Dispelling The Myths - Insight Into Commercial Art Galleries

Margaret Curtis - Sake Cup

Margaret Curtis - Sake Cup

Dispelling the Myth

Here at Bils & Rye we like to do things a little differently.   Our ethos is based on the ethical treatment of our artists and our customers alike.  

We love to talk!  Discussions about art, about life are common occurrences in the gallery and often become conversations that span many topics, and frequently go off on tangents.  In fact, we love people, and talking, as much as we love art.  So we aim to be as approachable and honest as we possibly can.

There are always inevitably a few that smart a little and can be tricky to answer.  Let’s face it; galleries haven’t had the best of reputations in the past… elitist, unwelcoming, aloof, greedy…  The last one, that is the hardest one to dispel.

There is a misnomer that all galleries make huge profits and pay their artists a pittance, and that if you want to benefit the artist you should always buy direct from the artist.  This is an opinion that we hear all too frequently and it is never an easy one to try and tactfully respond to.  But try we will.

There are two points in the opinion.

 ‘galleries make huge profits’  

No.  No we don’t, well most of us anyway!  On the whole, the independent individual gallery you walk into will be taking less than 50% on every sale made.  For eases sake lets be generous and call it 50%.  Out of that 50% the gallery must take its rent, rates, utility costs, staffing costs if it has staff (other than the owners), insurance (not only for stock, but public liability and in some cases buildings insurance).  Out of the 50% must also come an amount to be saved for refurbishing and general maintenance of the interior of the gallery - painting, furniture, lighting, general repair work, window cleaning, plants or planters for the frontage.  And finally, the government takes its cut and the VAT is paid too.
I have not mentioned marketing yet, but that’s sort of covered in part 2.  Once all that is accounted for, whatever is left is used by the owners to pay their own bills and live from.  In the initial years at least, most gallery owners will take home less than minimum wage.

 ‘It is better for the artist to buy direct’

This is tougher to answer, because yes in some ways it can be.  That is if the artist is paid the actual retail value of the piece, but on the whole, most artists struggle to see the value in their own work and so will readily discount, often by as much as 50%.  Great for the buyer, it is a bargain, but it is not financially benefiting the artist any more than it would have done by buying through the gallery.

Albert Montserrat - Vessel

Albert Montserrat - Vessel

So, perhaps what should be being asked is: ‘How do artists benefit from selling through a gallery?’  or, ‘What is it that a gallery does for the artist that they can’t do for themselves?’

Galleries provide a professional platform from which an artist can sell their work.  We market the work, take out adverts, talk to magazines, newspapers and to prospective clients on their behalf, much of this costs time and money.  Their work is listed on our website, and web shop, we have multiple social media sites through which we promote their work, again this takes up much time, and has financial implications. 

We can say things about their work that few artists feel confident saying themselves.  This is a huge asset of working with a gallery.  Socially, we British still are not great at singing our own praises, it is discouraged and those who can or do are looked down upon as being overly confident or egotistical.  As a gallery owner and art lover we are not confined by these restrictions, having the freedom to express our admiration and love of the beautiful works created by the extremely talented artists we work for.

We work for our artists, its not the other way round.  Without our artists we are four walls and furniture, the art makes the room and this is easily shown by how different a room feels just by moving the art around and changing the displays (which we do every 4-6 weeks and up to 1000 pieces every time).

Tom Hiscocks - Two

Tom Hiscocks - Two

We give artists the ability to sell their works and become known in locations they aren’t from or living in.  We show their work alongside a number of other talented artists and which can bring them collectors and buyers who were perhaps tempted in through the door by another’s work and didn’t know about them previously.  

We sell for them and we see value, not only the piece they have produced, but also the time, effort and even the failures that it took for them to get to this particular point and piece. We see the value of their work and we hold to it, we help them ascertain in some cases what the value of the work is and we help them to grow their business and promote their brand.

But most of all, we give them time.  Time is a very valuable commodity; we allow artists the time they need to be able to produce the work they love, without the complications and distractions that comes with displaying, marketing and selling.  

There are so many other little things that go into running a gallery and working with artists, they change daily and in some cases hourly.  Every day is varied and unique, we love it, so we hope you see the value in what we do and will continue to support not only our gallery but also, others like us, because without your support galleries cannot exist.

Kate and Nick Bentley started Bils & Rye after several years of collecting sculptural glass and ceramics. Together, the pair work out of Nunnington Studios located within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that encompasses the Howardian Hills and the southern entrances to the North York Moors. The couple live in the village too, with their young family and mad dog. Bils & Rye source work from talent around the UK, either from established artists or emerging artisans. They carry a diverse range of stock by British contemporary artists and have recently begun to import some very high quality ceramics from Dubai, Spain and Germany. http://www.bilsandrye.com