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Art galleries have a long history, with roots traced back to ancient Rome and Greece where art was displayed in public spaces like temples, forums, and public squares. The modern form of art galleries, as we know them today, emerged in the 19th century with the rise of private art collections and the commercialization of art. European Salon systems in the 17th century provided venues for artists to exhibit their work, but it was not until the 19th century that galleries began to specialize in the sale of contemporary art. Today, art galleries come in all shapes and sizes, from small independent spaces to large internationally recognized institutions. Many galleries now operate online, providing artists with a platform to reach a global audience. The design and layout of galleries have also evolved over time, with multimedia installations, interactive exhibitions, and immersive experiences now common to engage visitors and promote artists.

Installation view of Ursula von Rydingsvard: LUBA at Galerie Lelong & Co., New York (Oct 27 - Dec 17, 2022)
Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

While museums focus on the preservation and public exhibition of artifacts, including artworks, as non-profit institutions, art galleries display art for commercial purposes and facilitate connections between artists and other parts of the art world. Despite their differences, the commercial and non-commercial sectors of the art industry are closely linked. Gallery and museum professionals often collaborate to present and promote specific artists. Having an artwork included in a museum's collection or exhibition program can lead to increased prices and career advancement for an artist. For this reason, galleries compete to advocate for their artists to be included in the museum's programs and collections.

Art galleries have varying roles in the art world, and one of their key functions is discovering emerging artists, promoting their work, and supporting their careers. Galleries act as agents for the artists they represent by selling their artwork and managing their careers. They also provide a space for collectors to view and purchase artwork and can offer guidance on building a collection. The gallery takes a commission on each sale, but in return, provides valuable services to both the artist and the collector.

David Hockney, Annely Juda and David Juda in the late 1980s
Courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London

It is crucial for artists to find galleries that recognize their potential, support their career growth, and establish strong relationships with them in the art industry. Similarly, galleries recognize that the artists they discover and work with reflect their quality and success in the art world. A prime example of a successful artist-gallery partnership is the longstanding relationship between David Hockney and Annely Juda Fine Art in London. Hockney joined the gallery in 1986 and has been represented by them ever since. The gallery has played a vital role in promoting his work and supporting his career, introducing his art to new audiences worldwide. Through their collaboration, Hockney and Annely Juda Fine Art have developed a strong working relationship based on trust, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to promoting art, benefiting both the artist and the gallery, as well as the wider art community.

Art dealers working at galleries are commonly referred to as "gallerists". They perform a range of roles to facilitate the sale and promotion of artworks. Smaller galleries typically have a team of just two or three gallerists who manage all aspects of the gallery, while larger galleries have diverse experts working across multiple cities. Some of the key positions found in most galleries include the sales director, responsible for managing sales strategies and negotiating prices with collectors; the artist liaison, who serves as a point of contact between the gallery and the artist; the gallery manager, responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations, including managing staff and scheduling exhibitions; and the PR and marketing professional, who promotes the gallery and its artists through various channels. In addition to these key positions, galleries also employ curators, installation specialists, and administrative staff to support their operations.

Here are some art gallery-related terminologies to help you better understand its function and system.

1. Art Fair: Art Fair is an event where art industry professionals, especially gallerists, gather to exchange artworks and ideas. The primary objective of such events is to facilitate sales and networking opportunities through scheduled events, allowing for personal connections and knowledge sharing.

2. Blue-chip Artist / Emerging Artist: Blue-chip artist is an artist who has an established reputation in the art world and a track record of significant sales and critical acclaim. Emerging artist typically refers to an artist who is in their early career and has not yet achieved widespread recognition in the art market. Emerging artists are important for the vitality of the art world, as they bring new perspectives and energy to the field.

3. Gallery Inventory: A collection of artworks and objects held by a gallery, either on display or in storage. It contains essential information including the name of the artist, the title of the artwork, year of creation, medium, and condition. The inventory is a crucial tool for gallery management, as it enables galleries to track their collections, plan exhibitions, and make informed decisions about acquisitions and sales.

4. Gallery Program: A schedule of exhibitions and events that a gallery plans and presents over a period of time. A gallery’s program reflects its curatorial vision and artistic interests, and includes solo and group exhibitions, performances, talks, and other events.

5. Gallery Representation: Gallery representation is an agreement between an artist and a gallery, in which the gallery takes on responsibility for promoting and marketing the artist's work, managing sales and negotiations, and providing exhibition opportunities. For artists, gallery representation can be an essential component of their career development, providing exposure to new audiences and facilitating the sale and distribution of their work.

6. Mother Gallery: A mother gallery is a gallery that represents an artist from the beginning of their career and continues to represent them throughout their artistic journey. The term "mother gallery" implies a close and nurturing relationship between the gallery and the artist, with the gallery providing support, guidance, and resources to help the artist grow and develop their career.

7. Primary Market / Secondary Market: Primary market refers to the sale of art directly from the artist or their gallery to a collector or institution. This is where the initial sale of a work of art takes place, and the price is usually set by the artist or their representing gallery. Secondary market means the buying and selling of previously owned artworks, which includes sales at auction houses, galleries. The price of an artwork in the secondary market is typically influenced by factors such as the artist's reputation, the condition of the artwork, and the artwork's history of ownership.

8. Top-tier Gallery / Early-stage Gallery: A top-tier gallery is a highly respected gallery representing internationally recognized artists, organizing notable exhibitions, and participating in major art fairs. An early-stage gallery is a developing gallery showcasing new and innovative work with a strong curatorial vision, nurturing emerging artists' careers, and giving new voices in the art world a platform.

Related categories


Artist Studio


Solo Exhibitions

Two Person Exhibitions

Joint Exhibitions

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Art Fair