Monday, February 2, 2015

Galleries: Are You Maximizing Your Artists' FULL Potential In ALL Ways Possible?

Happy Monday BunBuns! 

This is an exciting time for everyone in art world, especially for us visual artists.  What I'm going to express in this blog post is merely insight in sharing my business strategies with the intention of igniting light bulbs for both artists and galleries. While some may think what I have to say is outlandish, others may think it's really on point and congruent with current trends in contemporary art. I just really want both artists and galleries to re-evaluate what is most efficient in their business needs and whether it's time to "Move With The Cheese". Yee!

People ask me all the time "Why would you ever leave all six of your galleries Yun? That was a terrible mistake." Was it really, or was it the best thing I could have ever done for my art career?  The latter.  Definitely.  I've never looked back.  

The truth is this - the traditional artist-gallery business model of splitting 50/50 is simply outmoded to be efficient in our current day.  It became popular in the 1940's/50's and sustained well as a business model until this wonderful invention called the internet came along that revolutionized how business is done across all industries, globally.  

Think about it.  Would you build your business around equipment from the 1940's to grow your business today in 2015?  There are exceptions but chances are, probably not. So why would you cling to this outmoded business model that doesn't even consider all the amazing things the internet can do? Right BunBuns?!

The traditional artist-gallery business model wasn't set up for me to profit as an artist in this day and age.  I'm not sure it's set up for galleries to profit either, here and now in 2015. 

Just on risk assessment alone, working with galleries was too risky for me. Forget ROI ("Return On Investment").  The risk itself, was simply too high.  Everything from not being paid to losing entire bodies of work, shipping the work there and never getting it back, the horror stories are endless as we all know.  It just didn't make sense for me to stick with this particular business model anymore.

I had bigger aspirations for myself as a visual artist, something my galleries just didn't get.  I wanted to see my work in a beautiful coffee book, my "Porn Flowers" on merchandise, give talks to share my experiences as an artist, license out my designs to other brands, and exploit all the possibilities that I deserve as an artist.   

But the galleries just didn't get it.  It broke my heart to see gallerists I cared about (whether they represented me or not) stressing out, often confiding in me how they don't know how they're going to pay next month's rent, etc.  While I tried to offer suggestions, they weren't able to hear what I had to say, understandably as they were in dire straits. 

I witnessed galleries adding more and more artists to their rosters in hopes of offering more variety to their collectors for sales.  I also saw a lot of artists (including yours truly) leave galleries because they just weren't getting any value out of having representation.  Sadly, we've lost a lot of galleries - permanently.  We've all witnessed galleries dropping off the radar all across the country. Even big names.

In my experience, I gave galleries sole control to build my career (and brand) as an artist. They were also my sole avenue of distribution (how my work was sold).  I didn't even consider selling my work through the internet back then.  Whenever I had an "out-of-the-box" idea, it was quickly shut down.  I found myself and my art being crammed into this limited, outmoded, inefficient business model where no one was making money and everyone was stressed out.

So I got out.  I said "Fuck it". lol  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. There I was, frustrated and insane (by the above definition, hehe), desperately searching for answers and asking lots of questions.  Whenever I tried sharing my ideas with fellow artists and gallerists, they gave me their version of my "Chinky side eye". lol

What are ALL the possible ways you can maximize profit through your current situation and through your artists' brands? 
Aside from selling original works of art, how are you leaving money on the table by not doing so?  I know some galleries rent out their space for event rentals which is a great idea to supplement income, but I really encourage you to consider exploring the following as well. 

  • Selling Original Art - Yes, you're doing a great job of it, keep going! Does your gallery have an online global presence that makes it convenient for anyone in the world to buy from you? At any given time? How can someone from the other side of the world buy from you if they can only come to your physical location or attend an art fair in order to buy? Right BunBuns?!
  • Publishing - Have you considered self-publishing beautiful books with gorgeous art from your stable of artists under your gallery's name? How about publishing opportunities in general?  I linked my art with Enitan Bereola II's book "Gentlewoman: Etiquette For A Lady, From A Gentleman" which has helped broaden my audience.  Whoever reads his book also sees my Porn Flowers.  Whenever he's out promoting his book on book tours, I see hits on my website. Not to mention, it was a perfect fit in adding more sophistication to how my work is perceived.  Right BunBuns?!
  • Merchandising - We are all intrigued by cool products and innovative design.  Putting your artists' designs on unique merchandise is a great product offering to all those fans who love your artist's work but "can't afford" the original. This way your artist's fans will walk away feeling happy and inspired instead of sad and rejected.  Which is what you'd want for all of your artist's fans.  Right BunBuns?!
  • Lectures/Appearances - Each one of your artists has an amazing story to tell.  Who they are is what drew you to represent them in the first place. Why not book speaking engagements for them as an income stream for the both of y'all? Right BunBuns?!
  • Endorsements - Brands LOVE creative people.  They need us.  So far, mostly musicians, actors, and athletes are getting those endorsement deals. Why not secure an awesome endorsement deal for your visual artists? Sit down with your artist and see which brands they resonate with and include it in your plan to build their brand equity. Right BunBuns?! 
So here's my suggestion to galleries.  I know, jaws are gonna drop.
  1. Decrease your artist roster.  Choose to only represent 6-10 artists at most.  I see galleries with so many artists on their roster, can you honestly say you're doing all that you can for your artists' career in making them profitable?  Is your artist even profiting? Be honest with yourself here. By simplifying and concentrating your efforts, it also prevents you from being spread too thin and going insane. :)
  2. Sit down with each artist.  Ask them about all the things they've ever wanted to be and explore as an artist.  Really listen.  Are there opportunities there that you haven't considered but need to?
  3. Come up with a strategy for each artist. Really customize it. Work on it together with your artist, get their feedback.  None of my galleries ever asked me what I wanted for my career, much less how I wanted it to go. I really wish they would've.  They just assumed and tried to fit me into a box that I clearly didn't want to be in.
  4. Implement.  After you have a great strategy mapped out for each artist, then you have to "Go BunBun go!" "Run Forrest, run!" lol
Are my ideas progressive?  Absolutely.  Could it work for you? Maybe. Was I scared shitless in getting out of my comfort zone? You bet.  It took a few years before I stopped listening to nay-sayers and got the courage to finally implement something different.  

The thought of going back to the traditional artist-gallery system honestly, makes me anxious. Who cares if there's twenty-nine galleries that wants to show me? 

The point is, I don't want to be INSANE anymore. So I restructured my career based on the things I wanted to explore as an artist and found the right people who understood my vision and is now helping me implement a well thought out strategy.

I LOVE galleries.  I really do. Galleries are an important part of an artist's distribution in how our work is sold and reviewed. There are so many gallerists that I love and respect, with such big hearts for art and artists, I really have a lot of love for them. Which is why I felt compelled to write this post. It hurts me to see gallerists struggle.  It really does.  It hurts me to see them stressed and depressed.  

It's not that I don't like working with galleries, it's just that I need galleries to BRING MORE VALUE to my career in order for me to work with them. I know I'm not the only artist that feels this way. The things listed above are just some ways galleries can bring more value to their artists' careers to ensure a more rewarding, efficient, and profitable partnership.

I had no choice but to step out of my comfort zone and explore the unknown because I just couldn't afford to be INSANE anymore; doing the same thing over and over again banging my head against the wall. Let me tell you, it really was the best decision I've ever made. And I've never felt happier, knowing where my career is going. Which is why I challenge gallerists to do the same - get out of your comfort zone and bring more value to your artists in ALL the ways possible.  Aside from just selling original work.
Right BunBuns?!

*If you got value out of this post, please share it.  We will never be any less brighter in helping someone else light their candle.  Thank u BunBuns!


Helen DeRamus said...

Though going it on your own is not for everyone, you have very valuable thoughts to be considered. The advice to galleries is particularly interesting. We all need to look at new models as the Internet and social media has changed the way we do business whether we like it or not. I'm for looking to the future. Building new models cannot come too soon.

Yun Bai said...

Thanks for stopping by Helen! I really appreciate it. Making effort to be more consistent in my blogging, it's so encouraging to meet cool people this way. Yee!

Yes these are exciting times for art world and I've always been one to be intrigued with the future, possibilities. If we think hard enough, surely something amazing will spark. At least within ourselves, for ourselves. Whether the rest of the art world agrees, who knows.... :)