The Eastside is home to some six for-profit commercial art galleries, as well as non-profit arts organizations, such as the Kirkland Arts Center and the Bellevue Arts Museum. It is obvious that while a lot of the industry changes over time, a lot remains the same.
From Kirkland, where Ryan James Fine Arts recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, gallery director Ryan James explained that, as in any industry, there are many types of galleries and business models. Her venue is looking for artists working in a myriad of styles while maintaining a strict limit of 15 artists at a time.
“Our gallery will only look at artists who work within series to create a body of work,” said James. “We expect to see an evolution as the artist moves from series to series.”
James stressed that the role of his gallery is to organize and find interesting artists to show to the public, while maintaining a cohesive aesthetic. “It allows us to build a clientele and an audience for artists,” he said. “Overall, when an artist generates a large number of followers for their work, museums will notice it, and the opportunity for a museum to purchase and preserve an artist’s work for future generations is a huge achievement – that begins with a gallery discovering and taking a financial risk on an emerging artist.
However, partnering with a gallery may not be the right solution for many artists.
“The gallery takes the risk on the artist, and the artist takes the risk on the gallery,” said James. Since the key role is appreciation of value, the gallery should “oversee 100% pricing for an artist’s work”. Over time, his gallery has developed a seven-point pricing system with each artist, with the goal of increasing an artist’s price as they build an audience.
Nayoung Buchan, director of the NYB Gallery in Kirkland, an international contemporary art gallery, has long-standing relationships with many of the artists represented, thanks to his traveling lifestyle.
“We have had enough time to develop a relationship of mutual trust,” he said. Other times, he will contact potential artists directly. So why would an artist seek gallery representation? “For me, is there another way for the artist to present his art? Buchan asked.
He believes galleries are playing a bigger role than ever before, with the art industry increasingly turning online.
“Those who have a space with an ongoing exhibition help keep alive the tradition that the public can appreciate the artwork in person,” he said. “This is a very important missing part of the online art market. “
Ginny Clarke of Clarke & Clarke Art + Artifacts of Mercer Island believes that galleries are not an “industry” but rather an important part of supporting artists by providing services beyond producing gallery openings.
“The role of a gallery is not an outdated format,” she said, “but many traditional models have had to adapt to remain relevant.” She gives examples like moving to smaller places and using technology to make direct connections.
Clarke emphasizes that the art collection welcomes fantasy and also opens the door to the discovery of other cultures. “It’s inspiring,” she says. “We need it to make our lives more interesting and enjoyable. “
Clarke’s selections are based on several factors including whether the artist is reliable, interesting and “someone you would like to know and also shares our dedication to integrity in our practices.” She believes that investing in art should be based on how the artwork makes you feel. A potential profit is just a bonus.
“Surrounding yourself with the things you love is the best way to go,” she said.
Anne Hritzay is a community arts organizer and artist at the MIVAL gallery on Mercer Island, a cooperative of about 20 local artists. She credits galleries with initiating events like Art UnCorked and First Fridays on Mercer Island. “These activities create a more accessible way for ordinary people to learn about the world of galleries, which can seem a little intimidating,” she said. Meeting the artist also makes the purchase more meaningful.
“Most of us produce art fueled by our love of creation,” said Hritzay, “but the income is definitely not sustaining us. The gallery offers us a chance to bring our art to the public and to creating a community of mutual support and connection.… Artists are often thought of in lonely studios, but when they gather around other creatives in art venues, inspiration for new ideas and directions is inevitable .
Julie Sanchez, multimedia artist and owner of Elias Shawn Studio, agrees that the role of galleries has changed with the advancement of social media and the ease of access through online resources. COVID-19 has further accelerated this progression. However, the value of galleries remains strong for serious collectors looking to expand their collections – and investments.
Many artists prefer to work with galleries responsible for distribution and interacting with collectors, so that they can focus only on their work.
Sanchez feels torn: “As an artist, I love being in touch with my collectors as much as I do painting… I have a background in business and sales, so I’m not intimidated by the ‘commerce of’ art ”. Sanchez compares being an artist to being a member of any other community; there are many paths to success, and it is never a lonely endeavor.
“Behind every piece of art acquired,” she said, “there are many, many ‘invisible’ faces that have stood up for the effort.”