A contemporary art gallery is a location where Contemporary art is shown and sold. "Art gallery" also is commonly used to mean art museum (especially in British English), the rooms used to display art in any museum, or in the original sense of any large or long room. This article deals with galleries that show and usually sell cutting edge contemporary art.
"Commercial galleries" are for-profit, privately owned businesses that sell artworks. There are also galleries that are run by art collectives, not-for-profit organizations, and local or national governments. Galleries run by artists are sometimes known as Artist Run Initiatives, and may be temporary or otherwise different from the traditional gallery format. Galleries are distinct from art museums. Other than size, the biggest difference between a gallery and a museum seems to be that galleries sell their work, often for a profit. However there are many galleries that do not sell artwork, so there is a considerable grey area.
Many contemporary art galleries specialize in avant-garde art, and others specialize in anything from old-masters to local artists to art-objects, crafts, etc. Some of the art in the galleries does not address the issues and concerns of contemporary art, but may still be seen as "contemporary" if made in the present day. However it is useful to see this term as dealing only with galleries that deal with a certain type of art considered relevant by the international contemporary art market, and that follow certain financial trends of this market.
Contemporary art galleries are often found clustered together in urban centers such as the Chelsea district of New York, widely considered to be the center of the contemporary art world. Most large urban areas have several art galleries, and most towns will be home to at least one. However, they may also be found in small communities, and remote areas where artists congregate, i.e. the Taos art colony and St Ives, Cornwall. Contemporary art galleries are usually free and open to the general public, however some are semi-private and by appointment only.
Curators often create group shows that say something about a certain theme, trend in art, or group of associated artists. Galleries often choose to represent artists exclusively, giving them the opportunity to show regularly.
Although primarily concerned with providing a space to show works of visual art, art galleries are sometimes used to host other artistic activities, such as music concerts, poetry readings, or performances, which are often considered performance art and at other times theater. Conversely, some works of contemporary art are not shown in a gallery. Land art, performance art, Internet art, mail art and other new forms also usually exist outside a gallery. Photographic records of these kinds of art are often shown in galleries, however.
The business of contemporary art galleries
There are many operational models that galleries follow. The most common business model is that of the for-profit, privately owned gallery. This is an extremely competitive market but one that may yield great profits. As a general rule, commercial galleries do not charge admission to the public, perhaps in a bid to the egalitarian philosophies of most artists and critics and to encourage attendance, or perhaps this is just good business. Instead, they usually profit by taking a cut of the art's sales; the exact percentage varies. Some galleries in cities like Tokyo charge the artists a flat rate per day, though this is considered distasteful in some international art markets. The business of contemporary art has in recent years become increasingly internationalized and commercialized. Today, the business is dominated by a few large international galleries such as the Gagosian Gallery.
Commercial galleries often choose to represent artists exclusively, giving them the opportunity to have solo shows regularly. They usually promote the artist's shows by cultivating collectors, making press contacts, and trying to get critical reviews. Most reputable galleries absorb the cost of printing invitations to the opening, guidebooks, and other P.R. publications. Some galleries self-publish or help to arrange publishing for art books concerning their artists. They sometimes provide a stipend or otherwise ensure the artist has enough money to make ends meet. One idiosyncrasy of contemporary art galleries is their aversion to signing business contracts, although this seems to be changing.
Large commercial art fairs where galleries show their best artists and sell works over a period of a week or so have taken the art world by storm in recent years. The biggest of these is the Armory Show in New York (not to be confused with the famous show by the same name in 1917), which charges admission. These fairs have been criticized by artists as over-commercializing contemporary art.
There are also many not-for-profit and art-collective galleries which follow different business models, as well as vanity galleries which prey on naive artists.
Galleries tend to cluster in certain neighborhoods within cosmopolitan cities for economic and practical reasons, mainly that it is possible for the buyers and general public to view more art if they can travel by foot. In the past galleries have tended to cluster in neighborhoods with affordable real-estate due to the unprofitable nature of the business. However in the 21st c. art galleries are strongly associated with the process of gentrification, and prime real estate for Chelsea galleries is unaffordable for unprofitable galleries. Generally, cities that have less centralized art districts are faring poorly in terms of market share.
List of art districts by area name, city and country
It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article. (Discuss)
* Chelsea, SoHo, and Williamsburg, New York City.
* River North Gallery District, Near North Side, Chicago.
* Cork Street, Fitzrovia, Hoxton and Vyner Street in London, UK.
* 798 Art Zone and Feijiacun, Beijing, China.
* Insadong District, Seoul, Korea
* Red Bank, New Jersey, USA
* Design District, Wynwood, Miami, Florida.
* South Art District, Tel Aviv, Israel.
* Brera Art District, Milan, Italy.
* Tremont, Cleveland, Ohio.
* West Queen West, Toronto, Canada.
* Zillah Bell Contemporary Art Gallery, Thirsk, England