each other and when a decision to reject your artwork is communicated, do not take it as a verdict on your artwork. Rather, take it as a matter of the appropriateness of the art for that particular gallery.
Fortunately, these processes of artists having the boldness to approach galleries are also important to us because we’ve actually met a number of artists that we thought we would never have met through these processes. For artists, my advice would be to see these processes as opportunities to spur their introspection of their artwork as well as enhance its quality. Always remember that the next worst thing about getting a rejection letter for your artwork from a gallery is actually the sending of that rejection letter. Just as artists feel bad when they receive a rejection letter, I also feel terrible about sending such letters.
Pamela: That is indeed very interesting for any artist to hear – that if it’s not easy for you to receive that rejection letter, it’s not easy either for the gallerist to send it. This insight can make the artist feel pretty good. It certainly encourages me because I have been rejected so many times, which happens with every artist that stretches out to try the many opportunities that exist. I have personally reached out to utilize the many opportunities that frequently emerge; including entering juried shows (national and international) as well as making submissions to galleries. What I have learned in all these processes is that it’s always good when you’re approaching a gallery to expect a rejection. This is because the art environment is very competitive, especially when you’re looking for the right gallery to represent you at the right time. My advice is that out of 10 submissions you make, expect 9 to be rejected.
Jason: Yes, that’s very true. Besides rejection, we also need to look at instant grand receptions. It sometimes happens that during the early years of an artist, they may get some kind of grand acceptance. This could involve an opportunity to showcase their work at a prestigious show, or an opportunity to sell some of their artwork at a high dollar value. Such artists tend to fall into the temptation of thinking that their grand acceptance will keep following them into the future. My advice to them is that they should not think that way because this is a business with many ups and downs. This observation is essential for galleries just as it is for artists.
There are going to be times that are better than others, especially if you’re the kind of artist that is interested in pushing your boundaries in artwork. Your entire art career should be considered a learning curve that presents you with a whole new course that puts out a whole new body of work, seeing how it’s responded to, and appreciating what kind of values you should take an interest in.
Pamela: In more ways than not, I have discouraged artists that are emerging to hold off on trying to find a gallery until they feel a confidence in their personal work and ethic. Sometimes, in trying to find their personal voice, they hit a great painting, and the first thing they want to do is put a high price on it so as to discourage people from buying it. I am raising this matter because I have been in this situation. So if the gallery sells the painting, it puts the artist in a situation where they don’t know what to do because the painting emerged from an experiment, but they cannot possibly do similar pieces. This puts them under intense pressure. That is why I always feel that artists should have a repertoire of work that they feel is consistently theirs – they can do it with ease in any medium. It is when an artist has reached this level of confidence and consistency in their artwork that they should approach a gallery. Doing it too soon could make an artist hurt themselves and the gallery. What do you think?
Jason: Let me stress that the best way to approach this is simply to be ready to be turned down. Don’t think that every little win is necessarily going to be followed up by a big one. What I think artists need to focus on is making something that is good. They should pay special attention to creating artworks that fulfill them creatively and that they can make more of. If you’re trying to make something that someone will trade their hard-earned dollars for, it’s best that you try to figure out how you’ll make that thing in a way that makes economic sense, not just one that when you evaluate the time you’ve spent working on it, you will find out that you earned only $2 per hour.
Furthermore, artists should always take care not to put themselves in situations where they want to fire all their pistons in sync. I don’t think that even the artists that we would look at and say that they’re really accomplished are doing all of these different important things at the same time. That would be a very difficult way to make it work, if you ask me. In a nutshell, it is essential for an artist to concentrate in one area and be able to discover and express their personal voice through artworks that distinguish him or her.
Let me also highlight one other thing that I’ve observed about artists when they’re talking to me or other galleries. They tend to talk about success as a synonym for sales. This should not be the case because there are tons of other ways to define an artist’s success. Whereas selling art is important for an artist, personal fulfillment and patience need to be valued as well. I feel the biggest success factor for an artist should be the joy of doing what they love.
Pamela: At this time in our history, there are lots of found objects, including found papers, collage papers, and so on, that are not archival. Mark Bradford, who is an artist I really admire, does very large and really large-scale pieces of art using papers that he picks up off the street and things of that nature. I’ve had a couple of artists ask me about this: if you want your work to be collectable and bought in a gallery, how much should they be thinking about? What if the papers and components in their artworks are susceptible to decay, yet they’re part of the artwork’s message? What if it isn't a part of the message?
Jason: If that were part of the message, it would definitely be something that we would be talking to clients about. The matter is an issue that varies depending on the price point of the artwork. There is also the question of the different feelings that people have about something that looks fragile and impermanent, especially when they’re spending a few hundred dollars on it versus when they’re spending a few thousand dollars.
We sometimes get artworks that make us hesitant to put them on the website because we ask ourselves how we would ship the artwork if a client bought it online. These considerations should underpin an artist’s thinking when deciding on the artwork that they want to do. Artists need to be very clear in their mind about the durability of their work because clients take that very seriously. They should always put themselves in the shoes of the potential buyer and think about how they’ll have an aesthetic reaction to the artwork as well as about where they’ll put the artwork in their home.
Artists also need to keep in mind that, beyond the aesthetic admiration that potential buyers of their artwork give them, buyers always think beyond the artwork and imagine where they could put it in their homes. They also ask themselves whether the artwork will decay, be easily cleaned, or even fade. If those "I don’t know" kinds of thoughts get stuck in the minds of the potential buyers of the artwork, they tend to encourage them to steer clear of buying the artwork.
What you want as an artist is that when a potential buyer of your artwork looks at the work, they are not strayed away from the aesthetic reaction by the nagging "I don’t know" questions. So don’t get into situations that cause the potential buyers of your artwork to be distracted from the artwork’s aesthetic reaction. This also speaks to how artwork should be framed. I am not the one to tell artists that they should spend lots of money on framing their artwork. Framing of your artwork should be done in a manner that does not make it a distraction from the artwork itself. Framing could just be a very simple, inexpensive black square frame. It just shouldn’t be something that makes people think that if they buy the artwork, they’ll also have to deal with it as well.
Pamela: That’s great to know because I have always been wondering what the best answer is to the question regarding artwork that uses non-archival material. I think that the case of Mark Bradford is peculiar because he showcases his found-objects-based artwork in big museums. His shows are also not about selling artwork, but rather about conveying the messages he wishes to convey. We artists should always think about how archival the materials that we use are. For example, if something slips into the artwork that is not completely acid-free paper, I am very careful with how much I put in.
This next question has been asked by Mercedes from Florida. She recently won my April 2020 Watch, Learn, and Grow Library Contest for this question regarding solo shows. Does the gallery support artists with money or something else during the time they are preparing for the show? I would like to know what give and take happens between artists and galleries in preparing for a show. Is it different from a group show?
Jason: I would love to have a gallery that is so successful to the extent that we could afford to support artists in not only selling their artworks but in the development of work for a show as well. That seems like the world that I would love to live in — where artists get that sort of support just for making things. But we’ve never done that for a solo show or a group show.
That’s one way I think about it. The other way is that at the point where we’re talking about a show, we’re dealing with a professional artist who is also a small businessperson. Art is essentially their business. Let’s talk about a small business. Small businesses have overheads as well as expenses. They also operate under the cliché that you’ve got to spend money to make money. I implore artists to learn the importance of spending money to get money. As galleries, we do that because we’re businesses as well.
Another challenge that artists need to learn how to surmount is the whole cycle of preparing for and participating in shows in which their work is selling or preparing for a large museum show. My opinion is that museums are not usually great venues for selling artwork, even if they sometimes do so to some small extent.
But even so, you must be thinking about the life of your work after the museum show. Think about the logistical challenges that are involved, even if you choose to donate the artworks after the museum show. The same thing happens when galleries are preparing for shows. The logistical dynamics that surround the mounting of shows have so many expenses attached to them. It is good for artists to appreciate this when thinking about approaching a gallery for a solo show.
Pamela: I think all artists need to keep in mind the overheads that any gallery has. It is usually very high. Just consider the rent that a gallery pays and all the expenses associated with running the gallery, including heating, electricity, employees, marketing, and everything else they do, and divide all these expenses by the square footage of the gallery. That’s when you will know that a gallery wall has a price check.
My response to Mercedes was that there are residencies that would sometimes pay for an artist to be there, or even give the artist a show, an exhibition, or grant money. They could also have a wealthy patron who wants to help artists. Artists could therefore check out for those opportunities and not expect that kind of support from a gallery, given that galleries are already doing a lot for artists.
I don’t think artists sometimes realize how much the overheads of galleries are, which makes some murmur about galleries taking a fraction, like 50%, of the proceeds from selling their artwork. It’s not always very clear, but you’ve clarified that very well.
Jason: It’s kind of fun and refreshing to be candid about how things work between artists and galleries. When artists work with galleries, they should keep in mind that they’re business partners with galleries. Radius Gallery's approach to this relationship is that artists deserve to be well informed about what is going on with the galleries that represent them.
One area that I have found very fundamental for galleries to do is to let artists see the back offices of galleries and appreciate what goes on there. For example, it is helpful for galleries to show artists where their artworks are kept because that is the artists’ property. Being open with artists is one of the things that make me love this job, because it gives me the utmost fulfillment.
My thoughts about artist-gallery relationships is that if an artist walks into a gallery and gets mistreated, my belief is that the gallery is probably not one that they should approach to be carried by.
Pamela: I think it goes both ways because if the artists just walk into the galleries unannounced and expect the galleries to just drop what they’re doing so as to attend to them, there can be a little bit of some discomfort. The disquiet doesn’t even come from the gallery director or owner, but the people working for them. This is often the source of anxiety and fear when approaching galleries by artists.
I have experienced this, which is why I find this discussion very useful. I remember a time when I drove around a block several times just to fire myself up into walking into a gallery. This was several years ago when I decided to approach Sutton West Heather Gallery to represent me. I kept thinking of how I could approach the gallery, and every time I did so, anxiety and fear held me back. I also had a similar experience upon approaching Radius Gallery.
I was intimidated by the thought that the gallery was a brand new contemporary gallery, the exact kind of gallery that I would have loved to vent in. But every time I thought of approaching the gallery, a thought about "Who am I?" kept popping into my mind. So I find it great to speak for those artists out there and let galleries know that we’re pretty nervous about approaching them.
Jason: I would also like to let artists know that galleries can also become nervous. Besides being nervous, they also tend to get overwhelmed with wishes that certain artists could come to them. They get very nervous about approaching these artists, even when they really want them to be in a relationship with the gallery. I get nervous too when I approach an artist and find myself falling over my own feet trying to shed off the thought that this gallery might be a place they would never consider.
So, let artists know that we’re all just as nervous about approaching artists as we are about approaching them.
Pamela: I think every gallery has a different feel to it. From an artist’s point of view, I feel very lucky that I found Radius Gallery and we have a great relationship, which is soothing and very rare to find. It is not easy for an artist to find a good match for a gallery or the other way round.
For artists, my advice has always been that they should view the pursuit of a gallery/artist relationship as a game and just be proactive about getting their proposals out there. When they do so, they should expect to be rejected, so when they are accepted, it becomes a pleasant surprise.
I would also encourage them not to take a "No" from a gallery as a rejection of their artwork. They should interpret it as a mismatch between their artwork and the inventory of the gallery that denied their request.
Many thanks to Jason Neal of Radius Gallery for his time and expertise shared in this interview!
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