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artist/gallery privacy policy (was: looking for seager)

updated fri 7 sep 01


Janet Kaiser on thu 6 sep 01

Lisa Skeen wrote:

>>Saw this person's work in a gallery, but said gallery
refuses to tell first name or any contact information
for the artist! (I think that's weird.)<<

I don't Lisa. There are all sorts of reasons for the
gallery not giving this information, although if there
is no information about the artist in the exhibition
catalogue, I think you are speaking of a shop and not a

I also think it is interesting that the public expects
retailers to give personal information about makers
when it is art, but would never dream of asking their
local supermarket where they source their locally grown
watermelons or those great home-made cookies!

The reasons this gallery did/would not divulge contact
information on this particular artist could be various.
Firstly the maker/artist may not want their
initials/name and therefore their address made known to
the public. Preferring to be known by one name is not
uncommon: Christo and Tasca are two more famous single
names which come to mind, but it often happens that
they are not prepared to have people calling or
unsolicited personal post/contact so they guard their
privacy by this and other means, such as ex-directory
telephone listing. The gallery is beholden (usually
included in the contract or consignment agreement) not
to divulge the whereabouts or address of the artist. Or
they have come to a verbal agreement... The gallery
will only give the information if the customer appears
genuine and serious.

Indeed, the name could be a pseudonym, artistic name or
a studio name. In the case of a pseudonym/stage name,
it is also the gallery's legal responsibility to never
divulge the real name, although they will need to know
what it is, not least for the accountants/bank with the
new laws on money laundering. Reasons for using a
pseudonym beyond privacy can include avoiding alimony
payments, ditto the tax man, avoiding being traced by a
stalker or ex-partner, wanting to establish a name in a
new medium without the baggage of a past life... There
are hundreds of reasons which we must respect even if
we do not approve.

Secondly both the gallery and the artist/maker may be
fed up with people just taking contact information,
then going to visit the artist for a nice chat or to
fill in a wet afternoon or meet and talk to a "famous
person" to brag about later or just going along to try
to buy work directly. The latter are often the "cheap
skates" and time wasters, rather than those genuinely
interested in seeing more work. They are not welcomed
by many artists/makers, because they usually take up a
lot of precious production time and go away
empty-handed having been thwarted about acquiring
something for less than they saw at the gallery.
Because makers usually place their very best work into
exhibitions, they often have less than top notch work
at home, especially when they have just completed the
work on show and are cleared out until the next
firing... Again the cheap customer was also looking for
bigger and better, as well as cheaper, so they feel
doubly "cheated"! It is a non-win situation all around.

The worst case I heard of recently, was of someone who
phoned the artist extolling how wonderful her work is,
how she admires her tremendously and can she come
around to see more because there was so little on
exhibition in Gallery X? The artist eventually and very
grudgingly said OK, but explained "I have a very heavy
work schedule, need to finish work, fire the kiln and
get stuff packed by the weekend", etc. etc. You get the

Anyway, this person arrived and eventually left four
hours later, after demanding a lot of attention "as a
fellow artist" as she explained over and over. She
spent a lot of time asking about techniques etc.
Needless to say not a penny exchanged hands, although
she inspected and handled every single piece (finished,
work in progress, even taking out of the half-packed
kiln) and gave a detailed critique on each piece,
between extolling her own work. (I happen to know
her... she has just graduated this summer and has the
ego the size of an elephant). This is not welcome
behaviour at the best of times... Given the reputation
of the artist for being brusque to rude at the best of
times, it just shows that short of physically throwing
them out, some people just are not capable of taking
the hint...

Another maker I know always tells the tale of a couple
arriving at the studio at 11.30 p.m. one Friday
evening. Smelling strongly of the local pub (alcohol,
French fries, food, smoke, etc.) they demanded to see
the work because they had forgotten to buy a wedding
present for the next day. Slightly bemused, the maker
went to get his keys and opened the shop... The couple
then acted as though he was not present and were very
rude about almost everything on show. They dropped and
broke a teapot before eventually choosing a vase (the
smallest and cheapest item on sale). They wanted it
gift wrapped in wedding paper (just what a working
potter has hidden under the counter!?) and then to top
it all, they said they had no money, but would return
to pay FOR THE VASE (i.e. did not intend to pay for
damage) next week. Their parting action was to drive
their car into the side of the maker's parked car, back
into the garden gate splintering it beyond repair and
then just driving off into the night...

Although these are extreme cases, I imagine everyone
has had something similar happen and may just
understand a reluctance to be available to casual
callers day and night. It may just be different once
you have bought work by the artist/maker in the gallery
and thereby shown your genuine interest beyond doubt. A
card may then be slipped quietly into the package or
you will be asked for your name and address so you can
be invited to the next exhibition of his/her work.

And of course, a gallery also has to sell to exist and
cannot survive if it is only serving as a shop window
for the artists on exhibition. OK if it enjoys
subsidies or funding, is non-profit or whatever, but
any gallery which has to remain commercially viable
cannot afford to send potential customers elsewhere.
For example, I am often surprised at co-operatives who
are happy to send their customers to the suppliers
(that is their own members) rather than sell to them
first. The makers then sell directly to customers and
drop out of the co-op because it is not selling their
work! This selective reasoning is lethal for the whole
enterprise: the co-op folds because it is not covering
costs... A viscous cycle.

Janet Kaiser
on behalf of Criccieth Tourist Association