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Artists Beware

March 3, 2011

I had another article ready to post today, but it can wait.  I’ve become aware of a situation down in Houston that has caught my attention.

Sometime last year, I received an email inviting me to send a portfolio to a New York gallery for review.  I have become a firm believer in checking things out at Snopes, and I’ve learned to research things even if it isn’t covered by Snopes.  I know how difficult it is for even long established regional artists to get into a gallery in New York.  I know artists who are working very hard at it.  It seemed a bit unbelievable that a New York gallery would have even seen my name, much less my work.  So, I checked it out.  Turned out it was a vanity gallery, and, according to an artist in New York who actually went there to see for himself, it is a dirty hellhole where the work itself isn’t even treated with respect.

For those unfamiliar with vanity galleries, the concept is simple: the artist pays for display space on the gallery’s walls.  There is often no incentive for the gallery to promote the artist’s work.  They make their income from the artists’ monthly fees.  There are nice vanity galleries, of course.  In fact, there’s one not far from where I live.  It’s bright, clean, and the work is displayed beautifully in a long established space on the town square.  I simply decided, once I discovered how it worked, that I didn’t want to pay for space, regardless of how attractive it was.  I chose to take my chances selling my work directly to the public under my own tent at festivals.

But what has occurred in Houston is another story altogether.  Rather than describe it all, I’ll simply post the link to the story in the Houston Press:  http://www.houstonpress.com/2011-03-03/news/the-great-heights-art-heist/

I believe this story is a must-read for artists and collectors alike.

In a way, I have to admit that I’m posting this with unclean hands.  Twenty years ago, Nell and I took a stab at having our own little art gallery in New Mexico.  We failed miserably, and after only a year, we closed up shop, completely broke.  In fact, we moved back to Texas on borrowed money.  While that money was paid back, we did make some mistakes.  But those mistakes were due to lousy business decisions and poor record-keeping, not any kind of worngful intent.

What is happening in Houston appears to be outright, ongoing fraud.  The gallery owners continue to draw artists in, knowing full well they will never be able to pay them.

This article was brought to my attention on the Facebook page of Mitch Cohen, who operates the First Saturday Arts Market in the Houston Heights.  Mitch does a great job with the Market, and we hope to get back there sometime in the next few months.  Sadly, the gallery in question is only about a block from the Market venue.  Businesses in the Heights promote the First Saturday activities, because it’s good for the entire district.  The gallery in question is right there on the bandwagon.  They’ll be interviewing new artists on First Saturday.

We artists are, in general, sensitive, insecure souls.  Most of us need some sort of validation.  I gain mine from the occasional recognition in a contest, but primarily from the people who buy my work from me at shows or online.  Most artists will do anything to get their work in a gallery.  In the art world, it’s the ultimate validation.  Your work is in a gallery, ergo, your work must be good.  There are unscrupulous people out there who understand this misguided concept.

Do your research.

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