Asking for money is often times an awkward situation to be in, especially for an artist.
I have an artist client who recently asked me for advice about asking their gallery for money in preparation for a solo exhibition. The exhibition is a year away and the work is incredibly meticulous and time consuming. So it will take working day and night only on this show to get ready for it.
Artists, this might sound incredibly familiar. As you probably know, it’s not just the making of the work that is time consuming, it’s the preparation, filtering, refining, selecting, remaking, making sketches, building models, finding the right fabricators, and essentially working through mistakes and reworking the art that takes time.
Imagine a writer being asked to write from beginning to end a novel that was going to be published in one year or a filmmaker being asked to create a film from scratch that would screen in one year. Writers typically get an advance and filmmakers typically raise money or a production company fronts the money. But artists don’t really have a “standard” business practice to follow. Some galleries will advance them money against future sales or cover production costs or pay for studio rent. But how do you know what to ask for?
Here are a few scenarios:
If you’re an artist that doesn’t have high production costs and you are being asked to do a solo exhibition (including a solo presentation at an art fair) that is some months away, I suggest asking for an advance on sales. If you are just beginning a relationship with the gallery, i.e. this is your first exhibition with them tread carefully. In this situation I would suggest consigning to them some work (works you just completed or older works but not something more than a few years old) so that they can make sales in advance of the show. This is a trade off. You are saying I’m going to give you the best show I’ve ever done but in order to do that I need to focus just on this exhibition. In other words I can’t make work and sell it to pay the rent and eat like I normally do.
If you are an artist that has high production costs and you are being asked to do a solo exhibition that is some months away, I suggest asking for an advance to cover production costs. Or you can agree that all the production bills will be paid by the gallery directly.
If you are an artist participating in a group exhibition or an art fair and your production costs aren’t high, I think you can always ask but most likely you probably won’t get that far. The reasoning is that you are only being asked to make one or two works and you can still make a living from the other work you’re producing.
But if you do have high production costs, a gallery will most likely either advance you money for the production or cover the production directly.
Bottom line is it never hurts to ask.