Archives for posts with tag: commercial gallery


After roles at Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Casula Powerhouse and recently as the Gallery Manager of Australian Galleries, Will Sturrock has taken residence as the Gallery Manager of the young and uber- contemporary Gallery 9. Will took some time out from his day to chat about the practical realities of working in a commercial gallery and working with artists.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

What are the challenges of working with artists in a commercial gallery context?

There are different challenges faced by different artists according to what stages of their careers they are at. I think one underpinning challenge of recent years has been a sense of frustration with artists simply not selling work, this can be manifested in a bitterness which can end in a dissolution of a good working relationship or friendship. For me personally I haven’t experienced this but there have been some significant departures of artists from galleries who have not supported them and vice versa.

Given the brief of working with younger emerging artists, financial stress can cause unnecessary and unnerving frustration for all involved. This has meant that people have had to become more resourceful, more proactive and in a sense more driven because there are no easy sales for anyone.

How do you balance personal relationships with business relationships?

Honesty is always a virtue which has to be handled and managed properly. I think letting your emotional response to a body of work or the state of an artist’s studio overwhelm a situation can be incredibly detrimental. I haven’t experienced it personally but I have heard absolute disaster stories in this respect and it can be hard not to engage in an emotional response when you work in visual art. I think approaching the profession with objectivity and a desire to fill the needs of the artist, client and gallery is a difficult job and it’s about learning those balances.

You have to also stand back and not allow yourself to be involved in any disputes going on in the highly political and highly sensitive world of artists and studios, and also in talking with artists from other galleries or other gallery workers.

What are the major ‘do not’s for an artist dealing with their representative gallery?

What underpins the entire point of having a gallery represent an artist, or what keeps us afloat is the fact that there is some degree of exclusivity and that commission is maintained. What I mean by that is in this world of high interaction in social media, web sites and online e commerce, the referral in interest from clients should always come back to the gallery. I think it is just too easy for that information to not be handled properly. People in commercial galleries have a degree of expertise in developing client relationships and client management, in the same way that within a company it’s quite distinct that you have different departments. If you could use some essence of that business model and apply it to an artist/ dealer relationship I think it makes sense that the gallery is left in charge of dealing with the commercial activity and the artist remains in control of their artistic careers.

What core skills do you need to develop to work within a gallery?

The ability to approach new art and new artists and their work with completely open eyes and a great sensitivity to the hard work and dedication that they put into their practice is very important. I think remaining objective and critical without necessarily being vocal about it is a skill I am grateful to have acquired early on.

The ability to be able to expand your skill base is vital, once upon a time we could have contractors to do everything and in tougher times you have to be the web designer, print and graphic designer, then jump straight into a conversation with an executive client and then the next minute counsel an artist. There is a degree of psychology involved in it which you have to take in your stride. The ability to multitask and a willingness to learn new skills is potentially the most important skill. I cannot stress how important this is as often there is no one else to do it.

Robin Eley

Photo: Simon Bills

Robin Eley is an Adelaide-based artist represented by Hill Smith Gallery. His painting, Bibliography, was a finalist in the 2012 Archibald Prize. Eley speaks with arts interview about the skills artists need in working with galleries and how to maintain artistic integrity in a commercial art market.

Interview by Heather Jennings

 What are the challenges in working with commercial galleries?

 There are practical and philosophical challenges. The first is finding a gallery that’s right for you – whose own strengths and ambitions are going to help you pursue yours. Establishing trust is one of the most important things, I have to trust the gallery I’m working with is going to provide more than just a wall to hang my work, I also have to trust their business practice is sound and my work and finances will be treated with respect. In return, I instill in them the trust that I will produce work on time and of a high standard. It’s similar to any business transaction in this respect.

One major challenge, especially in producing paintings for an exhibition, is bridging the financial gap between when you start painting for a show and when you eventually get paid. If selling work privately, you can financially move from painting to painting. But in most cases, working with a gallery means receiving chunks of money separated by long periods of nothing, which for obvious reasons is extremely stressful.

How do you balance personal relationships with business relationships?

 You don’t always have to like your gallery owner to have a successful working relationship. But if you get along with your gallery owner, which I do, there’s a very good chance you will become friends. While there’s no problem with that, the area I’m careful with is managing my relationships with people who buy my work. While it’s great to meet and talk to your collectors, I feel there’s a level of respect needed towards a gallery whose client list is the foundation of their business. If a collector contacts me, then I’m more than happy to talk with or meet them, but out of respect to my gallery I don’t actively seek them out. This approach isn’t for everyone, but because I expect the gallery to treat my paintings with care and respect, I do my best to return the consideration.

How do artists balance artistic direction with the expectations of gallery representatives?

 The ideal situation is finding a gallery that supports whatever direction you may wish to take your work. But it’s also important to keep in mind galleries are businesses and it’s not uncommon for a gallery to break ties when an artist’s change in direction causes a drop in sales. Personally, I would not want to be with a gallery that didn’t want my work to evolve over time. As an early career artist, it’s vital to show growth or movement in my work – although I do know that slow turns are, at this stage, more efficacious than wild swings.

Essentially it all boils down to individual choice. A gallery’s approach may work for one artist, but destroy another. The only thing you can do as an artist is always be aware of your situation. Have an eye on the future and be constantly assessing the best way to get there. If you have a plan, you are giving yourself time to change direction should you need to.


D’Lan Davidson is the head of Aboriginal Art at Sotheby’s Australia. After initially working as an artist in the United States and then owning and running a contemporary art gallery in Brisbane, Davidson became interested in collecting, which ultimately turned into a business.  Since 2000, Davidson has discovered and repatriated major works of art from overseas collections and discretely consigned these works, as well as successfully dealing exclusively and privately in Australian Aboriginal Art. In 2008 Davidson was approached by the then director of Sotheby’s Australia to take over the Aboriginal Art department, and in 2010 this was realized. D’lan took some time out to talk to arts interview about the business side of the arts sector.

 Interview by Alex Bellemore

 The theme of arts interview for April is ‘Art & Business’. At an auction house art IS business. How is the Aboriginal Art market currently travelling, against alternate fine art and international markets?

Since the global financial crisis the Aboriginal Art market is now much more discerning – works of high quality, rarity and beauty with impeccable provenance remain highly sought after.

The market is still tentative compared to before 2008, however international buyers are now returning.  This is a positive sign. Having waited for particular works to come back on to the market or finding a particular work that fills a void in their collection is also their motivation to buy.

Sotheby’s Australia remains focused on meeting the needs of the current and more discerning market.

It is worth noting that sales once comprised of 300 – 500 lots, however our sales are now in the realms of 80 – 100 lots.  So the overall dollar value of each sale has reduced, but our focus is on the longevity of the art movement, which can only be achieved through this refining period.

What ethical considerations do you have to take into account when dealing with the Aboriginal Art market?

Sotheby’s Australia’s policy remains perfectly clear – we ensure that artworks created by artists that are represented by art centres have originated from these art centres.  For every work that is selectively consigned to our sale, we ensure that each one is supported by authenticated provenance and the appropriate documentation, allowing us to draw a direct and ethical line from the current owner/s back to the artist.

What specialized skills do you have to bring to the workplace when dealing with a sales focused environment as compared to, say a director of an Artists Run Initiative?

Exhibiting works of art in an exclusive setting which ultimately highlights the works’ beauty, is something that we are focused on doing.

I also like to look at things from a fresh perspective. I see this current refining period in the market as being very positive and refreshing, both for exhibiting and buying. The fundamentals and foundations for the future market will be driven by enthusiastic and passionate buyers rather than from speculative interests.

Also, from past experience with working in the advertising industry and now working alongside our internal design team, compiling the finest scholarly and curated catalogues which are beautifully designed and laid out is also a focus.

How important is a solid comprehension of art as business for artists? Do you think many artists today are adequately aware of running themselves in some sense as a business?

Quite clearly many artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are ill equipped when it comes to running themselves as a business.

I think it is very important for artists to understand and comprehend the business of art. Market is driven by demand and clearly oversupply will hurt an artist’s ability to sell in the short to medium term. In time, however, great works by distinguished artists will stand out. This is why the current market represents a very good time to selectively buy.