Known as “Play to [dis]Play”, the Vanity Gallery model has been around since the 80s, when the idea of exhibiting in New York meant success. As you could imagine, this idea introduced a profitable niche where galleries charge artists nominal fees for representation. It makes sense, in theory: you’re a new artist, not much to your name, and so you pay someone to spend their time and energy advertising your art.
So, is it worth it? Most likely…no. Here’s why:
Any organization whose business model is focused on the artist paying upfront fees, as opposed to selling their art to collectors, should be avoided. These galleries exploit naive artists who do not understand how commercial galleries are run and know they will bite any opportunity to show.
However, don’t confuse these with legitimate spaces, including non-profit co-operatives and artist-run galleries, that may charge artists small fees. The fact of the matter is, it costs money to put together exhibitions, and thus charging artists fees to show are not uncommon. Co-operatives work with its artists and may split the burden of overhead equally, charging not-for-profit. Some commercial galleries, especially ones that have high reputations, may charge rental fees depending on your relationship with the gallery and its business model.
If a gallery approaches you, asking for money to show, research the following:
Who else is showing with this gallery? Can you contact them? Ask if their investment was worth it.
What is the gallery’s focus (if there is one)?
What are you paying for? What does the gallery pay for? Think about space overhead, brochures, marketing, etc.
What is the traffic like on their website/social media?
Does the approaching gallery rep show awareness of your art? Did they thoroughly browse it before contacting you?
After some scoping out, you should be able to get a sense of their legitimacy and make an informed decision. In every case, always be wary, read the fine print, and ask a lot of questions.