Consignment to galleries
We are sometimes asked if we ‘lend’ our work to galleries to be sold on consignment. Well, in my long and varied career I have sold art photography in a gallery and had my own antiques business so (I hope) I can see the issue from the artist’s point of view and the gallery’s point of view also.
Let’s take the antique shop. We specialized in paintings and clocks. We also sold small furniture and small pieces such as (Victorian) musical boxes. Those were pretty tight specialties and so often, we were asked to take pieces on consignment within those boundaries. Which made sense – people realized that we had clock dealers from Europe calling on a weekly basis so where better to sell an antique clock?
So far, so good.
Imagine – one day my German dealer comes into my antique store. I know the sort of clocks he’s looking for. As he is a regular, he understands the code that it on every price tag so he knows how much I will take for each individual item. This is usually a substantial discount and it saves us from all that back-and-forth bargaining business.
He looks at one clock that has a price but no code. This is a consignment clock. I tell him that there’s no code because the sticker price is the price I must get. This is because it’s the price set by the owner and I can’t discount on their behalf.
So now let’s imagine that he has chosen several clocks he wants to buy but can’t decide which one of two carriage clocks he wants – one from my own inventory and one which I have on consignment. Which one do you think I’m going to try to sell him?
OK, I get a commission on the consignment clock. I make profit on the clock from my own inventory so I win either way, don’t I?
No. If I sell him my clock, for $1200, that’s $1200 I have in my pocket to buy new inventory … on which I can make a further profit. If I sell the consignment clock for $1200 I get ten percent (or whatever was agreed). It’s obvious which I’m going to urge him towards.
This is my extremely long-winded way of saying that from the owner/artist’s point of view, the gallery/store will work much harder to sell their own inventory than consignment goods.
That was me as ‘gallery owner’ so now let’s look at me as ‘artist’. I lend the gallery ten of our prints. I have had them printed on high-quality, museum grade paper using archival inks that have a longevity of 100+ years. Then they are matted on acid-free, conservation board. They then go to be framed. The frames are good quality – I want our artwork to look its best – and the glass is also top quality; museum grade that protects the prints against UV rays.
For ten prints, you can imagine that this has cost quite a lot of money. That investment I have made then goes to sit on the walls of a gallery where, if they are anything like me, the staff and owners don’t really see selling my artwork as a huge priority. Sure, they’ll be happy to sell it but if they have their business heads on, they’d rather sell something from their own (paid for) inventory. With the outlay invested, would I be better taking a booth at a well-trafficked, juried art show?
So does this mean that we don’t want to see our artwork in galleries? Not at all! We have developed programs whereby galleries can show our artworks and this system is very fair to the galleries – and very fair to us
We even provide sales materials. We have a program that allows galleries to have exclusive right to certain editions too. Just ask!