What Does a Gallery Do?

A gallery is an area in a room or building in which visual art is displayed. The word is derived from the Latin Galeria, which means ‘hallway’, but it was not until the mid-15th century that it took on its current meaning as ‘room or building in which paintings are displayed’.

Galleries do not sell artworks directly to the public but act as a link between the artist and the art market. They often work with living artists, collaborating with them to showcase their art and to build their collector base and artist resume. They also work with heirs of artists, purchasing works from them at auction or at other galleries and then selling them on to their own clientele.

The gallery’s responsibilities include scouting for new and exciting artists, inviting them to collaborate with them on an exhibition which includes the printing of catalogues and invitations, setting up the space, providing transport and insurance for the artworks, supervision and installation and opening and closing of the show. They will also set the price of the artworks, taking into consideration the artists’ CV and their position within the professional art market.

Once the exhibition is open, the gallery takes care of all the invoicing and communication with the collectors and will share half of the turnover with the artist. They will provide a library with books, art magazines and practical information for their clients to help them understand the quality and style of the artworks they are buying.

Besides the above, there are many other things that a gallery does to keep their business running smoothly and efficiently. In the 21st century, much of this involves creating a digital presence on various platforms, organising events and curating content. They are often tasked with promoting their artists and helping them gain visibility at various international art fairs, biennials and salons.

When visiting a gallery, the best tip is to be organised and take your time. Especially in large museums with expansive collections, it can be easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Look at the room maps before you start, and try to identify one or more themes, historical periods or artists that interest you. This will help you to focus your visit, and create a ‘trail’ that you can follow throughout the gallery. If you see an image that excites you, flag it or mark it in some way so that you remember to come back and revisit it later. Using this method can make your gallery visit a much more rewarding experience!